Week 4: Guillen, Yangshou and Hong Kong

After putting our legs to work in the provincial area of Shangri’la, in Tiger Leaping Gorge, I knew the time for some softness had arrived. I also knew that I couldn’t push my travel buddy too much further with crazy hikes, nor did I want to, so the days of rest, good food and ease set in.  

From Lijiang, we took a morning flight back to Kunming. On arrival to Kunming, we had a 6 hour lay-over before heading to Guillen. The Kunming airport isn’t any kind of highlight, so we weren’t looking too forward to that long of a layover, so upon arrival, we got a quick bite to eat and then decided to go to the airline’s desk to see about an earlier flight. 

And this is where some China traveling advice comes into play. You will get what I mean in a minute. 

Okay, so with our bags in a trolley, we eventually find our Chinese airliner’s desk. I think it was Kunming Air. Irrevelvant. Anyways, so I get to the desk, planning to simply see about an earlier flight. First, as per understandably usual in China, the airline clerk spoke very little English. So, when I asked her about a possible earlier flight, she tells me that our flight already left. That we missed it. Aghast at this news, I asked for another clerk, hoping for some clarification. About 10 minutes later, another clerk comes to the desk. I inquire about our flight and he says, “no, no, I’m sorry, you did not miss your flight.” Relief swells over, regardless of the four more hours at this airport. But, then, as if a PS is in order, he says, “oh, but Miss, your flight has been delayed until 1 am, 13:00.  Yup, I said “what the hell” out loud. The gentleman returned my response by acting totally normal and saying I could cancel if I want. So weird. In the U.S., if a flight has been delayed, you might be rerouted for an earlier time; and that would really be the only option. Canceling? I was so confused. I was sure that meant a bigger chunk of change would be leaving our bank account. But, shortly, after a lot of communication work, I understood that the airline who had our delay could give me a letter of delay, which I could use to cancel our flights with C-trip (Chinese Travel Website). C-Trip would then refund us our money and we could book another flight, right there an then. Weirded out. 

So, we followed instructions, and went to another desk to book a new flight that would be leaving in an hour. So, now, we had to hurry. The flight did cost us 50 dollars more a piece, but it meant we wouldn’t be arriving into a new city at 3am. So we paid that extra cash, got our tickets and booked it to the gate. 

Though our morning had been quite stressful, (the ease I had planned had a late birth)… Our arrival to Guillen was so perfect. We stepped outside to WARM weather for the first time in 3 weeks! No need for down jackets, long sleeve shirts, jeans or gloves. Holy Moly. Sunshine!

From the airport of Guillen, you drive into the city, as if being cupped by the moving hands of Giants. Craggy cliffs and mountains move in the periphery, as scooters whiz in and out of traffic. Pagodas, rivers, bridges, and smiling faces. 

We stayed 2 nights in Guillen, exploring the city’s offerings, choosing to stroll its shopping streets, western pubs, bar scene, and planning our trip to Yangshou. 

The highlight of week four, for me, was our cruise down the Li river to Yangshou. It was incredibly beautiful, unraveling ancient travel routes and fresh forest air, amidst karst peaks. The photo above is of our cruise. I spent the majority of our time on the boat on its uppermost level, biting the cold with wide-open eyes. Amazed at the beauty of our earth, our people, the resiliency of nature and man. Again, I thought, “now this is China. This is what I came here to see, to breathe, to experience.” Watching fisherman in small bamboo rafts flow along the river, paddling every once in a while, birds circling above, winds creating music through bamboo and dense forest trees. I stood there, still, cold, blissful and astonished.  

Four hours later, we arrived in the port of Yangshou. I have a thing for trusting female taxi drivers, so when a sweet little lady came up to us and offered us a ride for around 9 dollars, we took it. We had booked our hotel a few days before, thinking we were headed to a Hyatt Regency up in the mountains of the rock climbing town of Yangshou. BUT, once we got there, we quickly realized our hotel was a Hyatt with only one t-making it Hyat… Not exquisite, not American feeling, and did not have the amenities we saw in the photos. And I know how stuck up and stuffy at that sounds, but in week four of our trip in China, we were ready for some relaxation. And yes, some western qualities in our hotel stay. Anastasia gave the place a hard no, and we were out. 

The truth is, when in China, you are always better off going for something unfamiliar, and Chinese. So, we found ourselves in a hotel called the White Lotus, or something, and called it a day. Shortly after, Anastasia got all sorts of excited because she found us an Indian restaurant, which had great review on tripadvisor, and it did not disappoint. Delicious food and King Fisher beers. I felt like I was in India again. And, the owners were super friendly and told us about a cool traveler’s bar around the corner. Walking down cobblestone roads, in a light mist, we spotted the DMZ bar. As the name implied,  we found ourselves being talked into a trip to North Korea by a good few fellow travelers. After a few more beers, can you believe I actually thought about the opportunity? Shifting our trip from South Korea to North? Ha! If we had chosen that, and come back safely, I think our own Moms would have locked us up. 

With a slight bit of a headache the next day, we grabbed some breakfast and went for a bicycle ride around town. Yangshou,  is absolutely beautiful. A bike ride takes you through valleys, under cliffs, touching cherry blossoms, passing oxen worn fields and strawberry farms. But, by about 3:00, storm clouds were moving in, so we headed back to the hotel. 

For dinner, we adventured to a vegetarian restaurant recommended by Lonely Planet. And this is fun… Guess what we finally ate? The ONE HUNDRED YEAR OLD EGG delicacy and fungus. I won’t lie, it was awful, but we did it. And with unsatisfied tatsebuds, we went to KFC for ice crea. Yes, in China, you can eat both one hundred year old eggs and KFC in the same hour. 

The next morning, we had the most insane taxi ride of our entire trip. This one, you will just have to ask me about.  Well ok, short synopsis:

Driver spoke no English. He read our destination off a piece of paper, which I had the hotel clerk write for us in Chinese. We are in China, so we don’t expect anyone to speak English, it simply is just nice when they can. Let’s be real, Chinese is hard! So, with the paper in hand we thought he knew our destination. Along the ride, he stops to text a number of times. After around the 5th stop, we ask if everything is okay. He ignores us and drives on at his scarily fast pace. Eventually,  we drive on into a city and he tells us we have arrived at our destination. We see no train station in sight. I pull out my Lonely Planet guide book and try to find pictures of trains, to make clear where we need to go. Anastasia is searching for cell signal, to little avail. Both of us have a moment of helplessness. Fifteen minutes later, we think we have an understanding and the guy laughs manically, driving down bumpy ass roads, speeding ahead away from the town. We are getting scared that he has no clue where we need to go and we will miss our train. Still laughing, it looks like we are driving towards absolutely nothing. Like we are headed towards maybe rice fields, mountains, and forest huts. Our driver is still laughing and texting. And then all the sudden, a clearing comes into sight and a seemingly magical train station appears. 

And by the fall of the evening, after 2 trains and hours of subway time, we arrive in Hong Kong. Relieved to be walking, safely, in the right direction, we arrive at our hostel. Check Inn Hostel. As we get to the desk, we are thinking, “alright, alright, this is going to be good.” And then, the owner takes us to our “deluxe” room, which unlike the pictures had shown, is actually a coffin sized room with one set of bunk beds an a toilet and shower that you can touch with your toes from the bed. Seriously. A the moment, we thought, “okay, we can handle this.” So, we just drop our stuff and head out for a delicious dinner. Dinner, did not is disappoint. But, the coffin sized room did. The beds were literally made up of a thin, thin, and thin mattress over a piece of plywood. Not okay for 20 Hong Kong dollars a night. So again, we moved hotels. Thankfully, the Vela Hotel was great and a perfect location to explore Hong Kong! Hong Kong is a ridiculously cool city. And the best part was that my friend Tara met us and showed us around, giving us an inside look of the lifestyle Hong Kong offers. (We love you Tara). Anastasia, Tara an I literally ate our way through the food frenzied city and explored a small bit of its active scene, including hiking Dragon’s Back Ridge and taking yoga classes at Yoga Bam Bam. It was all very Western feeling, and easy. And before I knew it, we were checking in for the next leg of our journey: South Korea. 

Wauuuuwww. Thank you China👏👍

———-

I am actually at a loss for words on how to conclude this portion of our trip. China, for me, was an experience of a lifetime. At times, I was astounded by its ancient beauty and at other times, I was wholly confused by the nation in its entirety. It was like running back and forth across the center beam of a sea-saw. On February 14th, 2017, I stood on the center of the beam, with only a sense of curiosity, not knowing what lied on either side. Standing there with little expectations. I was open to wherever and whatever the adventure would bring. And as we left for South Korea, just one month later, I honestly stood on the same point of the beam, but this time, having run back and forth across it so many times, I felt much more sturdy. I feel as though I now have better understanding of the materials the beam of China is made from, it’s straight lines, it’s bumps, it’s curves, it’s imbalances and strengths. And that is the point for me. This feeling is why I travel. It’s about gaining new perspectives, better understandings of our neighbors, so that I can apply that new knowledge in my life… here and now. To bridge that gained understanding back home. 

And, I don’t know if she will read this post, as she experienced the whole thing with me anways, but I would like to give a special thank you to my travel buddy, my soul sister, my crazy gypsy librarian fancy nomad Potter loving partna, and one of my best friends in the world, Anastasia Leach. Thank you for taking this adventure with me. I am so thankful for you, for our friendship and all the crazy bits of life we experience together. You rock. And I love you girl!

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