NOW IT CAN BE TOLD
24 May 2011
When we began planning this trip and the question of whether to take the extension to Hong Kong or not, I really didn't want to do it. I enjoyed our extension to Finland on the Russia trip because it came before the regular part of the trip. I knew myself well enough to know that by the time that official Viking trip here in China ended, I was going to want to go home, not have another 4 days to spend in Hong Kong.
But I never really said that and the others wanted to do it, so I went along with it, knowing that by the time we got to Hong Kong, I would be shopped-out and museumed-out and sceneryed-out. By the time we got to Guilin I was realizing that I had been right. I didn't want to take that flight, I wasn't much interested in yet another part of China and I wasn't looking forward to yet another flight, this one to Hong Kong. and then there was that cruise on the Li River which just sounded boring as hell. We'd already done the gorges...what could top that?
Well, if the restaurant here at the Kowloon Shangri-La served crow, I'd be eating it. What an amazing day we have had! And how glad I am that I didn't miss it!
It started, as usual, with bags out (I hadn't even opened mine, since we were in the hotel only a matter of a few hours), going to the buffet breakfast (chocolate croissants...mmm), then meeting the group in the lobby, piling aboard the bus and heading off into the countryside.
While we waited in the lobby, I took a picture of this girl, dressed in the traditional Miao people, one of the ethnic groups in this region (in the U.S., we would call them Hmong). Apparently her job is to stand in the lobby every day to greet people and have her picture taken. I think I was supposed to give her a tip, but I didn't realize that.
The drive out through the country was kind of interesting because here there were no high rises, bikes and cars seemed to be competing for who had the highest number, and we were driving through rice paddies where farmers in their straw hats were working with their water buffalo. A far cry from the hustle and bustle of Shanghai and Beijing! The road quality was terrible and at one point I was wondering if I had one of the airsickness bags I've been collecting to use as envelopes with me (I didn't).
We finally arrived at our destination, the town of Daxu, where we were to board a boat with a lot of other people and take a four hour cruise down the Li River, one of China's most famous scenic areas. Who knew? Lots of those paintings of misty mountains that you see in Chinese shops are actually pictures painted of this area.
We settled ourselves in at a table and had some tea while they brought us items from the "special menu," should we prefer to order something that didn't come with our Viking cruise meal plan.
I couldn't decide between "gross bony fish" and "stir-fried river snail."
We started on our trip down? up? the river, discovering we were in a flotilla of tour boats. The river is also filled with locals on their bamboo rafts, some of which are the persistent vendors. This guy connected his raft to our boat and tried to sell us "real" jade objects, holding them out to us and yelling up to the upper deck.
We began to see the amazing mountain peaks.
These guys from Belgium positioned themselves at the front railing and weren't moving for anything, so it was quite a challenge trying to shoot pictures around them.
Meanwhile, back in the cabin, one of the staff was offering us a local delicacy: snake wine, which they say is good for arthritis.
Mike, who will try anything, decided to buy a glass and both he and Walt tasted it.
Both were dubious, but said it tasted very strong and more like brandy than wine.
We were getting into the more spectacular part of the trip now
There were lots of named mountains, named for what they looked like. The one below, for example, is "9 horses running," which I couldn't see at ALL because I was looking at mountain shape and not the shape of the colors on the side of the mountain.
If you can make out the shape of a horse here, then you can start to find them in other parts of the mountain. Pretty cool.
Lunch turned out to be buffet...and we didn't have to order "longevity of fish."
Walt was just tickled to find himself eating French fries with chopsticks!
As we left the mountain area (and there will be LOTS of photos on Flickr when I get home), we started getting into farm country and seeing lots of farmers taking their vegetables to market.
We also saw little spaces -- kind of sandbars -- where apparently boats may dock and people can get off, dress in local costume and (for a fee) have their picture taken. (or maybe buy them...I couldn't tell)
We also started to see Cormorant men. Fishermen on this area of the river use cormorants to help them. They send the birds out, they catch fish and bring it back to the fisherman. They don't eat the fish because their necks are constricted in some way and they arent able to swallow them whole. Our local guide said that a fisherman will generally have a stable f some 10 birds, which live for up to 15 years, so are valuable to them.
Of course another function of the cormorants is to be used for tourists to photograph (and pay for, of course! -- I didn't pay; I took this picture from the ship as we were docking at our final destination, the little town of Yangshuo.
Yangshuo is definitely a town that derives a lot of its income from the tourist trade.
Scarves, fans, t-shirts, purses, books, postcards, graphic Kama Sutra dolls, toys, etc., etc., etc. You name it and 100 vendors have it, all trying to get you to buy from them. We did buy a couple of things, but mostly sat in our "meeting place" watching the traffic on the river and enjoying a bottle of "Great Wall Cabernet."
Finally, we all climbed aboard a golf-cart type vehicle which took us out of town and into the hotel area, where our bus was parked. Then it was back on the bus for the 40 minute ride back to the Guilin airport and from there to Hong Kong.
Now we are in Hong Kong, where Facebook works, and Walt's cell phone does not. We will have a half day tour with Jenna and our local guide (whose name is Polly!) and then be turned loose on our own for the next 2 days...and then home!
We are staying at the Kowloon Shangri-La Hotel. The Guilin Shangri-La was my favorite hotel of this trip and I was looking forward to finding a similar situation here. It's a lovely room, but not as much space as we had in Guilin. The lobby is gorgeous, but as we trudged toward the elevators, looking like some street person, I had the distinct feeling that a place where a guy who looked like an Asian Richard Deacon, with a snappy suit and a gold silk tie whose sole job it seemed to be to make sure that our elevator button got pushed was not really "our kind of place." We have moved up in the world from Motel 6, but we still aren't "Shangri-La" kinda people! But the wifi is free and even if the peanuts did cost us $9 for half a can, I was so hungry it was worth every penny.