29.12.16 Jima to Yangshuo to Guilin to ……

Up in darkness and some last minute farewells to our flexible, friendly schoolmates. The mixed feeling of sadness to leave but excitment at being on the road hits. The taxi driver emerges from his house next to the school and his cab is filled with the stale, dank fug of last nights cigarette smoke. Two buses later and we pickup our online purchased train tickets from a queueless ticket counter. A first for us. To celebrate we indulge in an americano and a creme brulee latte and we idle away some of the three hours before the train is due. Next to the Taiwanese cafe is a Korean Fried Chicken restaurant which provides breakfast and train snacks are bought from the shop opposite. We have a 20 hour overnighter to Kunming in Yunnan province, our first overnight train since we arrived into Beijing in October.

The train is a T class, one of the older type with a top speed of 140kph and we have the middle and top bunks in a six birth open compartment on a carriage that sleeps 60 people. As we walk down the platform, we can read that the train originated in Shanghai and we can see that the bunks are already well populated. As we enter our carriage the air already feels tired with a stuffy, stale, claustrophobic atmosphere. Our bunks seem used but clean and unaware of bunk etiquette we climb up for a while. I eventually work out that the seats opposite our compartment are supposed to be for our use, so when they’re free, I climb down and stare out of the window.

We trundle through paddy fields where water buffalo roam and through huge cities where clusters of new high rises sprout up like mushrooms. Children run up and down the shared carriage walkway chased by shouting mothers. The middle aged man in the top bunk opposite Al climbs down and opens his case which is full of boxes of medical tablets. He rifles through a couple, reading the backs and opening packets and inspecting sachets of powders. I assume he is a travelling salesman but when he takes some tablets I realise he is ill. He spends the whole journey coughing and sneezing without covering his mouth or nose demonstrating cultural differences between us.

The afternoon dissolves into evening so its pot noodle time. A highpoint! Chicken for me and pepper beef for Al. Dessert are sweet coated peanuts.

We climb back up and read kindles as the light outside fades and the train fluorescent tubes warm up. The curtains are all drawn and then the lights are turned out and the smell of cigarette smoke wafts down the carriage.

20.12.16 Guangzhou to Guilin to Yangshuo

We ride the Guangzhou metro to the end of the blue line, Guangzhou South Train Station. Ticket office queues are reasonable so we soon enter the cavernous train station. After three weeks in Taiwan, I’ve forgotten the immense scale of China. You could park airliners in this space. The infrastructure of the station is amazing and shows a nation on the rise but there is still work to do. The high speed train pulls away and we pass dilapidated, ramshackle huts that look about to collapse but the tell tale sign of washed clothes drying in the sun give them away as residences. 

Time to try China train food. I buy a prawn wanton noodle soup for 30¥ and a cup of tea for 30¥!!! Its a microwaved pot noodle but is ideal for breakfast, even with the overpowering garlic.

At Guilin north train station there are many pushy taxi touts and at the bus station next door, there’s no ticket office and tourist info is closed. We haggle with a driver whose kind eyes rest above a beaming smile. It was a good choice, as the journey is filled with easy listening classics, Take me Home Country road, California Dreaming, and a seasonal When a Child is Born. Its worth paying over the odds for some good tunes. He drops us at Guilin South bus station and warns up about touts overcharging us for tickets to Yangshuo. His English is good but his vocabulary doesn’t stretch to irony.

The bus to Yangshuo takes an hour and a half along a road we watch being built. Unexpectedly and without warning, cars, buses and trucks drive towards us on our side of the dual carriageway, diverted from their side as tarmac is laid. Further along, dust swirls like mist and our driver races cars and farm trucks over gravel and mud for the best position through the lumpy terrain. The shock absorbers on the bus died long ago. We reach Yangshuo and catch the final bus of the day, then walk to the hostel.

The hostel has a roof terrace with views over the Liu river and karst landscape beyond.

The hostel owner takes us next door for food where we taste Guilin rice noodles with beef and pickles.

I’ve caught Alison’s cold which has developed further into man flu, so we have a quick wander round Yangshuo’s developed downtown, where many tourist restaurants and souvenir sellers vie for your attention, before crashing early and posting the many blog posts we’ve recently written!