Yangshuo: Trading skyscrapers for mountains

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I had just spent eight days in glorious Shanghai, which just wasn’t long enough for me. Weirdly, I’d heard people recommend staying no more than 4 or 5 days in Shanghai. Maybe it’s just my love of big cities but I could have happily stayed in Shanghai for another week doing nothing in particular. But alas, I would have to return another time as I had a flight to catch to leafy Guilin, in southern China.

Before you read my latest mishaps below, what I will say is I just seem to be almost incapable of having straightforward journeys anywhere. I don’t even know how they happen. They’re mostly not even my fault. I’d only just got over the traumas of arriving in Beijing and trying to take the train to Shanghai but Guilin here I come.

Getting to Shanghai Pudong airport from the city was a piece of cake on the high-speed train but that’s where all the joy ended. I put my travel troubles down to me breaking the golden rule of China travel: don’t take a plane when you can take a train. Chinese domestic airlines are notorious for delayed and cancelled flights, usually without prior warning.

My flight was due to leave Shanghai at 22:00 but it was delayed an indefinite amount of time and the China Southern staff on the check-in desk hadn’t bothered to tell me this. It was only because I double checked my boarding pass and queried the departure time that they casually acknowledged that yes, the flight wouldn’t leave until at least 23:45. No apology or anything! I was not a happy bunny! It’d mean my flight wouldn’t land into Guilin until 2:15am. Public transport definitely wouldn’t be running at that time but at least I’d pre-booked a car to take me to the guesthouse. But that journey itself was an hour and a half. (Fortunately, I managed to get in touch with the guesthouse from the airport and told them my flight was delayed).

I got a serious case of the grumps hanging around Pudong airport but finally we left just before midnight. I slept the whole plane journey, if you don’t count the times my sleep-deprivation-induced craziness caused me to wake up thinking the plane was falling out the sky. You know, the usual flying thoughts.

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The Chinese way of queueing demonstrated at the boarding gate! Help, I’m British, I couldn’t cope with a forked line! I stood in the middle of the two lines in a vain attempt to restore order.

Stepping into Guilin airport is like stepping back 30 years. I’m not if I was more intrigued or worried. I didn’t have a lot of faith I would be reunited with my luggage. The luggage carousel was amusingly archaic; two scrawny men behind the curtain lifting bags off trollies and onto a tiny creaky carousel. And passport control was a casual improvised line of people next to the luggage carousel showing their passports to a man who definitely didn’t look too official. Perhaps I was just too sleep-deprived and none of this had actually happened. (And to be fair, since our flight was so delayed, we were the only arrivals at the airport at time of night so perhaps all the usual staff had gone home…)

I was relieved to see a slightly disgruntled man in the arrivals hall holding a sign with my name on it. I was screaming inside for a bed and some shut-eye, and so was this poor guy by the looks of it. Just an hour and a half to go for us both.

Being driven around in the dark alone in an isolated place at 3am by a man I’ve never met before felt like I was doing almost everything my mum had always told me not to do as a teenager. If he had offered me an illicit substance then that would have been the whole list ticked off. He was a pleasant enough man (he even tried to converse in Chinese with me) despite him smoking in the car and spitting out the window, (at least he did it out the window – not all passengers in China are so lucky…). To be fair, the wheels on my carry-on bag on the backseat squeaked the whole 90-minute bumpy journey so I’m sure he secretly had a few chosen words for me too.

We made it to the guesthouse at something ludicrous like 4am, after tobogganing down a few miles of the craziest potholes I have ever seen in my life. (They were like meteorite blast-holes). A sleepy-looking man let me in the front door and I proceeded to hoist my bags up 3 flights of stairs, possibly waking the whole guesthouse in the process…

I was super excited to get into a cozy bed and was ready for a long peaceful sleep, although little did I know, about 3 hours later there was a power cut in the village which meant the air stopped working. I woke up in a pool of sweat and, in my sleep-deprivation-induced-madness, I pressed all the buttons on the air con machine and it’s remote to try and make it work but no luck. I therefore assumed, god knows why, that they’d switched the power off on my room as punishment for inconveniently arriving late at night.

When I went downstairs to Reception first thing in the morning, I was sort of relieved to find out there was a power cut and that it wasn’t just me suffering but I was also devastated because that meant to air con for the rest of the day ANYWHERE and it was absolutely sweltering both inside and out. And no wi-fi to tell my darling mother I was still alive. The rest of my day was consumed with semi-nude naps interrupted by icy cold showers to ward off heat stroke. That glamorous travelling life, ay.

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Despite all the madness, I will say I was genuinely taken-aback when I first opened the curtains in my room that morning and looked out cross the bamboo balcony to see beautiful green leafy mountains and rice paddies right in front of me. It was like the view from some exotic postcard. It was the complete opposite of buzzing Shanghai, yet it was breathtaking.

 I seem to have started a theme of terrible road/air journeys – console me and tell me your worst journey in the comments below! I met a guy who had food poisoning on an 8-hour bus ride in Laos. Surely that’s got to be the worst!!


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