This portion of my China tour began in Guilin city but honestly, all I did in the city was spend the first and last night in a downtown hotel and eat a couple of meals. The city was just a jumping-off point to some incredible sites, interesting people, fascinating history and culture. In fact, there are 28 separate ethnic minorities living in this part of China each with their own culture, customs, dress, and dialect.
I was met as I left the baggage claim by my guide, Jenny. She belongs to the Zhuang minority and I liked her at first site. Jenny is one of those people that just radiates positive energy and fun. Always quick to laugh and overly helpful she made my time in this area a delight. Her English was good, her people skills excellent, and her ability to convey a lot of history and culture in a fun and interesting manner effortless.
Our journey together began with a four-hour (83 kilometers/51.6 miles) boat cruise down the Li River to Yangshuo. This area is famous for their vegetation-covered limestone karst rocky peaks that seem to rise out of the forest floor like giant towers and tower clusters. And a cruise down the Li is the best way to see the largest number and most beautiful. Jenny proudly informed me that 4 American Presidents have taken the same boat tour and 2 of the 4 stayed in the same Yangshuo hotel that I would be staying.
Apparently, Nixon, Carter, H.W. Bush, and Clinton had all taken the scenic cruise. And, I must admit the limestone formations were amazing. In fact, one formation’s image is used on the 20 Yuan(CNY) note. I’ve included a ton of photos so I will only say that this is one of the top tourist destinations in all of China and there were easily a dozen large boats carrying 100 or more tourists each parading down the river. The site of the tourist armada cruising down river in formation was a pretty cool site.
Once we arrived at the wharf in Yangshuo, we had to walk another 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) down a large covered pedestrian street to and thru town to the hotel. This was way more fun than it might sound. The first part of the walk (from the wharf to town) was lined on both sides with stalls selling all kinds of souvenirs and street food. Once we made it to town we immediately took to a large pedestrian street that I was too soon learn has two totally different vibes by day and night.
After a short break at the hotel to change clothes it was off to the bicycle shop to rent bikes for a 4-hour bike tour of the rice paddies and countryside. I was surprised to find this turned into one of my favorite times not only in China but the entire trip! The leisurely ride began by dodging cars and scooters on a busy city street but quickly turned into a pleasant afternoon cruising down a backroad with mile after mile of rice paddies to my left and little farmhouses and villages nestled against the hills, limestone monoliths, and mountains on my right.
Our return trip back into Yangshuo was even more beautiful and peaceful than the trip out. Jenny crossed the rice paddies and brought us up on a bike path that had the paddies on our left and a scenic river on our right with absolutely no cars or traffic to contend with. Again, I’m attaching a ton of photos.
While on our ride Jenny mentioned that Yangshuo has a very elaborate cultural show put on every night in an outside amphitheater with the Li river and beautiful Limestone formations as the stage. How could I resist? Turns out it is quite a production with each ethnic group contributing an act in the show. I am not quite sure about his role but Jenny swore that the Canadian born/American Film Director James Cameron had a role in developing the show.
And it was quite a show using a cast of hundreds, at least 100 actual small fishing boats fitted with lanterns and poled with choreography and perfection in scene after scene. Oh yea, and a couple of water buffalos thrown in for the hell of it. I’ve provided a few photos but the lighting and the light generated from lanterns and torches sort of screwed the shots all up.
Day 2: 800-year-old village of Fuli
Day 2 began with a visit to the small 800-year-old village of Fuli. The entire village specializes in the art of silk painting. As I walked down the small uneven stone lanes every house’s door was open and silk fans and paintings were drying on the floors, tables or anything flat. House after house had silk artwork in various stages of completion and all done by hand one at a time.
I stopped at one house (photo included) that had the floor entirely covered in red fans with a black dragon painted across it. They all looked so uniform I asked if it was a silkscreen process where an original is drawn and then the rest are copies. But no, the lady had hand-painted each and every fan individually and I couldn’t see one bit of difference in any of the dragons.
We went into one home and talked to a couple of the artists. Turns out this family is the most famous of the Fuli silk painters and the house was full of completed work covering every wall and hanging across the ceiling. When I asked how one artist could be so prolific I learned that there are 7 artists representing three generations working in this family. The grandfather and grandmother started the business and still paint fans but now they have been joined by their son and his wife and their 3 daughters. Incredible to think 5 very talented artists all from one family.
After touring Fuli we were off to Xianggong Hill also known as Husband Mountain. (Because the mountain looks like the hat of the prime minister in the ancient time, and name of the prime minister and husband has double entendre, both called “xianggong”) And I have no idea why they call it Husband Mountain. But the Chinese have a funny way of expressing themselves anyway. Everything is Charming, Handsome, Romantic, or Fragrant. In fact, you will see in one of my attached photos a picture of the entrance to the trail to the top of the mountain. You will notice that there are 4 Chinese symbols above the entrance. I asked Jenny what they said and this is the translation “You Can Catch Everything in Your Eyes from the Top”. Why couldn’t they just say “Great Fricking View”.
But, the truth is, the view was spectacular! No matter which direction you looked the views of the Li River and Karst Mountains were breathtaking. Photos attached as always.
After our hike back down Husband Mountain we hopped in the car for a long drive to the Longji Rice Terraces and the ethnic minority village of Longji Ping’en. The village has about 700 people living in it and everyone has the family name of Liao. And the Liao family are Zhuang ethnic members like Jenny. You can tell the Zhuang ladies by the way they dress – they wear a towel looking thing on their heads and wear black slacks.
The other ethnic group living in the valley are the Yao and the most interesting difference between the Yao and the Zhuang is that the Yao women wear bright colorful dress and Yao women never cut their hair. Some Yao women’s hair is as long as 2 meters. They wear their hair wound on top of their head almost like a turban. If a woman has a big knot of hair in the front that means she is married with children (I have attached a couple of photos of a Yao woman showing me her hair).
The village is high up in the mountains and we had to leave the car and hike up another 30 minutes to reach the village high up on the top of the mountain at 1900 meters. By the time we reached our guesthouse for the night I was tired, hungry and wet from the long day and hiking up the mountain in a light drizzle. But after a great dinner, a cold beer and a look at my room with a balcony view of the rice terraces I was pumped for hiking thru the terraces the next day!
I will share a few more useless bits of trivia with you. The farmers’ houses are typically three-story wooden structures. The first floor is the lobby, living area, kitchen. The second floor is bedrooms for the extended family and the third floor is for storing dried rice, corn, potatoes, and other agricultural products.
A village family can grow 250 kilos of dried rice for the family’s consumption and sale. I found the growing cycle of terraced rice quite interesting. Rice is grown in a bed for the first 15 days as seedlings. After the 15th day, the seedlings are transplanted into flooded rice paddies and planted 20 centimeters apart. They grow for 2 months in the flooded paddies and then the water is drained and they grow another two months in the mud and soil.
The rice terraces have a complicated irrigation system that was created 800 years ago during the Yuan dynasty. The water begins to flow from a tank on top of the mountain and drains thru a series of channels and pipes from one terrace to the next. It takes 5 weeks for the water to drain from the top terrace to the bottom one. The entire system is based entirely on gravity.
I woke the next morning to a sound I had not heard any many years. Roosters crowing! I grew up on a farm in West Virginia and had not thought about the morning crowing of roosters in over 50 years. I was so excited I made several short video clips of nothing just to capture the sound of the roosters meeting the morning.
We spent the day hiking up to the top of the first Terraced mountain they call Nine Dragons and Five Tigers to take photos from the top. (“Nine Dragon” refers to the nine hill beams where the main ridge of the Longji is separated. The “five tigers” refer to the five slightly raised hills here.) And guess what – the terraces on this mountain actually do look like a tiger’s back! Not sure where the dragon fits in though. After taking a bazillion photos we hiked back down to the village and up the mountain on the other side of the village – Thousand Layers to Heaven Mountain for more photos. Once that mission was accomplished, we retraced our steps down the mountain collected our bags and headed back to the car for the long drive back to Guilin, Guangxi Province and one last night before heading to Dali, Yunnan Province.
Nine Dragons and Five Tigers Terraced Mountain
Thousand Layers to Heaven Mountain
One last thing before I move on to Dali. The Liao has a couple of interesting food choices. The first sounds very appealing the second not so much. The first is a local specialty of chicken or duck with sticky rice cooked by steaming it in a bamboo stalk. The second is fried rat. And with that, I am on to Dali. Hope you enjoy the photos.