Thursday, July 14, 2016

Guilin, China: Neon Caves, Longji Rice Terraces & Long-Haired Ladies

Fancy China trip continued as we headed to the Southern city of Guilin. I'd been to this city with my dad on our "Let's-try-not-to-get-SARS trip" in 2003, and while I don't remember a ton about the place, the beauty of it stuck with me. So it was added to our itinerary.

What It's All About:
Guilin is a city in southwestern China - it's known for its beautiful karst mountains. I don't know what karst is, but I keep seeing it on all the descriptions of the mtns, so it must mean something nature or beauty-related. Basically, those super-tall, super-thin, craggy, green-covered stone mountains you see in old Chinese paintings and drawings? Those are in Guilin.

Our first glimpse at Guilin's mountains

The Sun & the Moon Pagodas

Guilin is a great jumping-off point to sail down the Li River as well, for even more magnificent views. In fact, the view of Guilin from the Li River adorns the back of the 20-yuan note in China. The city is huge in tourism, as it was one of the first places to develop tourism in the 50's (and because of that, certain bits are outrageously overpriced) - but even with the crazy amount of huge ugly buildings and tourist-targeted sprawl that has come along in the past couple decades, I still found Guilin to be a great time.

Cliffnotes of the Day:
  • Arrived in Guilin and was whisked away to our hotel in the back of an air-conditioning-challenged van. 

But it was ok because this was our hotel. #Parker

  • After settling in, we spent the afternoon heading out to a nearby cave, called the Reed Flute Cave. Something you'll learn about China is that they are not so much about natural beauty  - they love lighting the shiz out of natural sights and scenery like blinged-out Christmas trees - with snazzy neon lights and flashy shows and such. I wish I could say I hated it, but I think Vegas is absolutely beautiful in its own right too (you know, how they created this flashy neon oasis in the middle of the desert...it's amazing, is it not??  I use the term "oasis" loosely). So I can't hate on it. I think colored lights are pretty too.

And here is the super-blinged out Reed Flute Cave!

There is a free guide included with the entrance ticket, but she only spoke Chinese. Seriously though, it was not a great loss because the entire tour was basically her saying things like "Doesn't this rock look like a monkey eating a peach!" And other related "Doesn't this rock look like...." kind of statements.  I think she spent an entire 2 minutes actually explaining stalactites/stalagmites/science-y things.

You know who probably appreciated the cave tour the most?  Poor Parker had to live with my bastardized translations of the tour guide. "She said something about clouds, but I don't know what."

"These rocks look like bean sprouts! That's why we call this formation "the multi-colored vegetable garden from heaven." I'm paraphrasing. Heavily.

A giant pool of water with reflecting blue-lit rocks

....which they used to play a very random film of dancers dancing to Swan Lake

And then there was this very sad part of the cave where they had tons of very sad turtles that they claimed were very very old and lucky and then they let all the handsy aggressive kids touch them, and then they would drape the turtles with charms and amulets and sell them saying they were now lucky, and lots of the people blindly bought them. The entire room made me and Parks a little sad.

  • After the cave, we went on an evening stroll near our hotel to the nearby lake, which has a view of the Sun & Moon Pagodas (fun fact; Guilin lights up all its pagodas and bridges at night - you can take a boat tour that shows you all of them, but the boat tour is exorbitantly expensive: by Chinese standards, anyhow).

The Sun & Moon pagodas - so pretty!  They even have a floodlight near the lake so you can take well-lit photos. Thanks, China!

Sunset over the pagodas

Post dinner at a ridiculous restaurant we randomly passed by that happened to be STUFFED to the brim with people, I had to take this photo because I like that it has an appropriate typo.

  • Next morning was an early AM wakeup call - we had signed up to take a tour out to the Longsheng/Longji Rice Terraces.  It's about a 2-hour trip from Guilin.

View of the mountains from the top floor of our hotel, where breakfast is served. Not a bad view.
To the right is a famous rock formation called "Elephant Trunk Hill," which they also charge an exorbitant fee to go and visit. I'll take the free view from our hotel, thx.

  • Crammed on a tour bus full of 30 other Chinese tourists (another fun fact: when they claim a tour is both "Chinese & English," they basically use Chinese the entire time for the entire tour, and only will repeat themselves briefly in English for the logistics). Our tour guide was explaining all these fascinating anecdotes and history and traditions in Chinese, and then after 2 hours of this, would outline logistical info - adding onto the end in English, "Bus stops now. Come back at 2."  And that would be it.
  • Our first stop on the way to the rice terraces was to a traditional minority long-haired village called Ping'an.  

The village of Ping'an

The long-haired village women of Ping'an. They did a dance for us. Definite dog and pony show for the tourists, but I can't say I wasn't fascinated.

The village is called a long-haired village because......all the ladies have crazy long hair!!

The ladies of the village spend their entire lives growing out their hair - only cutting it once in their teens.

Here are some of the younger, unmarried girls with their locks of hair from their first haircut.

The women then take their naturally long hair to knot it into a hairstyle at the top of their head - it requires no hair ties or clips or anything, they just use the hair to knot itself like a hat on their heads.  Unmarried and married women wear different hairstyles.

Parks and one of the long-haired ladies of Ping'an

And then they called for six male volunteers. And then made them participate in a wedding ceremony with the local unmarried women. Fun fact, Parker is now married to some woman in the middle of China.

  • After leaving Ping'an, we stopped for lunch in the village near the rice terraces.

Lunch spot

Their specialty is a sticky rice that is cooked in bamboo

And they have to hammer open the bamboo to serve the rice. Delish.

  • After lunch, we finally reached the grand finale - the rice terraces themselves!  Longji, of Longji Rice Terraces, means "Dragon's backbone" - because the tiers look like a dragon's back scales.

And no matter how many photos you've seen, the terraces are still breathtaking

These rice terraces, still in use today, are over 650 years old!

Some fun facts about the rice terraces, in case you'd like to read more

I renew my vote for rice being the prettiest crop ever

Then we hiked to the top of a hill and had amazing views over all the fields. Also, did you notice there is a magical dragonfly in the top corner of this photo!?

And then Parker forced us to go off-roading. We ended up trekking through these sketchy-ass cow paths and had to balance walking on the edges of the terraces - but how pretty is this view!?

  • The rice terraces were amazing - even despite the long trek, crazy heat, and the fact that the winding mountain road and the bus barreling round its corners on the way back caused someone to vom all over the bus.  Parks almost had to add himself to that list.

To top off our last Guilin night, we found a small little restaurant tucked away down an alley that had amazing hotpot. 

Fun Facts of the Day:
  • In the long-haired minority villages (there are a handful), it's a fact that no matter how old the women get - their hair never gets gray or white.  It stays thick and black their entire lives.  It's like a magical phenomena.
  • The longest hair in the villages exceeds 2 meters. The women grow it out because it's believed to bring luck, longevity and good fortune.  Also, they work their old hair from their first haircut into their intricate hairstyles on their head.
  • Apparently when they court men in these villages, they show their interest by pinching men on their butts.  Some people in our group got a big kick out of this.
  • The rice in this area of China is rumored to be the best rice of all time. It tasted delicious to me, but I always like rice. So...

No comments:

Post a Comment