China Travelogue-17: Psychedelic caving

Posted in Travel at 4:49 by RjZ

When we purchased our trip to from Guilin to Yangshuo it included a return. We just needed to contact the agent whom we were last passed off to and arrange it. In practice, we don’t have a phone and even with the kind help of the hotel in which we were staying, actually getting in touch with her is another challenge, unless you plan on lounging around the hostel lobby all day. They charter a bus which leaves when enough tourists can fill it. We eventually just found and took the regular bus. Cheap–about 30 RMB.

Something I ate in Yangshuo was certainly catching up with me by the time we arrived in Guilin. Alright, something was half a plate of river snails, probably dug out of one of the muddier shores of the river. My temperature was rising and my stomach was in knots. I stayed in for the night and hoped not to ruin much of the trip as I had almost done the last trip to China. “I rarely get sick from travel” is becoming more of a memory for me than a reality.

The Guilin Backstreet International Youth Hostel is great. They offer a shuttle (actually, your own personal taxi) to take you around to multiple sites all included in the already cheap price of the room. So, tomorrow morning, after our breakfast of toast and juice, we prepared to catch all the obvious sites of Guilin. I was, remarkably, almost better, but it was still going to be a slow day filled with way too much to do.

First stop: Solitary Mountain. This fortress and mountainous lump in the middle of the city offers history (if you speak Chinese) and views (if the weather is clear in this small town of well over a million people.) We looked at the lovely old buildings like the museum which was devoid of English although the Chinese seemed very impressed by the exhibits. We hiked to the top of the little mountain for the views. Chinese tourists tied blue bows on the chain leading up to the peak and touched a statue of a turtle like they were consumed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, presumably for good luck.

Next, Reed Caves. The Guilin region is decorated with limestone cliffs and where there is limestone there are often dramatic caves. The Reed Caves were discovered near a patch of reeds, and are just on the outskirts of town. Dignitaries from around the world visit the caves and the tourists were packed in like a ride at Disneyland.

Reed Cave, Guilin, China

Caves everywhere have such fantastic shapes and formations in them that they conjure all sorts of creative names. The Chinese, already famous for seeing dragons and fairies, horses and rabbits, princess as princesses in every odd shape, are in heaven in a cave. The dripping stalactites and mighty stalagmites are a bountiful cornucopia of silly names. That’s not enough though. Instead the caves are lit with gelled lights in every saturated color and even sometimes accented with extra water pools or lasers. Disneyland is more apt here than I realized. Perhaps it’s a little sad, considering these were, at least once long ago, organic caves, beautiful by nature, and without the unneeded clown makeup.

Which isn’t to say that crazy lit caves aren’t worth a look. Tourists are ushered from one room to the next on stone stairs and even walkways with barely enough time in each spot to take pictures, while they hear stories about the white rabbit or the wizard throwing coins into the ponds. Lights are turned off in one spot and on in the next to make sure nobody stays behind. The views are spectacular and full of shapes and colors that would make Hunter S. Thompson feel quite at home.

We made it to the Seven Star Scenic Park on the other side of town which is home to a rather large park and another cave. This cave is much like the first, better in some ways, (better rooms) worse in others (no lasers) but the park is a lovely place to spend an afternoon. Charming bridges crossing little creeks and shady, fragrant osmanthus trees from which the delicious local tea is made. There is much more there as well. Flower gardens, camel shaped rock formations, and even a couple more caves. We could have spent more time in any of todays sights, but, we have a train to catch to Kunming.

We strolled back to the hostel, enjoying a few last views of cormorant fisherman on bamboo rafts and a muddy angle on the Elephant Trunk Hill on the Li river. We thought we even had enough time to grab some lunch as we had been fighting off the taxi drivers earlier that morning. Not so fast. Weighed down with our packs we began looking for a cab to take us to the station. Nothing. We venture further to the main street. Nothing. An occasional cab speeds by. We wave. Nothing. Finally, a cab stops and we try to explain where we’re going but he shakes his head no and drives off. Getting frantic, we wave at more and more cabs and a few more slow, only to drive off without stopping. Others stop and don’t like where we’re going! I finally ask at a finer hotel if they can help me get a cab and with great effort a very kind hotel receptionist comes out on the street to get us a cab. He is, indeed, successful, but now the traffic is so bad we are beginning to have serious doubts we’ll make it.

Guilin is nice, you say, so what if we have to stay another day. Unfortunately–to save time–we’ve already booked a flight from un-touristy Kunming to Li Jiang and this little late-to-the-train fiasco could cost us some real money. The cab driver is confident even as we’re sweating, but, inching along through the traffic, he does, eventually, deliver us before the train departs. We run into the station hoping we can find our platform in time and finally arrive at our compartment, sweaty and empty handed with little water or food for our 12 hour train journey. Two friendly Canadians are already in our compartment waiting for us. We wonder if they put the Westerners together on purpose.

Guilin park 35 RMB
Reed Cave 60 RMB
Dinner 9.5 RMB
Taxi to train station 10 RMB


  1. Guilin Tour said,

    June 11, 2010 at 10:16

    Guilin tourist attractions include Li River, Elephant Trunk Hill, Reed Flute Cave, Diecai Hill, Fubo Hill,Solitary .

  2. RjZ said,

    June 11, 2010 at 11:08

    oops! I made the edit. Thanks!

  3. candy said,

    June 11, 2010 at 21:12

    wow, high accountability!

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