My five-day package tour to Guilin

DAY ONE
Unfortunately, due to my lack of ability in Chinese, as I got off the plane and followed the herd into Guilin airport, I mistakenly ticked the boxes declaring I had every disease known to man, and subsequently had to spend several minutes convincing customs officials otherwise. Albeit from a distance, as none of them wanted to catch anything.

The ordeal over, I caught up to my patiently waiting Taiwanese wife, Anita, and we hurried out of the terminal to find the other ten members of our tour group.
“Oh… too Chinese la,” she announced, seeing the traditional decoration outside.
“Well, we are in China,” I reminded her, “maybe that has something to do with it?”
“And too fake, la,” she continued, ignoring me.
“Now you’re just being rude – at least they’re trying to make it look nice,” although I had to admit that luminous purple palm trees and plastic coconuts probably weren’t to everyone’s taste.
We got on the bus with everyone else and I tried to catch forty winks while a round faced Chinese lady with a microphone babbled away about something or other. After a while she sang a song, which I found rather disconcerting and embarrassing, but everyone else seemed to love. Concerning the rest of her speech, all I managed to pick up were ‘KMT’ and ‘pineapple’, both of which I’m pretty sure were wrong.

The bus trundled towards town, and soon we were able to see some of the fantastic scenery that I had been promised. It was already getting dark, but we could still make out what seemed to be dozens of tree-covered mountains crowding around us – either that, or it was clouds, cunningly shaped like anti-mountains, which I found rather unlikely. All the while the tour guide was still bollocking along ten to the dozen and I began to wonder if she was paid by the word, like Charles Dickens.
“Will this woman ever shut up?” I asked Anita.
“Shh,” she said, “interesting,” although I was pretty sure she’d just spent the last ten minutes trying to get some sleep.
An indeterminate amount of time later I was beginning to think ‘Guilin Airport’ might be a slightly inappropriate name, given that we were surely halfway to Shangahi by now and hadn’t seen hide nor hair of anything resembling a five-star hotel. When we finally did arrive, the guide walked us off the bus, still talking like someone was repeatedly pulling a string on her back.
“She’s not gonna follow us to our room is she?”
Anita didn’t answer that. In the last three years she’s become rather good at deciding whether it’s worth responding to anything I say.

Apparently, it usually isn’t.

The ‘Waterfall’ hotel in Guilin actually was five star, which surprised me as I’d been expecting some dodgy rip off one-star type place with fancy decorating (possibly including luminous palm trees). I was somewhat disappointed in the evening meal we were immediately ushered into, though, as I didn’t feel it was right that I should have risked my life flying Air Macau to China, the home of tea, only to be served Lipton Yellow Label at my first evening meal. Don’t get me wrong, I like Lipton Yellow Label, but you wouldn’t fly to Brazil for a Nescafe instant, now, would you*?

The night market next to the hotel was nothing of the sort. It was, instead, a tourist trap of a place, far removed from Guilin proper and consisting of various ‘SunCome’ grocery stores which only sold overpriced souvenir goods. Dotted around there was also a KFC, a McDonalds and several disco clubs, with names like ‘Champagne’, ‘Heaven’s heaven’, and curiously, ‘Since 1996’ which might have been for paedophiles. In any case, there were lots of little boys outside it trying to give me a rose, which seemed extremely Cambodian. Anyway, we managed to get out of the market without being completely fleeced, although I was offered ‘hot sess’ three times and Anita bought some dodgy chestnuts. As the clock wound its way towards midnight we found a beauty shop nearby and submitted ourselves to a 12RMB (50 NTD) hair wash each, which we both thoroughly enjoyed and would recommend to anyone. If they ever happen to be in Guilin wanting their hair washed.

*Actually, there was a time living in Romania when i would definitely have done this.

Merry Christmas, Hartley and Anita!

DAY TWO

We were woken up by a 6:30 morning call, which is particularly annoying because it’s just a stupid recorded song calling you, so there isn’t even anyone to shout at. After trooping dutifully down to breakfast, I found it to be completely traditional, which in layman’s terms means ‘inedible’. I wasn’t fooled by the little English signs saying things like ‘poultry web’ and ‘five-star delicacy’ which were respectively ‘chicken’s feet’ and ‘some unspeakable kind of internal organ’. There was only one dish I was able to contemplate, osmanthus bao - osmanthus being the flower that Guilin is famous for - but I resent being forced to eat cake for breakfast*.

“Someone needs to tell that woman to shut the f*** up,” we had been joined by a second guide at ‘elephant mountain scenic park’, which is awesome, even though my five year old nephew could draw a better elephant. This new woman seemed to think that loudness was motivating and so was shouting everything at the top of her voice through a megaphone. I wanted to kill her, and in the official group photo of the tour you can see me conspicuously looking the other way to show my defiance. Unfortunately, this only made her shout louder, but I’m happy to say that after failing to sell us more photos and a DVD, she sang a song about what thankless bastards we were** and left the tour. Visibly relieved at her departure, we carried on to a park with stone Buddha carvings, hedges cut into the shape of elephants and a stall threatening to sell you a t-shirt with your own face painted on it for 25 RMB. In fact, as the day wound on I began to see that in Guilin and its environs, just about anything you might possibly want, and a lot of things you would never imagine wanting, can be bought for 25 RMB. The car park where our bus was waiting contained more beggars per square inch than I have ever seen, each of them either trying to sell something or show off whichever limb it is they didn’t have. Some of them were doing both.

In the pearl museum, which was not really a museum, but more a pearl supermarket with camouflage, a saleswoman assigned herself to you as you walked through the door and doggedly followed you around, trying to second guess your every interested glance. She was, I decided, just an upmarket version of the beggars. The only difference was that this one could relieve you of many thousands more dollars simply by telling you that the pearls you were now holding were very expensive deep sea pearls, and not the crappy might-as-well-be-plastic ones she’d just finished convincing you to buy when she thought you couldn’t afford anything else. In an act of heroic monologuing, I managed to convince Anita she didn’t look good in pearls at all, and bundled her back into the bus before she worked out that that could actually be construed as insulting and whacked me.

Even though I felt like we’d been visiting places since the dawn of humanity, it was still only lunchtime. Our fare consisted of meat-stuffed snails, various fish-consisting dishes and a whole bowl of living, writhing shrimps that got poured onto hot stones and died in front of us. Anita clasped her hands together and dug in with glee.
“But…they died,” I looked at her, bewildered.
She looked back at me with that look she does when I’m being an idiot.
“Everything died baby.”
“Yes…but not just now. Not like that.”
She sighed and carried on eating, I tried to forget about it and later succeeded so well that I ended up eating a whole handful before I remembered that shocked look on their faces as they fell to their grisly deaths. I tried to feel better by telling myself it was because I had more or less skipped breakfast, was really very hungry indeed and that faced with a similar predicament, the Andes plane crash survivors had eaten the bodies of their dead friends. That helped.

The afternoon was a little more relaxed as the bus trundled us to Yangshuo. Once there, Anita and I turned down the opportunity to rent bikes and ride up and down mountain roads in the blazing hot sunshine. Don’t ask me why, perhaps it’ because we’re both SANE. Other members of the group who for some reason thought this might be a good idea later turned up looking close to death or at the least very-well barbecued. We also decided against paying an optional 400 RMB to go on a 1-hour river cruise. Instead we sat on the river bank, waiting for our friends to come back, listening to the river guides singing songs to their captive audience through a loudhailer and watching the locals repeatedly beat up a cow that kept wandering over to nuzzle their rubbish.

The afternoon tour ended in another park with a 100 year old Banyan tree. Yet another prettily dressed girl met us at the gates, picked up a loudhailer and started yabbering obnoxiously away about f*** knows what while we variously looked the other way, tried to outdistance her and put our fingers in our ears. After a few minutes she shouted that no-one was paying attention to her, burst into tears and stomped off.
“She wasn’t responding to the needs of the group,” Anita proclaimed.
“She is now,” I answered, watching her disappear into the distance and contemplating an hour’s kip in the shade of the enormous tree.

It was an hour’s kip I never got to take, because dinner was waiting. This time it was a Chinese Hot Pot style buffet, with free beer. I was too tired, hot and sick of Chinese food to do anything but sip at some Sprite. I might also have been thinking about the shrimps again. My fellow travellers looked rather perturbed at my lack of enthusiasm, and when I waved away the offer of a beer I think they genuinely thought that I was dying. I managed to convince them that the food was just a little too rich for someone brought up on deep-fried beef-burger and chips, and they left me to my carbonated sugar-juice.

Dinner was followed by the famous show ‘Impression’ which plays out on the river with the mountains serving as a stunning backdrop. The lighting, special effects, music and 600 actors make it one of the most stunning visual and aural experiences I have ever had. It truly is an outstanding thing to see and if I hadn’t been sweating my ass of due to the 30 degree temperature and suffering some of the worst neck pain I’ve had in months because of the lack of a seat-back to rest on, I might even have enjoyed it. As it was, I was relieved when the hour was over and we could scurry back to our hotel, enjoy a brief wash and head out to ‘foreigner street’, where I managed to find some KFC French Fries and Anita nearly got molested by a goose.

  • No I don’t, in fact I’m 85% sure I’ve fantasized about this
    ** I’m not joking, she really did

[quote] “But…they died,” I looked at her, bewildered.
She looked back at me with that look she does when I’m being an idiot.
“Everything died baby.”
“Yes…but not just now. Not like that.” [/quote]

:laughing: :laughing:

I like Anita. And Hartley, I never pegged you for a wuss. :slight_smile:

As for the loudmouthed tour guide with lungs of steel, I KNEW the same thing would happen when I went on a Taiwanese group trip to Hokkaido last spring.

I bought an MP3 right before the trip. :smiley:

I went on a three day bus trip to Tainan once. That’s worse cos you have KTV on the bus as well. Obviously when I was new to Taiwan. Painfully horrible. The low point was visiting a hill made of salt which actually had a tour guide.

Hartley wrote [quote]I managed to find some KFC French Fries [/quote]
Oh, not a real traveller then. Not only do I never eat at foreign fast food outlets when travelling, I avoid visiting countries that have McDonalds. :wink:

Happy travels, and take it easy with Opium War jokes.

:laughing:

I used to live not far from Qigu and after two years of living in Tainan eventually decided to go and see it when my sister was visiting, for lack of anything else to do. I can remember a group of Taipei tourists absolutely loving it, taking photos with the grubby salt sculptures and staring out at the flat monotonous miles of salt and fish ponds. Meimei and I just cracked open a beer on top of the big pile of salt and made jokes about how utterly crap the majority of Taiwan tourist attractions are, at which point the tourist guide you mentioned looked at us in disgust and stalked off. Oh, and then there’s the salt ice-cream. Putrid.

Chinese package tours are definitely something to be experienced once in a lifetime.

:roflmao:

That’s the badger! It’s soooo much fun when it’s 35 degrees hot.

The salt ice-cream! Out of all the good tasting things you could make (could have sprinkled it over sauted spoonbills? Another exciting attraction…), they thought of icecream? To top it off, mine had secret peanut in it so I had a horrible allergic reaction.

Oh, not a real traveller then. Not only do I never eat at foreign fast food outlets when travelling, I avoid visiting countries that have McDonalds. :wink:[/quote]

Which means you limit travels to about three countries? :slight_smile:

No Antarctica or North Korea for me, either.

I’d absolutely love to go to both! Ultimate travel destinations.

Sounds like a rock band for the 00s. Or a spy movie. In either event you are pretty funny buttercup. Hope you’re a girl.

Why? Yes, I’m a girl.

Than the Kaoliang ice-cream in Kinmen sounds better and this … :laughing:

You went with a tourgroup? That’s showing balls my friend … I’d never dare do that :s

Oh, not a real traveller then. Not only do I never eat at foreign fast food outlets when travelling, I avoid visiting countries that have McDonalds. :wink:[/quote]

Which means you limit travels to about three countries? :slight_smile:[/quote]

Being … Myanmar, North Korea and … Cuba …

Every guide book I have ever read tells you to eat where the locals eat. I’ve been to china and a great deal of the locals eat at KFC, if its good for them…
For those interested in the authentic Chinese experience I recommend trying “Dicos” the local chinese imitation of KFC.

Sorry, off topic. Hartley won’t mind. Hi Izzy, was good to meet you at the HH. :rainbow: