While walking out from Reed Flute Cave, I was surprised to have a Didi driver accept my request so soon after I had made one. Effortless. But remember that using Didi or Uber in China means the inevitable phone call(s) to confirm your location immediately, no matter how precisely you entered your location—no, “Exit B1 of Zhujiang New Town metro station” likely won’t work, because somehow the driver just has to hear it from you. I often just repeat exactly what I entered on the call with a tinge of irritation in my voice, hoping the driver gets the hint that there was absolutely no need to call. My efforts to change an unchangeable system inevitably go to waste—truly something that can be said of every Chinese system.
So after the second call from my driver, I just handed my phone to an employee at the ticketing office to explain for me.
Soon enough, I was heading toward downtown—not without chatting in my pathetic Mandarin with the driver. What started out as a pleasant, friendly conversation became a slightly creepy one when he offered to treat me to lunch after I had asked about where to get Guilin’s “specialty” of rice noodles. Of course I declined.
As much as I would like to think that he had only the best intentions—being a hospitable host of his city—if you tack on “to a girl traveling alone,” it sounds a lot less safe. It makes you wonder how it would have panned out had I accepted his offer. It also makes you wonder whether he would have made such an offer to another man traveling alone. I have a newfound appreciation of women who travel alone, because although most of us are lucky enough to live without fear of simply being a woman, many still do. When reading Peter Hessler’s Country Driving, for example, in which he chronicles life driving through what was mostly unchartered territory in China and occasionally picking up hitchhikers, I couldn’t help but think how different his experiences would have turned out if he were a woman. Of course, traveling alone in foreign lands poses dangers regardless if one is a man or a woman, but it doesn’t mean women don’t have it harder. And in my case, I tend to see myself still more as a girl than a woman.
Anyway, I arrived safely at Elephant Trunk Hill, thanking my driver for his kindness and deciding to delay getting lunch even further to finish up sightseeing.
After paying 70 RMB to enter, I paid a ridiculous 20 RMB for a Magnum ice cream bar, despite the fact that they usually cost 8 RMB—because Magnums, as I have come to realize while traveling in China, becomes that necessary snack to stave off hunger and/or cool off from the heat. It’s something foreign travelers like me find comfort in even in the most remote places, when the more local Chinese options of dried fish or overpriced nuts covered in preservatives have absolutely no appeal. Honestly, I’ve thought about writing an ode to Magnums on behalf of every foreigner who has traveled within China. The unassuming ice cream bar has become something of a survival food that nourishes both the body and the soul. After all, China travel can be rough.
As for Xiangbishan, or Elephant Trunk Hill, named for its rock arch that looks like an elephant drinking water, it’s the most popular of the many, many mountains made into tourist attractions in Guilin, as another taxi driver later told me.
What I liked the most, however, wasn’t the rock arch or the mountain itself. It was Aiqing Dao, or Love Island, opposite of the rock arch that features statues of embrace and…other interesting sights.
Throughout this time, I was also communicating with my tour guide on WeChat to keep him updated and to know when I should take the bus to Yangshuo, where he would meet me to check in to the hotel early. The rest of the group would be arriving at midnight from Shanghai, so there was no way I would wait until then. With some time left, I walked along Li River after leaving Elephant Trunk Hill, stumbling upon the other famous attraction in Guilin: the Walking Street.
During the day, it isn’t quite as lively as I would imagine it would be at night, with the food and drink stands fairly unpopulated. Reflecting now, it’s amazing that I managed to find this street by accident. I grabbed a milk tea drink before I took a taxi to the bus station.
By 5 p.m., I boarded the bus to take the 2-hour journey to Yangshuo. It normally takes 1.5, but there’s significant construction on the way, so we often were driving recklessly on one-lane bumpy dirt roads.
Luckily, since there weren’t many passengers, I grabbed a seat right at the very front on the upper deck, allowing me to freely put my feet up, sit back, and enjoy the views. I’m especially grateful I didn’t bother waiting for the group at the Guilin airport, because this way, I got to see the beautiful sunset along the way. I loved it.
By the time I arrived, the tour guide was quite anxious, since he had planned on leaving at 7 to Guilin to meet the group. But he went out of his way to drive me from the bus station to outside the village, then walk with me to the hotel and check me in, briefly introducing the area and the famous West Street, before rushing back to the bus station to take the bumpy two-hour ride back to Guilin.
As for me, I finally had my only real meal of the day at a local Chinese restaurant, right across from an “American” one and right next to a “German” one. No way I would go all this way to have a burger or German sausage. The fried rice was totally satisfying. I remember telling my mom on WeChat how happy I felt at that moment, enjoying the food and watching passersby walking through the bustling streets. Nightlife in the remote Yangshuo is surprisingly exciting. It’s no wonder so many Westerners settled here that the main street became “West Street.”
I myself loved exploring the busy streets before resting back at Morning Sun Hotel, where I would soon be fast asleep before the rest of the group finally arrived at 2 a.m.
Next up: Biking and bamboo rafting through Yangshuo.