Drumbrake's Travels

My trip reports

Guangxi, Guizhou & Hunan

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June 2009

Thorntree Report

A short report about a 2 week trip from Hong Kong (via Shenzhen) to Guangxi, Guizhou and Hunan before heading back to Shenzhen. There is some good information on China backpacker (for some reason currently blocked in China). While possible for non Chinese speakers, you would need to be quite adventurous. This is probably more suitable for those who have visited China once or twice already.

Day 1

Overnight train from Shenzhen to Guilin. Even on the day of departure we were able to get soft sleeper tickets, and there were some hard sleeper left as well. Soft sleeper at 444 Rmb is quite expensive (almost as cheap to fly), but we had the compartment to ourselves and the journey was quite comfortable.

Day 2 Guilin

Arrival in Guilin station at 0645 and met by taxi driver sent from Guilin Lakeside Inn (free train station pick up). The place only has three rooms, but they are all nice and the manager, Jack, is informative and responsive to emails. The location is also good, next to the Shan Lake. If a room had been available, we could have checked in early but none was. The price, at 180Rmb is reasonable, although I think prices are more flexible for walk ins.

Guilin has had a bad press on thorntree for many years,including from myself. While I still think Yangshuo has much nicer scenery, I now think Guilin has its attractions and found it to be quite an agreeable city in terms of the pedestrianised streets, the range and number of restaurants and the general friendliness of people / absence of pushy touts. We saw the main things on a rainy day – Solitary Beauty Peak City Scenic Area, Sun Moon Twin Pagodas and Elephant Hill from a short 15 Rmb trip on the Li River. The 50 Rmb admission for the Solitary Beauty Peak is a little high, especially considering on the day we were there not much could be seen from the Peak!

Day 3 Longsheng

By bus – (Guilin 10:10 to Heping 和平鄉 12:30 (RMB 17) then change bus to Jinkeng Dazhi 金坑大寨 (1 hour RMB 7). The bus to Dazhi is waiting at Heping for the Guilin bus to arrive. While it’s a normal small minibus which gets very crowded on route, it’s still quite a pleasant ride taken at low speeds and passing numerous waterfalls. On this bus there was a friendly tout showing his hotel card to the visitors. He was not that pushy so we decided to take him upon his offer and on arrival at the bus terminus were met by his brother who proceeded to guide us to the Jin Mei Ge Hotel 金美閣客棧 (50 Rmb for double with bath) at Tiantouzhai Village 田頭寨 -about an hour walk. We realised later that he took us on a slightly circuitous route bypassing Tiantouzhai Village proper.

Jin Mei Ge Hotel has spectacular views going for it, with quite a friendly owner and good food. On the negative side are smelly toilets and a whole group of Chinese photographers who woke before dawn to take pictures of the sunrise. It seems that the design of most buildings in the area means that went one person shuts a door, the whole building hears!

Day 4 Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces

We moved down to Tiantouzhai Village and checked into Jin Tian Hotel 金田洒店 (double with bath 60 Rmb)- this place is very popular with westerners – I think if you make an email booking you will be charged more than walk in though. The manager speaks quite good English, although her brother likes a beer or two until late at night. Wooden construction also means it’s noisy when people wake early in the morning.

After the morning rain had stopped, we did a loop from Tiantouzhai Village to No. 3 viewing platform (Golden Buddha Top) and then on to No. 1 viewing platform (Music From Paradise) and then back to Tiantouzhai Village taking around 4 hours. The route from number 3 platform to number 1 is not signposted, so probably best to hire a guide rather than rely on luck and instinct like we did. Views along the way are spectacular.

There are now many guesthouses, and new ones being built, both in Tiantouzhai Village and along the route to No. 1 viewing platform. If you are going there the first time, I’d recommend using one of the women to help carry your bag (20Rmb) and then also use her as a guide to take you to Tiantouzhai Village – getting on the right route from Dazhi might be a little hard. There appears to be lots of tour buses going to Pingan, so perhaps this place is best avoided.

Day 5 Chengyang Wind & Rain Bridge

Walked down to Dazhi, then caught bus to Longsheng (around 75 mins, 8 Rmb), then change to bus to Sanjiang 柳州三江 (around 90 minutes, 17 Rmb). Change bus stations in Sanjiang (arrive east, leave from west – 2 Rmb rickshaw – I know it should be 1 Rmb), then another bus to Chengyang (around 30 minutes, 4 Rmb). Admission to Chengyang is 60 RMb (students 30 Rmb) and so far I have found it a very pleasant town. See Map

Stayed at Long Feng Hotel 龍鳳旅館 (RMB 60) – quite comfortable room with good supply of hot water for shower. Balcony and roof top with good views out over the village. Ma’an (the village behind the bridge) is a nice to wander around. There are a few tour groups – we saw one, but other than that very few tourists. We decided to stay one more night – moving to Yang’s guesthouse 程陽客棧 (http://donghotel.blog.sohu.com/ ) (Rmb60) for a slightly better double. Yang’s has an English menu, although there is some double pricing – coffee 10 Rmb on English menu, 9 on the Chinese. Food is quite good though.

Day 6 Chengyang Bridge Scenic Area

In the area around Chengyang Bridge and the village of Ma’an, there are lots of other small villages, rivers and rice or wheat fields to walk around and explore, including Dong village, Yan village, Ping village, Da village and Ping bu village. Lunch was at the Dong Village Hotel (on the left of the new bridge just up from Chengyang Bridge). Very tasty and they also have rooms for around 60 Rmb – they looked pretty good. Overall Chengyang is a nice place to relax for a couple of days.

Day 7 Chengyang to Zhaoxing

If you are lucky, there might be minivans wanting to go back to Sanjiang who will take you directly for 5 Rmb each rather than waiting for the half hourly bus. Getting to Zhaoxing 肇興侗寨 from Sanjiang is in theory easy, with two direct buses a day at around 0630 and 1100. However, when we were there, there was no direct bus – whether due to landslide or lack of demand we were unsure. Instead, we caught a Congjiang bound bus at 1030 (25 Rmb). Around the Guangxi – Guizhou border we had to change buses because of a weak bridge – also the road on the Guangxi side was pretty bad – at times no more than a deeply rutted dirt track. On the Guizhou side it was much better – newly surfaced most of the way except for birdges.

Around 24Km from Congjiang (around 2 hr 15 mins) we got off the bus at a small halt called Baluo八洛 where we had to wait for a bus to Luoxiang 洛香. After waiting around 40 minutes, we got on the bus to Luoxiang (10 Rmb around 1 1/2hours). From Luoxiang, LP says it is a ‘lovely 1 1/2 hour walk along a dirt road to Zhaoxing’. I can confirm the dirt road, but there would also be a hill to climb, and there are several cement or similar works on route making it dusty. There are infrequent minivans you can catch (more earlier in the day), or we caught a taxi (ordered through a random shop) for 40 Rmb. Nobody seemed interested in offering us a ride, for money or otherwise in Luoxiang!

Zhaoxing at the moment (June 2009) is ‘under renovation. There are ‘apology notices’ in the hotels regarding it asking for forgiveness. No doubt when it is all finished it will all be smart and quaint, a little like Lijiang, but at the moment you have to look hard to see any charm. Mud, litter and building works are all the downside. On the positive side, you do have a collection of drum towers and wind and water bridges, a vibrant and thriving local community, lots of small stores selling cold beer for 3 Rmb, and many small guesthouse and homestays to choose from. See Zhaoxing Map

Accommodation – we stayed at Zhaoxing Binguan – 150 Rmb for a double is ‘expensive’ for the area, but after a few nights on hard beds it is nice to have a bit of luxury and a very nice and clean bathroom. Nearby is LuLu’s homestay which also looked very nice, and we ate well in Dong Family Guesthouse – choose your dishes in the kitchen from available ingredients. There are many other options as well, including some with rooms overlooking a river such as . At 9pm there was a theatrical performance on one of the stage’s with most of the audience being locals.

If the weather is good, Zhaoxing is probably a good place to stay with lots of walking opportunities to nearby villages. However, when we were there we had lots of rain, so we just stayed one night. Perhaps in a few months when all the renovations have been visited it will be worth another look.

Day 8 Zhaoxing – Congjiang

There are two direct buses a day from Zhaoxing to Congjiang 從江縣 – 7am and 12 noon costing 18 Rmb and taking around 2 hours. Bus was quite comfortable with air conditioning and video! Many hotels around the bus station with reasonable double for 80 Rmb with internet. One of the villages near Congjiang is Basha 芭沙. LP says you can get a taxi for 15 Rmb, but the cheapest we could get was 25 Rmb one way. Coming back a guy charged us 30 Rmb. Basha is quite a scenic place, but probably best visited in the dry, and especially if there is a festival on. there are several homestays there if you wish to stay. No entrance charge at the time we were there. In Congjiang there are lots of small eating places near the hotels and the bus station.

Day 9 Congjiang – Xijiang

There are 5 direct buses a day from Congjiang to Kaili – 06:20 08:00 09:20 11:00 13:00 and 14:00. There are also 19 buses to Rongjiang between 06:00 and 18:00. We caught the 06:20 bus and got off at Leishan 雷山縣 7 hours later (60 Rmb). The road isn’t great. From Leishan there are some buses to Xijiang 西江, but we hired a taxi instead for a 80 Rmb for the one hour trip. Entrance to Xijiang is originally 100 Rmb, but discounted for everyone to 60 Rmb, and students get in for 20 Rmb.

If Zhaoxing is in the process of being beautified, Xijiang is the end result. Cobbled and paved streets, new bridges and reconstructed public buildings are in evidence. All along the river front are a row of newly constructed, and empty, wooden style traditional buildings. There are many homestays, guesthouses and hotels. We stayed in a small homestay for 70 Rmb – others I noticed included the Ukea Hotel – English menu and wireless and bathrooms with glass windows. One guesthouse owner told us that now is the time to visit Zhaoxing before it becomes to commercialised. It’s true that many of the shops are still selling local things that are needed by local people – pots and pans and rice, but there are an increasing number of gift shops and those selling sliver. Soon I think it might be like Lijiang. We only stayed one night in Xijiang – dismayed by more rain, but I think it could be a nice place for a few days and used as a base for walks into the surrounding hills.

Day 10 Xijiang – Kaili

From Xijiang to Kaili there are buses at 07:30 08:30 10:00 13:00 and 15:00. Returning there are buses at 09:00 10:30 12:30 14:30 16:30. Ticket was 23 Rmb. From Xijiang to Leishan there are buses from 06:30 to 17:30 every hour, returning from 07:20 to 17:30 again every hour. We caught the 10:00 bus from Xijiang and departed at 10:30. After being held up by a landslide for 10 minutes, we arrived in Kaili long distance bus station at 11:45.

Kaili is quite a small but pleasant town. We got a good deal at the Heaven Sent Dragon Hotel through elong for a little luxury. Dage Park is one of the few attractions – you can go to the top of the pagoda for views of the city – if it was a clear day – for a donation at the temple in the basement.

Day 11 Kaili to Fenghuang

In a failed effort to try to get some dry weather we moved to Hunan Province. There only appears to be one bus a day from Kaili to Huaihua at 1500, but there are numerous trains, several of which depart in the morning. Hard seat at 42 Rmb is fine, but I had forgotten how cramp hard seat carriages can be even with seat reservations. The entrance to Huaihua station is currently a bit of a building site with what appears no taxis or buses available, but after walking through muddy streets we were able to find a taxi. For 5 Rmb the taxi did a uturn, went down the street for a 100 metres, turned right and 50 metres later we were at the west bus station. A happy taxi driver. The bus to Fenghuang takes 2 1/2 hours and costs 33 Rmb along scenic but bumpy country roads.

Days 12-13 Fenghuang

Fenghuang is a very scenic place – a little like Lijiang – and it is also very popular with Chinese tourists. The down side – nothing but trinket shops, bars and restaurants; LP says it’s a place where Chinese like to let their hair down – well at least shoulder length hair but not more. The Karaoke joints are loud but are silent from midnight and you don’t get any of the drunken displays you see in Mediterranean resorts from European 18-30s. You do still get the toddlers peeing in the streets though. The plus side – it is attractive; there are lots of guesthouses and the standard of some of them – Koolaa’s Place 考拉小室 as mentioned in LP and a place nearby ‘Tuo Fung Guesthouse’ 沱風客棧 (no English) are clean and comfortable, with balcony looking over the river, and have a limited number of rooms from 80 to 180 Rmb depending on the night (Friday and Saturday expensive).

There are lots of buildings and some museums you can visit in Fenghuang, although there seems to be a very complicated charging system which we couldn’t be bothered to work out. I think instead they want you to buy the quite expensive through ticket (I think 148 Rmb).

Getting to Jishou is easy with bus taking around 50 minutes and costing 15 Rmb. Buses leave from a bus station on the outskirts – catch number 1 bus from Fenghuang Bridge for 1 Rmb to get there. Where you catch the number 1 bus, there might be private minibuses going to Jishou for the 15 Rmb as well.

If we had time, nearby attractions in Hunan would be Dehang and Wulinggyuan, but instead we have to catch the train back to Guangzhou (getting soft sleeper no problem) and onwards to Shenzhen.

Day 14 Dehang

On our final day before catching the overnight train back south, we spent time in Dehang 德夯.the green minibuses from outside the station take 1 hour and cost 6 Rmb. After getting out off Jishou, it is quite a comfortable and scenic ride past vegetable farms and along river valleys. There is an entrance charge for Dehang of 62 Rmb no discounts, and while there were quite a few tour buses when we were there, it did not seem over run at all. There are several guesthouses and small restaurants in the area near where the bus terminates in Dehang, although I’d expect accommodation would be quite basic. In the short time we had there, it left me wanting to spend more time. I think if you went during the week, you would have the paths and trails to yourself.

A postscript about Jishou. Left luggage in the station appears to have closed. Instead on the right of the station, when facing it, you can leave bags for 2 Rmb in the public toilets! On the road leading from the left of the station (on corner is the tourist office) there is quite a large supermarket with a nice bakery and cold beer. On the road leading straight from the station, on the left-handside on the first floor, there is a ‘western style restaurant’ – food was ok but they also had cleanish toilets! You can sit at a table with a fitted computer for a minimum charge of 68 Rmb – good if you are waiting for a train. Congee at around 15 Rmb was tasty. Steak at much more was not!

Day 15 – Guangzhou to Shenzhen

Train arrived on time at Guangzhou station from where it is easy to buy tickets for the fast D trains to Shenzhen (2 every hour, 75 Rmb) (from Guangzhou East I think they are very 15 minutes). Get the tickets before you actually exit the station in the subway.
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Overall, we thought we were a little unlucky with the weather, but actually it got much worse with lots of rain in Guangxi and Guizhou after we had left. For those travelling in the area, remember to have flexible plans. Landslides are common and this causes road blocks and lengthy journeys. All the provinces are worth visiting and are increasingly popular with Chinese tourists, but not many westerners.

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Written by drumbrake

September 11, 2010 at 11:26 am

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