Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Spring Break to Guilin, Dazhai and Yangshuo

Hi Everyone!

While studying at the HNC you’ll have a fall break, Chun Jie vacation, and spring break. We just had our spring break and I decided to travel domestically and further south than the ancient southern capital of China we at the HNC call home.

You can get to Guilin, Guangxi, China by train (~20 hours) or plane (~2 hours) from Nanjing. If you have time, I suggest you take the train. It’s a good way to meet people on the train (just say hi! or ask if someone wants to play cards with you) and it’s a nice way to see more scenery.
Guilin Elephant Trunk Hill

Guilin was the jumping off point for the beginning of my trip, so I only had time to check out Guilin’s famous Elephant Trunk Hill. Elephant Trunk Hill is a hill in a lake that looks like an elephant drinking water, which has become a well-known landmark in Guilin. The excursion was short lived though as I was forced inside by a downpour. I didn’t mind because it gave me a chance to enjoy a cup of coffee and get some reading done at the Guilin Travelling With Hostel where I was staying. I was a little bit nervous because the weather had said it would be raining through the weekend I was traveling in Guangxi. While that was fine in Guilin, it would make hiking in Dazhai a bit more difficult. Either way it would be an adventure! I hung out the rest of the day in the hostel making friends with the owners, some European and Russian travelers (don’t ever worry about traveling alone—be smart of course, but hostels are a great way to make friends with fellow travelers! I encourage you to try it once if you haven’t yet!).

The next day I hopped on a bus I had booked to Dazhai in the Longji rice terraces. Giant gray clouds loomed in the sky, with a light drizzle misting down. First off, let me say I got super unlucky in my bus ride. I think the bus designer decided he could squeeze in two extra rows of seats in the bus to maximize profit, so the passenger in front of me was about four inches from my face. Not the most pleasant four hour trip of my life, but it would all pass. I read some of Duara’s book on Rural North China to pass the time. After about two hours I felt the flat road gradually evolve into a steeper incline. We had entered the Longji rice terraces and were winding up through the hills closer to Dazhai. There were small settlements built on the side of the main road as we passed through one small town. Upon leaving it the vertical mountainside became greener and lush. Small waterfalls cascaded down periodically. Sometimes drops would catch on the window next to my seat as we drove by. Even being stuck in this horrid bus, the terraces were absolutely lovely. It only made me more excited when we finally reached Dazhai. I grabbed my backpack from the shelf overhead and hopped off the bus when it stopped. We were here!

Dazhai rice terraces
Dazhai rice terraces

If anyone has been to China before, you know that most ‘hiking’ actually means ‘Stair Master 3000: China edition’, meaning that trails are pre-laid paths of stairs in mountains. I can say for once I appreciated this Chinese tendency given that rain and dirt trails would have meant schlepping uphill through the mud. Dazhai is a small town at the top of the rice terraces and unbeknownst to me three weeks earlier at HNC, I had booked a hostel online at the tip top of the terraces. I was in for a hike! Thank goodness I had packed light. It took almost an hour to reach Dazhai Dragon’s Den Hostel. Once getting there I checked in and dropped my bag off in my room. The view from my room was stunning. You could see the rice terraces carved out into the hill with gray clouds swirling by above. The rain had stopped so I took the opportunity to go hiking after having some ethnic Yao cuisine at the café next door. Wandering around I stumbled across a cemetery in the hills with elaborate stone markers. I admired the designs carved into the headstones but didn’t stay for long. I continued on to the point suggested by the hostel workers with a great view of the terraces. And they were right, it was gorgeous (although here you couldn’t really go wrong!). I was actually happy I had come during the rain. Why? Because I saw the sky reflected in the earth below. The rice terraces had filled up with water reflected the sky above. I took a while to appreciate the sight before heading back before it got dark. The next day I would be leaving to Yangshuo.

View from my hostel
Enjoying the region's specialty, bamboo rice
The next day’s bus ride to Yangshuo was much better than the way up, and the scenery none-the-less beautiful. Yangshuo is known for its plethora of outdoor activities located in the midst of its limestone mountains. If you get the chance, take a raft down the Li River and explore the caves.

I opted instead to take a yoga class and go bike riding during my stay in Yangshuo. I checked in at the Sudder Street Hostel on the edge of town (lovely views and not far at all, especially given the 10 yuan/day bikes and 50 yuan/day mopeds you can rent to get around). I pet the owner’s cute dog on the way out. Mood Food in Yangshuo has yoga, massage and a healthy café (great food!) and is surrounded by rock climbing companies, which I wish I had had the time to check out. After a little time there, I camped out at Echo Café to take a test for an internship application. It was hard not to get distracted by the impromptu expat jam session that started outside the café. I finished off a nice day by getting some Yangshuo beer fish for dinner and grabbing a few drinks at Kaya Bar before hitting the hay.

This was definitely a sprint of a trip, but worth it in my opinion. If I could go back again I would spend more time in Dazhai and Yangshuo. Hopefully this will give you some insight to the area and inspire your own China adventure!

Happy trails everyone,


Written by Chelsea Toczauer, MAIS Student