Article by Thabo Jaffe
48 Hours or Less is a column dedicated to travel and to getting the most out of your measly two days off a week.
It’s 10:30 am. I anxiously wake up with a warm southern wind blowing in my face. We’ve been driving for half an hour. I have a look around, take in my surroundings. I’d just landed in Guangxi 30 minutes prior, and was a little tired because it had become somewhat of a tradition to sleep very little or not at all before a flight, an effort to break my cursed inability to sleep on planes. What I see around me is endless green blurring past on all sides. No sight of mountains. Yet.
Travelling alone with all of a week’s planning, I’d decided to get myself a guide, and a great guide at that. So, Bin (the amazing guide) and I made conversation as we climbed cautiously fast up the narrow road snaking up the hills to Ping’an/Longji rice terraces. We pass a few cordoned-off parts of the road, clear evidence of recent mudslides, and I ask Bin if this happens often, and he replies,” Oh no, only when it rains heavily.” Well actually it rains a lot in this part of the world, as you will find.
We eventually arrive at the Longji hillside village, and a word to the wise – pack light. We had to park outside the main village, and though it’s just around 600m to the clusterf*#@ of hostels, the gradient of the walk, humidity, and weight of my bag, made every pore a miniature geyser. Arriving at my pre-booked hostel of only 30RMB/night, my humble guide left me to my devices for the rest of the day, to meet at 6am the next morning. Me being me, even with just 2 hours sleep, I had to use every waking moment to see and do everything humanly possible in Longji. After a quick bite, it was only 2:30pm, and I decided to walk up to one of the peaks translated as Nine Dragons and Five Tigers. I took a leisurely 30 minutes to get to the top, where I was greeted by the postcard view of the terraces in all their glory. Though my whole trip was very cloudy and in part, rainy, aka not the perfect conditions – the view here was worth every drop of sweat. Bring your camera. From here, I decided to make my own way around, as I was trying to escape a large tour group. Coming down a different side from where I left Ping’an, I got horribly lost in the hillside maze of hostels, and I ended up walking through every alley possible until I got back to my modest bunk bed. I was meant to have drinks with a few tourists I met along the way, but after being lost, I decided not to get lost again, and rather get some well-deserved sleep.
The next day, 4:30am. Look out the window – sunrise shots are a no-go, a fat bastard of a cloud is sitting on the village, and It’s raining a little. Back to sleep.
6am and Bin is happily telling me about his childhood in Yangshuo as we coast down the hills and eventually to the Longsheng/Guilin wharf on the Li river. Now, the terrain began to transform into what I can only describe as dreamlike. Slowly, peaks of pimpled earth began to poke through the mist, until we reached the wharf where I boarded a cruise to Yangshuo with an American couple (but without Bin). At this point, there were spotted bouts of heavy rain, and most of the passengers were afraid of water (what!) so I was at liberty to shoot freely on the roof. The cruise passed by many picturesque scenes, often pointed out by the cruise operator (in English, to the only 3 foreigners). Have a 20RMB note ready for that classic “I was there” moment—I had to ask a kid for his. I have to mention that the cruise is a must, as the Karst mountains from the water are just majestic muses to the imagination. Take a moment to put the camera down and breathe in the scenery.
Arriving in Yangshuo, I meet again with Bin, and it’s a quick drive to a tea plantation. Not really my thing as I’m an obsessive coffee drinker. Nonetheless, I got some insight on the amount of work that goes into a single bag of “good” green tea. The pickers only select the new, bright green shoots, averaging an inch or less in length, as wide as a straw. Needless to say, it takes a while to fill a basket. From there we went to a possibly not-so-well-known spot called Fuli, where there is a reportedly 500-year-old half-moon stone bridge—a great photo op for all the couples out there.
Back at my hotel, I had to decide what to do with my last few hours of daylight. I chose to rent an e-bike and explore. My hotel let me use theirs for free, on the condition that I brought it back by 11pm. I checked Tripadvisor for some points of interest, but found I was a little too late for most so I drove around the main city for a while, until the battery was low. On foot again, I explored XiJie, Yangshuo’s equivalent of Xi’an’s Muslim Street – a mix of traditional foods and souvenirs, modern trinkets, some oddly German restaurants and a KFC and McDonalds to boot. Stick around just after sunset for a show on the river inlet near the McDonalds (yes, it is a landmark, and yes, you’ll remember it). There’s a ton of tiny bars shooting off the main street, all vying for your attention, so take your pick.
Venturing outside my usual 48 hours for this article, this is for those who want to squeeze in a little more fun, or have more time available.
On my second-to-last day, I was to go bamboo rafting (highly suggested) on the Yulong river but the weather had other plans. Torrential, umbrella-breaking-rain plans. All the rafts were obviously grounded, and all rental everything was shut down for the day. So, I decided to walk along the river in pure solitude, as for most there seems to be an intense fear of falling water. I passed rice paddies, granadilla plantations, and fields of rain-pelted flowers. The mountains were an ominous gigantic figure in-between all the clouds. From the end of the riverside path, I was driven to Moon Hill.
Moon Hill is a definite must, especially when the path up is not a temporary river. Due to extreme stubbornness, and despite the warning from Bin, I made my way up. I honestly thought it would be more difficult, but it was a 15-20-minute walk from the base to the peak, where you’re welcomed by a huge natural arch and a hell of a view. Sadly, I got only peeks of the view, as the rain was making it hard to breathe or open my eyes when I put down my new umbrella – thank God for my waterproof GoPro or there would be no evidence of my visit to Moon Hill. Reaching the bottom after walking, almost sliding back down, I dried off for a little while knocking back a local beer. Back to the Hotel and Xijie I went.
My last morning, I chose to rent a petrol scooter and headed to Xianggongshan, a peak overlooking a horseshoe bend in the river. At about an hour’s drive, at a joyous tourist pace, I passed numerous breathtaking views, but none rivalling the view awaiting me at the top of Xianggong shan. It’s just a 10-minute walk up, and as you step out onto the platform, you’re almost slapped in the face with a magnificent artwork of immense beauty. My last view of the trip was the best.
If you’ve never heard of Yangshuo or Guilin, let alone been there, I strongly advise you check it out. Easily one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to.
Airport to Ping’an – Take a shuttle bus for 25RMB to Guilin, then a taxi to Qintan bus station where you can take a bus for 30RMB to Longsheng, a further 10RMB will get you to Ping’an
Ping’an to wharf – There is a bus that operates after 9am but I don’t know the price as I left at 6am, I’d say budget at least 30RMB
Ping’an entry: 95RMB
Li river (deluxe) cruise: 320RMB
Tea plantation: 50RMB
Bamboo rafting: 200RMB
Moon hill entry: 14RMB
Xinggong shan: 60RMB
*Quoted prices correct at time of print
Take cash – most people outside the city centre don’t use any e-payment
Take plenty of sunscreen – when the sun pops out, it’s blazing
Waterproof/quickdry stuff – it’s super humid and often rains, don’t ruin your expensive camera
Use Baidu maps – although in Chinese you can find your way around not knowing any, and I find that some points on Baidu maps don’t appear on other map apps
Thabo is an avid explorer and less-than-worldly South African, always in search of new experiences. Stopping just short of suicidal, he’s a true Yes Man. You can reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org