Many people have never had heard of Guilin china, but I can almost promise that you have seen pictures of it. This area with its karsts formations is one of the most iconic spots in China. Its all over Chinese art and Chinese money and way back when I first contemplated going to china it was this image that first compelled me. I hadn’t really planned on going there but it was actually a logical stop between my time in Yunnan and going to Xian.
Its also the place that one of my favorite movies was set, The Painted Veil. I actually think its just a really good story, but its also shows some lovely scenes of China and its set during the Boxer Rebellion when China had had enough of England playing colonial with them. I’m not sure the history part would fascinate anyone who’s not interested in china, but the story is a good story.
So, since I had no idea what karsts were before I saw them, they basically look like plods of earth dropped from the sky. They just stick out everywhere, like the earth has bad warts or something.
A slightly more scientific explanation is that the whole area used to be underwater, and while erosion has taken away much of the sediments, karsts are formed by minerals that resisted erosion over the years…. creating pure magic. It was cold and rainy the whole time I was there but seeing the mist hang over the fields made the place seem eery and mystical.
Guilin frankly isn’t that exciting of a town, but I spent one day there and then took a bamboo raft down the Li River, which gives amazing views of the karsts, and then spent two days in Yangshuo which is a much more outdoorsy place to visit the karsts. They offer lots of rock climbing which I wanted to do, but rock climbing in the cold and rain wasn’t appealing so I stuck to bike riding with some lovely friends I made a along the way.
My time in Guilin was a bit strange since it was my last week in China. I was in this space where everything made me want to cry because it could be my last bowl of dumplings or my last time making babies cry on a bus. At the same time I would shock non-expat travelers by blowing off chinese people who wanted to take photos with foreigners (I’m sorry but if you take one then you have to take 20 and its a weird from of reverse discrimination that I don’t enjoy participating in).
But riding my bike around the countryside let me forget my Love/Hate feeling with china and just fall under its magic spell. It felt prehistoric in some ways and riding through these crazy karsts let my imagination just run wild. We got crazy lost at points and when I stopped to ask the village women where to go they would just laugh at my bad Chinese and try to give the simplest directions they could so that I could understand them.
We went to one restaurant and since they didn’t have a menu for me to attempt to decipher they just pulled us into the kitchen and let us point at what veggies and meat we wanted them to cook for us. I also made friends with the owners son because I kept calling him what I thought meant handsome boy… but as the family was collapsing with laughter I realized that it may mean something closer to calling a guy a playboy… Oh well. The food was delicious.
I spent 4 days between Guilin/Yangshuo and it was the kind of beauty that first motivated me to come to China and it had that magic that I knew I would miss so much once I left my beloved land of the dragons.