Our tour through Guilin and the surrounding area ended with a short 15 min hike up Xianggong hill. In terms of return on hiking effort invested, nothing beats this!
Close to a hundred boats leave Guilin each morning for the Li River Cruise, and close to a hundred boats slowly return upstream to Guilin each afternoon. They trudge up the river in single file, then ready themselves to turn around and do it all over again the next day.
Bamboo rafts were the traditional means of transportation on the river and sidestreams, but nowadays they are replaced with plastic rafts in the shape of bamboo. Sure that’s…the same. There is a practical reason, though, because bamboo rafts have to be replaced every year.
We were still able to book a ride on a real bamboo raft, but the bamboo rafting business has gotten harder in recent years since the government took over. Boatsmen are only allowed to operate with licenses, charge a fixed price, and go down certain stretches. Where there were once 600 boatsmen, now there are only 200 because of decreased demand. My boatsman used to do 5 trips a day, but now he is lucky if he gets a trip every 2-3 days.
I took advantage of the relative seclusion of the bamboo raft to ask my boatsman about some sensitive topics.
What do you think about China cracking down on corruption? “You can’t get rid of it when the entire society is corrupt. You can’t get rid of all of the upper officials because all of the economic power is in their hands, everything would collapse.”
Do you think the government is getting better or worse? “Worse…it’s worst for the people on the bottom. To even do a little business, you need to have guanxi (connections). Where do the common people come up with that?”
“Everything 8 yuan – except for the boss, who’s not for sale. Everything else 8 yuan. The boss’s wife is also 8 yuan!”
One of the other famous sites along the Li River Cruise is Nine horse rock. If you look closely and are supposedly intuitive and bright enough, you can see 9 different horses hidden in the rock. In the 1960s, Premier Zhou Enlai reportedly took a cruise down the Li River and accurately identified all 9 horses, which served as a testament to his competency as a leader.
Traveler meetup with Gisel! Met in India when we both first set off on our respective trips, partied together in her home country of Portugal, and somehow found ourselves in the same city by coincidence in China. 😊 I was sadly not as good of a host because I was new to Guilin too, so I took us to a shady literal hole-in-the-wall where the bowls were covered in plastic bags. I paid for the meal and said she could pay for the bubble tea, but that turned out to be twice the cost of the meal. Did not think this through…
Still, super glad to see you and all the best on your upcoming trips! Wonder where in the world we’ll meet up next!
The Longji (Dragon’s Backbone) rice terraces, so called because the rice terraces look like scales on the back of a windy mountainous dragon. They are incredible feats of engineering, consisting of mud wall dams, canals, and sometimes even bamboo pipes to move the water where it needs to go.
Maintaining and farming rice terraces is backbreaking work. Work that locals are increasingly turning away from now that other opportunities in the cities or in tourism are available. But without the rice terraces, there is no tourism. So according to our guide, local farmers are paid an additional monthly income as an incentive to continue farming. Even with that, however, some of the terraces are noticeably deteriorating and the younger generation prefers less labor-intensive work.
We went to Guilin for the magnificent nature, but also wanted to see some culture while we were there. So we took a quick trip out to the neighboring province of Guangxi and visited some villages of ethnic minorities.
We saw lots of terraced rice paddies and old wooden structures. Got serenaded by a bunch of smiling children and sat in on a game of chess with rules that we couldn’t quite follow. And stumbled upon the occasional plaque with advice on how to be a good Communist party member. Our goal was to get an authentic experience, and it was off to a good start!