This trip to Shenzhen, Guilin, Yangshuo with K has been epic. We carried only our backpacks and left the electronics (save our beloved 4S) at home. In the past three days, we have traveled 1000 miles by bus or train. I have chronicled my journey day by day.
Friday. February 10th, 2012
We MTRed it all the way to Luo Hu, got through two layers of customs, and immediately got ripped off. To minimize costs, I had planned out over-night sleeper bus routes from Shenzhen to Guilin. Although it was 12 hours one way compared to 1 hour flight time, it was also (supposedly) 1/7th the price. We would save out on 2 days of hostel fare if we time it right. Therefore, we asked a cop once we crossed to Shenzhen, and immediately found it fishy that he would lead us all the way to the ticket order booth. I bargained down from 280/person to 230/person for two overnight sleeper bus tickets to Guilin at 7:30pm, still feeling iffy about the price.
We had 3 hours to roam Shenzhen, so we strolled away from the Luo Hu Train Station and proceeded to check two things off my China list – Cucumber-flavored chips & KFC Mexican Chicken Roll! Sooo satisfied. We got spiffy haircut packages (cut, thai-style massage, style, blowdry) for 48 RMB/person. We strolled forward to a Shenzhen mall and did some fun haggling. Conquests include a 20RMB infinite scarf, black sweatshirt dress from Red Valentino, and a “BCBG” red/black cocktail dress for 30RMB. K was a good sport, but was quite nervous due to the rumors he heard about shady Shenzhen-ers drugging tourists and stealing their livers. He definitely kept great watch over his.
At 6:30, we headed back to the station and met Mike, a super cool white guy who’s teaching in Yongzhou of Hunan Province (completely native place with virtually no foreigners). Turns out he is a forestry major from Humboldt State on a gap year. We chat about China & the States, and Mike tells us about his experiences and how he loves the people of China. We follow the shady bus tour rep and walk on the road against incoming traffic, eventually piling into this shady minibus that apparently shuttles you to the bus. We finally get onto the bus, with slightly cramped but liveable bunk bed-style cots. Since we got almost first dibs, our beds were decent. I lay between Mike & K, and turns out there were several other international tourists abroad. There were 3 HKUST exchange students from Russia, Korea & Thailand respectively behind us headed for Yangshuo. On the bus, we realized that the bus rep made a mistake for Mike – he was supposed to go to Yongzhou, but the rep misheard Yangshuo (one is West & one is North). I attempted to bargain with the driver for Mike since he had paid full price, but poor Mike still got charged another 150RMB from Guilin to taxi and board another 4-hour bus to Yongzhou. I hope he got there all right!
Saturday. February 11th, 2012
We arrived in Guilin around 6am to a pitch-dark, virtually obsolete parking lot. There was no hint of sunlight, and already hustlers were roaming about attempting to “pitch” deals. Luckily, we met two kind men traveling from Hunan who were also confused tourists. We hit it off, and decided to travel together. We took a bus to the main Guilin train station, and enjoyed some Gui Lin Mi Fen, while I jacked an outlet to charge my phone behind some cup of noodles. The kind chaps were middle-aged amateur photographers with a penchant for adventure, and I had a great time chatting with them about traveling and China in general. Poor K had a huge language barrier, and mostly stared and smiled. They were headed 3.5 miles up north for the Dragon Back Terraces, but K was hesitant about the round trip drive.
Eventually, we booked a private coach to take us around to local attractions, and covered the four most prominent attractions: Du Xiu Feng & King’s Court, Liu San Jie Minority Tribal World, Chuan Shan Cave, and took a scenic boat ride on the gorgeous Li River – viewing all of the landmark mountains like Cock Fighting Hill & Elephant Mountain. We seemed to have climbed millions of stairs up and down mountains, over bridges and on boats, all while enveloped with the fresh fragrance of osmanthus (Gui Lin in literally translated as “Forest of Osmanthus Trees”). While it was off season and some 8 degrees outside, I enjoyed my travels immensely.
We finished our Guilin touring after 5pm, and proceeded onto Guilin’s main Zhong Shan Road in search of our How Hostel. We found it shortly – super quaint, cute, and populated with a diverse mix of foreign travelers. We even got upgraded for free to a SUPER nice private double spacious bedroom with hardwood floors and plants. Sweet deal for under 100HKD!!! We passed out until 10pm, and headed out to explore Guilin at night. It turned out that downtown Guilin is relatively local, so we visited a very local night market and nabbed some more successful bargain buys, including 10RMB/3 boxes of local flavored snacks such as Osmanthus Candy, Lo Han Guo Candy, and Osmanthus Sweet Cake. K & I got a cute couple couple keychain, as well as some osmanthus fragrant lotus pouches and an iphone case. We ended the night with some delicious KFC, and happily headed back home to rest.
Sunday. February 12, 2012
We epically failed in waking up at 11, and barely made our 1pm check-out time. We enjoyed some complimentary Americanos and rushed to Guilin Bus Station. Buying tickets and squeezing your way into the Station amidst some rather rude locals is always an…authentically Chinese experience. We scored front row seats, and enjoyed the very rural and natural views of the countryside along the way. The bus kept passing other buses by going into the other lane against incoming traffic, but perhaps I have become so conditioned by the norms of China that it no longer phases me.
Yangshuo was gorgeous, albeit obviously more touristy and foreign tourist-populated. K & I debated our plans, and decided to head back on another sleeper bus to Shenzhen for Sunday night (to arrive in Shenzhen at 6am). We walked around downtown Yangshuo (ladder shaped with two main streets: Die Cue Rd & West Street, with a stream running through the middle), enjoying the quaint small town scenery and amazingly shaped mountains that seemed to wrap around the entire town. We also kept a sharp lookout for Travel Booths, inquiring and bargaining about return trip buses. We walked all the way down to the Li River, where bamboo rafts awaited. Unfortunately, it was way too cold for a such an adventure, we continued to peruse the vendor stands along the river.
West Street is the famous tourist spot of Yangshuo, decked out with amazing shops and bars & pubs. We took 293829038092 pictures, and decided to stop in a small hole-in-the-wall (my favorite!) called West Street #103. It was a super dark and ghetto walkway into a super ghetto apartment complex, where there was a sweet old lady who made us dumplings and Xi’an Jia Ruo Mo. She made it from scratch, and it was homecooked heaven.
After leaving footsteps over the entire town, we finally settled on a 220 RMB/person deal to Shenzhen at 9PM. With 3 hours left on the clock, we visited YangShuo Park and decided to hike up to the peak of one of the mountains. It was the most epic Stair Master Pro Edition I have ever experienced, but the view was stunning.
After we painstakingly climbed down the perilous steps of the mountain, the night started to settle in. We enjoyed the scenic views of downtown at night, which is quite a different feeling since there are lights everywhere and all the bars have come alive. Vendors selling food, jade, and souvenirs also flock to liven up the streets.
We explored, sampling some “Wild Life HoneyBee’s Nest” and some nutritious corn concoction. I purchased an ethnic dress for 30 RMB. And obviously, what night in China is complete without some fast food for us fatty potatoheads? K & I feasted on KFC before hopping on another shady car to our bus. Poor K got stuck with a faulty bunk that made him feel like he was in a “small uncomfortable coffin”, so he stayed awake most of the night. Luckily for me, I dreamed about cows until 6am.
Monday. February 13, 2012
We were ushered out of the bus at around 6:37am for the Shenzhen Silver Lake stop. The sky was just starting to show streaks of light, and there were buses everywhere. We hopped onto a random one, and headed out. The ticket collector came to collect fare, and we could only muster 4 RMB total in change, which would last us until the Window of the World bus stop. Therefore, we hopped out at 7am, and headed to our 2nd home – McDonald’s.
Since we were already at Window of the World, Shenzhen’s famous replica theme park with about 130 reproductions of the world’s most famous tourist attractions from the Eiffel Tower, the Pyramids, Taj Mahal, to Mount Rushmore all squeezed into 118 acres of land, we decided to go for it. K exchanged some more HKD and we were off with our 140RMB/person tickets. For all 6 hours of fun and memories, I can say it was worth every penny. We “traveled” from Mount Fuji to the Leaning Tower of Piza to the Windmills of Holland, and took a roller coaster water ride down the huge waterfall. We scaled the Eiffel Tower overlooking L’Arc de Triomph, and looked out at the skyline of New York and the Statue of Liberty. I will let the pictures speak for themselves.
All in all, this trip was super memorable and interesting. I am so glad I had this trip to scope out Shenzhen and visit some new places I’ve never been to in China. I cherish every new memory I have made with my Mr. Potatohead, and look forward to many more on our upcoming adventures both in and out of Hong Kong (case in point – Hainan coming up!)