During the long weekend for the Golden Week, I went hiking in China to one of the most beautiful and picturesque places I have seen. In my last article, I mentioned few places to visit during the weekends around Hong Kong. Those were short and quick getaways to nature. But if you are the true outdoor loving person as I am, if you love the breeze more than the gushing air of the air conditioner, if you prefer sun light to the close curtains, if you prefer moon light to tube light and if you rather get lost in a jungle than sit at home on the couch and watch Lost, then this might interest you.
In three days, I with three other friends, one Polish, one French and one Chinese, covered three cities in China and hiked about 40 km. One of us could speak mandarin fluently, which proved very essential in remote parts of China. I would recommend picking up some very basic mandarin before going. I will split my trip into two parts, which I am sure will excite two types of audience. Golden week in China begins.
First part, Guilin to Yangshuo, the easy one!
As we wanted to experience the bag packing scene, we took an overnight train from Shenzen to Guilin. Very comfortable journey and not much time wasted. For Indians, the first thing you feel as you step into Guilin, is the similarity to Indian cities. The crowd, the small shops, the street food, the bus agents, all reminded me of Delhi in a nostalgic way. Do the try the local street food, its pretty delicious. We took a bus from Guilin station to Yangdi pier. This is the starting point of the first hike and you reach Li river.
Remember you will have to buy a raft ticket for about 200 RMB. A bit on the expensive side and not really worth it, but there is no other option because you will have to cross the river at least couple of times. The hiking route is straightforward and is available on the net easily. The landscape surrounding the Li River is very scenic and different. The shape of the hills are very unique and local to this area of China. The hike is about 20 km and runs along the side of the river till a place called Xingping, so at any time you feel tired, just hop on the raft, as you have already booked it till the end by paying 200 RMB. Now, I know not all of us are Abercrombie fit, but this hike is not at all tough and will seem like more of a walk, but goes for almost 4-5 hours, so have your walking shoes ready. You pass along about 6-7 small local villages, whose residents are native people of this region. The simplicity of their life calms you down and makes you forget the rush of the city.
Just take few moments to observe them working and try to talk to them. Usually, they are very friendly people and I got an idea that they love tourists as everyone tried to help us with our way without even asking. Shutterbug or not, keep your camera ready. You will see many scenic spots and depending on the time of the day, pictures come out pretty nice. Try the food at the small wooden restaurants which come along the way. We avoided the meat and stuck to veggies mostly. But you get the authentic Chinese cuisine here. Try the fish, it was delicious and filling. You will see mostly all the work is done by women and men mostly sit around smoking and collecting the money from sales. But the women are real hard workers and very focused. You will see them working in restaurants and on the fields. The entire hike was not very tiring but the most refreshing part was the pineapple ice cream, when we reached Xingping. We had a really adventurous ride in a so called minibus which was smaller than an auto rickshaw or tuk tuk. Four of us with our bags, barely managed to squeeze in and to make things exciting, the door flung open while we were moving. Felt like the vehicle kind of wants to throw one of us out!! Somehow, we managed to reach the bus station alive and took a bus to Yangshuo, where our hotel was booked. Yangshuo is a very famous tourist spot for Chinese and thankfully wasn’t crowded as much as we expected for the Golden Week long weekend. We stayed on the very famous West Street, which reminded me so much of Parisian streets which open bars and cafe’s. People eating outside, local musicians playing music on the streets and the streets lit up with decorations. I have never seen so many bars in such a small place.
It was a bit too touristy for me but nevertheless a good experience. Next morning, we biked around the city for couple of hours and left for Longji for our next part of journey. I would definitely come back to Yangshuo to spend 2-3 days here as there is so much to do here such as biking, cave mud baths, bamboo river rafting and the light show on Yulong River.
Second part, Longji’s rice terraced fields, the not so easy one!
China contributes 23% of all of world’s rice production, so I had to see what all the fuss is about. We took a bus from Yangshuo to Guilin and then took a bus to Longji. Now, there are two ways to hike, either you start from Ping’an and go to Dazhai village or the other way round. We chose the latter as it seemed easier. So based on a sweet deal with the bus driver, he dropped us at Pingan and then a guy with a small truck picked us up to take us to Dazhai. Very interesting ride this was, as we met another fellow hiker and had some chickens stuffed into a box to give us company. But as we reached to the terraced fields, the view is just breath taking.
I felt like it was just unreal. I still don’t have the right adjectives to describe the landscape. Lush green terraced rice fields spanning miles. We were shocked to see a really long cable car system covering the hills. Now, I did my homework and no where there was a mention of a cable car. We found out, that thing opened just a day before. As much it’s a technological marvel, it sorts of destroys the raw and natural ambiance. And plus it will attract a lot of tourists, making the region more commercialized. Even though it’s good for the local as they get business, but commercialization normally destroys the tranquillity of a place so beautiful. I hope people can keep the serenity of the place alive by not littering.
Anyhow, the ride was really amazing and scenic. The driver was very friendly and stopped at various points to allow us to take pictures. We finally reach our hostel, which is completely wooden like any other building in this region; probably because of the snow in winter. But the view from our room was just wow. The only thing is missed was a hot cup of chai and some pakode. We picked beans for our dinner from the farms and celebrated Mid Autumn festival for our Chinese friend with mooncakes, fruits and bamboo rice. Make sure to try the bamboo rice, as it’s very authentic and made in the most natural way possible. And you eat it out of a bamboo!
I wanted to capture the sunrise so next morning we got up at 5 AM and set off to the highest point of the hill to see the sun rise. Our hike pretty much started here. This hike unlike the first one is a much more difficult one, and one needs to be in good shape. There is a lot of uphill and downhill which makes it tough on your legs. May be try to walk on an inclined for week in the gym before you try this one or do the peak hike! The sunrise, as expected was just serene and golden.
One of the best I have seen. I have a thing for sun rise and sun set, and make it a point to capture at least one when I visit a place. The entire hike was totally worth it. The view of first rays of the sun, lighting up the golden terraced fields is unparalleled. After the sunrise, we started our actual hike to Pingan. It took us more almost 5 hours to complete the hike. We crossed many hills and few small villages. The local people are from Yao tribe and are very friendly. They keep trying to sell local handicrafts or water. I would definitely recommend buying something, if you are taking pictures. A 4 RMB bottle of water won’t make you poor, but will definitely make them happy. And once you have bought something from them, they open up. Try talking with them, may be in sign language or through someone who can translate. They are very interesting people with very different perspective towards life. Seeing them made me think about the difference between our endless wishes and their will to just survive.
Yes, you are bound to get a bit philosophical in a place like that. Let it come! This hike is the most beautiful hike I have ever done. We walked through the rice paddy terraced fields, with farmers working hard to collect the harvest. The autumn made everything golden and I got some good shots of the landscape. As you pass through the villages, the local offer to provide lunch at a very fair price. Not need to carry lot of water or food as you will find small kids or locals selling water, coke and other stuff to eat. Travel light, as going up hills with a heavy bag pack will test your calves. It’s always good to keep checking with fellow hikers or locals that you are on the right path, as we lost our way couple of times. Ping’an, unlike Dazhai is very tourist friendly and crowded.
We finally took the bus from Ping’an to Gulin, just in time to get a much needed super cheap full body massage and catch our train back to Hong Kong. For shutterbugs like me, this hike is candy land. Every moment and every angle is worth capturing. No matter what you like to shoot, objects, landscapes, architecture or people, there is a lot for everyone.
Things to note:
Trip duration: 3-4 days.
Trip budget: HK$ 3000.
Commute: We took a train from Shenzen to Guilin on Friday evening and reached Guilin on Saturday morning. From Guilin station we took a bus to Yangdi pier where our hike started with renting a boat for 150 RMB. We reached Xingping ater hiking and tok a bus to Yangshuo, where we stayed at Bamboo Inn Hotel for the night. A good hotel and very friendly staff. Next day we took a bus back to Guilin and then a shared cab to Dazhai. We stayed in a hotel on top of the valley and hiked to Ping’an next morning. Finally, we took a mini bus to Guilin from Ping’an. And our trip ended with a train back to Hong Kong from Guilin.
Pick any long weekend and try at least one of these hikes, whichever suits you. Get close to nature!! And please don’t litter and keep the serenity of these places alive. For more details on the trip, please feel free to contact me in the comment section below.