A Travellerspoint blog

Into China proper

The mainland ahead

34 °C

Leaving Hong Kong was bittersweet. We’d embraced the comforts perhaps a little too easily and were hesitant to give them up: for one week, the Langham became the home we don’t have; our haven; the vacation from the vacation that we needed; a chance to catch up with family via webcam and with the world via BBC World, CNN and the Wall Street Journal.

On the other hand, we didn’t set out on this adventure to camp out in luxurious hotels for extended periods, and our departure from the Langham therefore happily marked the beginning of our main phase of travel through China, Tibet, Nepal, India, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. It would be a while before we’d see a turndown chocolate on our pillow again, but that’s clearly a small sacrifice for the privilege to travel on this extended basis. And so we leave Hong Kong. Our baggage is lighter again, having packaged up about 10 kilograms of excess kit (including sleeping bags, a few clothing items, some technical kit, books etc). And our travel party happily increases to three, with the addition of my good friend Martin who is joining us for the next several weeks through China. I’ll try to persuade him to write an entry at some point, as long as it’s not entitled ‘the horrors of travelling with Jacquie’….

Anyway, after a brief delay at Hong Kong International, we arrived into Guilin an hour later than expected at about 9.30pm, and were immediately welcomed by the driver arranged by the Yangshuo Mountain Retreat. For the grand sum of 220RMB (about US$28), the three of us were driven in a very comfortable Volkswagen Santana the 40 kilometres or so to Yangshuo. As we raged through Guilin’s streets, flashing full headlights every minute or so to warn oncoming cars and pedestrians of our presence, groups of local Chinese hung out on street corners watching aging televisions. Women – starkly lit by a single unshaded lightbulb, or worse by a fluorescent strip, played cards while they watched empty shops.

We drove through Guilin at seemingly break-neck speed, dodging three wheeled carts and playing chicken with trucks coming right at us. Sitting in the front passenger seat, Martin nervously clutched his chin as we dodged pedestrians and swerved back into our lane, sometimes only just in time. The traffic eased, and I allowed myself to doze off for a few moments, preferring to surrender to my thoughts than observe the actions of our seemingly suicidal driver. He clearly knew the roads, though, and was just as anxious as we were to reach the destination that was 90 minutes too far away.

Leaving the bleak lights of Guilin behind, I was startled from my snooze by the swerving of our car as we dodged yet another truck in our path (ok, technically we were in the truck’s path, but you get the idea). Surrounding us on all sides were the immense, black silhouettes of the rock formations we had come here to see: the dramatic limestone karsts that this area of China is so famous for. The road was lined with trees on both sides, so our view was punctuated with thick foliage curtains that frustrated the view, but the presence of the karsts was unmistakable. My excitement building, I was reminded just how wonderful it is to arrive somewhere new in the middle of the night, not quite knowing what to expect when you pull back the curtains in the morning. I couldn’t wait for the daylight!
As we drove the last few miles, our excitement grew all the more. In between the karst silhouettes and the thick darkness of the overcast night sky, we saw a few lights punctuating the landscape. Confirming our proximity, the driver rolled down the window as we bumped and curved, allowing the warm, humid air to hit us like concrete. One final turn and we had arrived. It was a little after 11pm, only seven hours or so of restless sleep before the karsts would reveal themselves in all their glory.

Posted by jacquiedro 06:43 Archived in Hong Kong Tagged round_the_world

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