After a quick and unexpectedly boring flight we reached Guilin. Palms surround the airport and the shining sun welcomes us. By shuttle bus we go into town , along ricefields and bizarre tower-like rocks, growing like cones out of the otherwise flat landscape. We overtake motorbikes loaded with dozens of living chicken and ducks that are just somehow bound onto the bikes. Already used to strange habits from Beijing we just took it as another local custom. Here in the south they keep try to keep the animals alive until shortly before cooking. They don’t have fridges so that’s the way to prevent the meat from going bad. Sounds strange, doesn’t it?

We check in to a cheap hotel near the train station, have a little rest and then go for a walk. Those cone-like mountains - which are really fascinating - also appear in the middle of the city. Just add a spoon-full of south-asian flair, dozens of tricycled cabrio taxis and the smell of the little table based street- kitchens along the sidewalk and then you are there...

We seem to be the only tourists. Everywhere people smiling friendly at us, and offering support in the shopping center. For diner we ended up in a traditional cantonese restaurant. Usual way to eat here is out of a big copper made coal kettle in the center of a water-filled pan in which you put noodles, vegetables, ham, snakes etc... for cooking plus an integrated exhaust system for barbecuing chicken sticks. There were dozens of strange & exotic dips to be mixed together as the waitress explained us. I have to admit, she did a great job & we had a perfect cantonese diner for a fairly reasonable price.

As one of the oldest tourist areas of China - even the old emperors came here - Guilin has a lot of sightseeing attractions. After an extensive walk through the city we visited the terrific Seven Stars park with its caves and rocks. There you can find camel like looking rocks, a beautiful bonsai area, ponds with huge goldfishes, a zoo with a Panda bear and yet another attraction - a tiger for touching, hugging, sitting on and taking pictures. I wonder how many tranquilizers he gets a day. =)

We climb up a rock & contemplate in small wooden pavilion - unique! A little cheeky icebird played „You won’t take my picture“ with us. Afterwards we visited the Seven Stars Cave with the inscriptions of some old poets and emperors. The day was almost over when we reached Guilin’s splendid center including its glamorous shopping streets. And saw, in contrast to the real local perimeter, the common western fast food stores again...

There are two big wooden pagodas mirroring themselves in the middle of a lake, illuminated with colored light in a beautiful small park. The next day we visited the Reed Flute Cave and a few other sights. The cave as well as Guilin itself is a good example for the tourist exploitation of the area, there are almost no nice spots without entrance fee around the city. The famous Elephant trunk rock on the riverside, behind fences and cashiers. From a dump I took a picture of the „Mountain of Unique Beauty“. China and the government controlled tourism...

Without any chance we try to get a boat with the locals for the 80 kilometers down to Jangshuo and therefore decided to take one of the expensive river Li - tourist tours. After I digested my anger about the lack of individualism with some of the local Liquan beers I actually start to enjoy the landscape together with all those tourists, shoulder by shoulder starring at those rocks reaching out of the fog . On the river itself there are fishermen in their long wooden boats, on the riverside women washing clothes in the yellow water of river Li. Kids waving. A rotten monastery a little bit further down the river. Three boats ion a row... Diner!

We reach Jangshuo. At the dock a number of souvenir sellers and hosteses advertising their hotels welcome us. Jangshuo is a small picturesque town in the middle of this unique landscape, and probably because of this it became a central spot for „ordinary“ tourists and drop-outs from the western world, who teach English, organize climbing tours or do whatever else to earn some Yen. The streets are full of hotels, hostels and restaurants, there are bikes for rent everywhere as well as lots of tourist shops. English is common language here again.

When I mentioned the subtropical climate initially, I now have admit that with the high humidity along the river and just 15 °C it did not feel really comfortable. Besides, the air conditioning on top of our room obviously just warmed up the air above our heads. A bit of bitterness in the otherwise paradise-like Jangshuo. Never mind...

After a nice evening out we celebrate Chinese New Year with John and Judy, the staff of our hotel, starting Chinese fireworks from the river and drink green tea later on in the lobby, warming up on a glowing coil grill.

Next morning loud drums wake us. Out of the windows we spot two huge nicely colored dragons made of paper and clothes, carried by two groups of men, dancing and fighting together. Accompanied by a group of drummers and visitors the group moves to the majors building, erecting a human pyramid to get presents from the second floor.

Walking through town we meet even more “dragons” with their entourage. We end up at a Open Air theater performance and have no difficulties to watch it above the heads of the Chinese. When we arrived in Jangshuo there were so much Americans and European tourists around, but now the town seems to be crowded with mostly Chinese tourists who came here to celebrate their New Year. For some of them we seem to be the first Europeans they meet. Some of them even ask if they could make pictures with us & themselves.

On a walk outside Janshuo we meet Jade, a Chinese woman on vacation. Together we walk to the next village and get to know so much about rural China, where she comes from originally – about areas without electricity and money, where people still live their ancient traditions. Hard to believe, but later on we should see this ourselves.

Make sure to taste the local Liquan beer - it is fairly cheap and after a few of those big bottles it makes a nice high. And the day after is an unforgettable experience too. So, don’t be shy! =)

After a few more days in the area we are departing from Guilins train station, heading for Kunming, the last big Chinese city on our way to Laos, which we have to reach soon because of our Visa limitations. With us is a bunch of funny Irish lads with their Chinese friends and of course, liters of Liquan. They are going to go to Dali, same direction. With them, the hours in the train just fly away, past the beautiful landscape, past the mountains and forests and the omnipresent rice fields, cultivated by the many Chinese hands…