Arrival in Guilin

The drivers here are INSANE. I'd only been in Guilin half an hour and the airport shuttle bus driver nearly killed us by running straight through a red light. The thing is, at the time I thought that was a moment of madness. No. Everyone does it. All the time!

The tour coach driver insisted on overtaking at breakneck speed - even when there were other coaches coming head on at us. He seemed to think using the horn would make them magically disappear somehow. They didn't. I'm not ashamed to admit I nearly shit myself on a number of occasions. As far as I can recall it's the only time I've actually been scared in a vehicle. I can only assume he was rushing back to an orgy with fifty hot Chinese women.

The horn here seems to mean "I'm in the middle of doing something ridiculously stupid, I'd advise you to get out of my way if you can". The red man at crossings means it's very unsafe to cross, people do it anyway. The green man STILL appears to mean it's very unsafe to cross, as people just drive straight through. Motorbikes and scooters ride down the wrong side of the road, on the pavements and with no lights on at night. Vehicles in general pull out into fast moving traffic apparently with no knowledge there are actually other things on the road with them and pedestrians wander out aimlessly into the firing line, safe in the knowledge their invisible forcefield will allow them to bounce majestically and harmlessly off the front of any oncoming car/coach/lorry and float gracefully back down to the asphalt. Anyway, like I said, insane.

So... I'm in Guilin! This wasn't in the original plan, but having been recommended to go there by my friends Chan and Lilian (my Hong Kong CouchSurfing host) it had to be done.

I didn't get off to the best of starts. We boarded the plane in Shenzhen, and proceeded to sit on the apron for an hour and a half (longer than the actual flight time would be). Fun.

I then nearly died in the shuttle bus, which I've already shared. I finally made it to my hostel at 1am to check in, only for them to say there was no reservation for me, despite having booked online a few days before. After an hour of waving my arms around and trying to explain to the staff who could hardly speak English that I had reserved online, we searched through piles and piles of paperwork to find my booking. Thank God. Another thirty minutes later (while they cleaned my room!) and I was in.

That's a lot of text, let's have some pretty pictures.

These are the Sun and Moon pagodas in Shan Lake, which was just a few minutes walk from my hostel:

And here's some from the Li river tour I went on:

This backdrop is on the 20 yuan note which this lady is kindly holding up!
These guys are Cormorants, used by the villagers for fishing...

I think you'll agree, it was well worth the trip. The first part was four hours on a big boat cruising down the Li river to Yangshuo, where we had an hour of free time before heading to a small village for a couple of hours bamboo rafting. It was absolutely incredible. The limestone karsts provide a unique backdrop, it makes for quite an experience.

The big boat had an upper deck (you can see an identical boat in one of the photos above) where I stood at the front and leant against the railing to take photos. I totally felt like Kate Winslet.

There was a moment when I was getting on the bamboo raft, concentrating entirely on not toppling over and falling into the water, when I heard a loud PLONK. Oh. That's not good. I turned around and watched whatever it was sink down underneath the water, then confusingly pop back up again to the surface. It was my bottle of water in the side pocket of my bag! Phew.

The biggest thing I am struggling with so far is the language barrier. Hong Kong eased me in very gently, as lots of people speak English there due to it being an official language. Not so in China. I'm getting by (just) but it's harder than I expected it to be. Simply having English speaking hostel staff can be extremely useful. I moved to another hostel for my last night staying here, as I originally wasn't sure how long I would be in Guilin. I couldn't explain to the (non English) speaking staff at the first establishment that I wanted to stay another night, so I gave up and went to somewhere else. If I'd have persisted I'm sure we would have got there, but it was just easier to walk to somewhere else a few minutes down the road. These guys spoke perfect English and it's one less hassle for you to worry about. The hostel almost turns into a safe haven where you can go back and understand people again!

One night i did have a nightmare scenario where for half an hour or so my world imploded on me. I was running low on cash (I'd initially changed some Hong Kong dollars to Chinese yuan whilst still in Hong Kong) so tried to withdraw some money from the first cash machine I visited in China. I chose 1000 yuan (around £100). The machine thought about it for a good two minutes, spat out my card, printed out my receipt showing I'd withdrawn 1000 yuan, then nothing, no money. Shit.

I tried again at the machine next to it... same thing, but this time no receipt. Oh shit, shit. Tried again with another card, same result. SHIT!

By this time I was sweating profusely. This was a pretty bad situation to be in. Sure, not the worst thing that could possibly happen but at the time I was panicking and it felt like a total disaster!

I frantically searched for other banks along the road. I found the Bank of China. I tried again. The machine thought about it for what seemed like forever before dispensing some glorious money! Thank Christ for that.

I phoned up the other bank and gave them all the details of the three failed attempts. They said they're dealing with it, so I hope it gets sorted and I don't get screwed over. I'll check my account online and see what's happening there.

Moral of the story... erm, don't spend all your cash on rent boys? I don't know.

That was a long one, thanks for sticking with it! Next up, Nanning.