August 27, 2011
Are you ready? Cause I’ve had like nine cups of coffee and I sure as hell am. Here’s the final entry covering my trip to China last week. If you missed the last entry, “Sweet, sweaty, Shanghai” I suggest you go read it before diving into this one, because it covers the Shanghai leg of the trip.
Guilin. Wow. How to describe Guilin? Well I should start by pointing out that it is by no means a ‘mega-city’ like Shanghai or Beijing. It is actually kind of rural, there is way more greenspace in and around Guilin than I’ve seen in all the places I’ve been since leaving Canada, combined. Seeing as how my parents were carrying me on canoe trips into Algonquin park before I was a year old it is obvious why a place like this would appeal to me. You may be asking yourself, ‘But Tom, Beijing had so many amazing historical and cutural experiences and Shanghai had those breathtaking skylines and architecture, how could a lightly developed town in China compete with that?’
Well the thing about Guilin is, instead of flashy skyscrapers, it has mountains. But not typical mountains like you find in Canada or Korea, these are crazy, tiny, razor sharp, rocky little teeth of mountains, sticking up randomly out of the otherwise flat terrain. For example, in the center of Guilin there is a mountain that shoots straight up out of the ground. It is way to steep to build one, so it is just left there, like a huge green finger sticking out of the ground. It’s hard to describe so take a look at the photos on my facebook page, or the video I will link you to at the end of this entry.
If I have one regret about the trip its that we didn’t spend more time in Guilin. My travel companion Lily and I had just over 24 hours to take in the sights, and I would have given anything for one more day in the beautiful, relaxing surroundings.
My time in Guilin began, not surprisingly, in the airport. Without even dropping our bags Lily and I walked to the tourism counter and signed up for a cruise on the Li river. We hopped on a bus, grabbed a quick lunch and within 2 hours of arrival, still in our travel clothes, we found ourselves on a bus taking us to the launch point on the Li river.
As you know, I am awesome. I’m also a man. As such, when I see something awe-inspiring or soul uplifting or anything like that I usually just make a grunting sound to show my admiration. Unfortunately grunting sounds don’t translate well to the written word, so I’m going to have to take a brief hiatus from manliness and use a few expressions I would usually steer clear of; The cruise on the Li river was beautiful. The views were absolutely awe-inspiring. The river threaded its way through a mountain range of the same small, rounded topped mountains that surround the city of Guilin. These physics defying mountains surrounded us on all side and absolutely soul-uplifting sights were to be had in all directions. The video I took is impressive, but it doesn’t even come close to doing this place justice. If you are having trouble believing me, just watch the movie Avatar – It was filmed in the same mountain range.
After the cruise the tour took us downstream to a small village called Yangshao. Yangshao was filled with amazing scenery and shops and stalls of all descriptions lined the streets. The place was a major tourist spot, as most Li river tours ended here. It was also filled with young rock climbers (unsurprisingly, the area offers phenomenal climbing) which made me nostalgic for my rock-climbing days in Canada (I’ve all but replaced rock-climbing with ultimate frisbee here in Korea, but can’t wait to get back into it when I return to Canada). The tour gave us about an hour in Yangshao, but we opted to stay longer and take the local bus back to Guilin that evening. We rented bikes and explored the town, and found an awesome roofed bike path leading out of the town and along the Li river. Yangshao was a ridiculously scenic place, with a relaxed vibe that really struck a chord with me after the frantic pace of Beijing and Shanghai. One day I want to return to this little slice of paradise, maybe to do some rock climbing or one of the amazing hikes on offer.
The next day we saw the Reed Flute cave, an impressive cave system which was congested with tourists and lit up with multi-colored lights. After the cave we took two ‘mini-hikes’ up the mountains on the outskirts of town. It was sweltering hot and we had to carry all our belongings because the next stop was the airport to Hong Kong.
Hong Kong. I’ve wanted to come to Hong Kong since I was in grade 6. It was around that time that I first read ‘Tai-Pan’ – one of the novels in James Clavell’s ‘Asian Saga’ of books. I know I had no business reading that book at that age, but even so I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’ve read it a few times since then and it has become one of my favorite books. Whoa, Tom – why are you suddenly telling us all about your favorite books? Isn’t this a blog about Hong Kong?
Yes, it’s a blog about Hong Kong – I’m coming to that. Anyway, Tai-Pan is about British opium smugglers at the time that Hong Kong was being founded. From reading the books I felt a bit like I had already been there, and my first few days in Hong Kong I couldn’t help but point out all these places that had featured in the books. Let me tell you, James Clavell did a better job of capturing the essence of Hong Kong better than I ever could, so you should probably just close your internet browser and head to your nearest book store to pick up a copy. Let me give you a basic overview of Hong Kong: A small area of coastland from mainland China was given to the British in the early 1840’s. This coastal area is called the ‘New Territories’ and ‘Kowloon’. Just off shore is the small island of Hong Kong, across a narrow channel from Kowloon. The area is one of the more densely populated on the planet with roughly 7 million people living in about 1,100 square kilometers.
Our visit to Hong Kong started out with a bit of a disappointment. Leafing through a Lonely Planet guidebook on the bus ride from the airport, I noticed a bar called ‘Bottoms Up Club’. The name sounded familiar, so I looked it up. Of course I knew it: Bottoms Up was featured in the 1974 James Bond film ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’. It was also the first topless bar in Hong Kong. We decide to go check it out. Unfortunately after we finally arrive at the address we found it had closed down several years before. Looking at the Lonely Planet guidebook we see it was published in 2004. This prompted me to look up in the air and scream “Noooooooooooooo!” Before collapsing to my knees and sobbing uncontrollably for several minutes. I finally pulled myself together when I noticed a large crowd of Chinese had gathered to watch the foreigner cry. I know sobbing in the street isn’t very manly, but if there is one thing its okay for a man to cry about its losing an opportunity to go to a strip club. Well, that and when Bruce Willis dies at the end of Armaggeddon.
Day two in Hong Kong took us to the Hong Kong Zoological Gardens and Aviary. We saw various species of monkeys, which all seemed to be in the mood to entertain the crowd during our visit. We also saw some turtles mating, which is always fun to witness. Of course, being an aviary, we also saw a ton of birds. Song birds are considered lucky in Hong Kong and many people own them as pets. After the Gardens we made to head back to the ferry to take us back across to Kowloon and our hostel. We had a bit of difficulty finding the ferry terminal. Some might say we got lost, but I’m a 23 year old man, and I know better. What they call lost, I’d call ‘Knowing where we are and where we want to get to, but not knowing exactly how to get there.’ Big difference.
The next day we went to The Peak, which is a huge mountain near the center of Hong Kong island. It offered spectacular views of the island and Kowloon in the distance, which you can see in the video. The tram ride to the top of the Peak was really cool as well. The tracks led up a ridiculously steep incline – 27 degrees. If you stand up during the trip, like I did, you stand at about a 45 degree angle. I was actually just leaning against the wall behind me, and could have probably taken my feet off the wall and just hung there. The tram has been in operation since 1888 as well, so there were plenty of cool pictures to see in the Tram museum at the station in Central.
We also saw the Hong Kong flower market, Jade Market, and Bird Markets, which were all really interesting. The flower market smelled phenomenal, a bit like being surrounded by thousands of women, each wearing a different perfume, which is what I was imagining while there to qwell the boredom. The bird market was really cool as well – there were hundreds of cages containing thousands of birds. The birds ranged in price from a few dozen Hong Kong dollars to thousands and thousands of dollars for rare birds. It didn’t smell as nice as the flower market, but it was a bit more interesting for me. That evening we went to the waterfront in Kowloon to see the nightly lightshow. Essentially music blasts from speakers on both sides of the channel and the building’s lights flicker on and off in time to the tunes. It was really cool in person and unfortunately the video I took doesn’t do it justice. I think the nighttime skyline in Hong Kong rivals, or even surpasses that of Shanghai, but you can judge for yourself by comparing the two videos.
Well this is an absurdly long entry. It is not my intention to write posts so long you need to bookmark your place to return to them later, but I wanted to get the main details of my trip down for your enjoyment as well as my own when I look back at them in a few years. I think my next post might focus on some of the cultural differences between Korea and China, and what it feels like to be relieved when you come ‘home’ from a vacation in a foreign country to a different foreign country. Until then have a good one.
Here is the link to my youtube.com channel. The 4 part China Trip series can be found there shortly: http://www.youtube.com/user/Tiddlywinkers88?feature=mhee
That’s all for now!