We rarely sign up for packaged tours. The idea of being tied to a group all day is not appealing to us and particularly not to me. On the rare occasions we have been on a guided tour I often drift, take photos and the guide has to reign me in when it is time to move on. Di has a new description for me. When in my element I am like a dog off leash. I follow interesting leads and although I may disappear momentarily, I always manage to find my way back. However, in Guilin the Deluxe Li River cruise with an English-speaking guide seemed to be the best option. We made the false assumption we would be on an English tour. We were among very few English-speaking guests on the 57-passenger bus. The first hour was on the bus to the pier and our guide had a lot on her mind and shared it via an extremely loud speaker system. 1 minute in English for every 10 minutes in Chinese. Spoken by 1.4 billion people, it is an interesting language. My patience was already being tested.
Day two in China and we are already learning you are rarely alone. Wherever we have been there are more people than expected. Perhaps if I had read the guidebook I would have known Guilin is a city with a population of 5 million. Lured in by photos from the Li River I had expected something more quaint. No worries though as I laugh at myself. The mad dash to clear pier security; our guide yelling and running to catch the boat was an exhilarating experience. First things first; if you would like the better seats on the second level there is surcharge, if you would like a better lunch, there is a surcharge. We are off to a great start. We sit through another long Chinese introduction with no English this time. Again very, very loud. I tried to escape and head upstairs to the outside deck but was stopped by a stern crew member with sign language. I complied. We were only 10 minutes in and did not want to get thrown off the boat.
To be fair, once the formalities were completed, it was a fine tour. The views from the top deck were amazing. We met a German couple, an Australian / Chinese Family and had the nicest encounter with a cute 6 year old Chinese girl, her mother and grandfather. She sang the song from The Sound of Music, Doe a Deer, a female deer… Di had a long exchange with her where she practiced all the English words she knew and mom and grandpa were very proud. I gave another tourist a quick photography lesson and advised him to turn off his flash for the landscape photos and to turn his lens hood the right way. He thanked me with a big smile and looked totally pro after this tiny adjustment.
After four hours on the river we drew close to Yangshuo. Our guide thought we were staying in Yangshuo; so very glad Di double-checked before we docked. We took a picture of a hand-drawn map with a time and location for our bus back to Guilin. We had three hours to kill and quickly moved away from the onslaught of vendors at the pier and found a quiet side street for a coffee and a game of Yatzee. I won. The bus was half an hour late and we were lucky to get seats together. We drove through a mix of roads, most under construction, some two lane, some four lane. On the four lane we still had oncoming traffic from scooters and mopeds. The bus honks every 10 seconds and made a quick nap challenging. The suburbs of Guilin look like one big work in progress and it is hard to fathom how they will ever pull it all together. A few minutes later we drive through modern development with neon lights on every building. We both agree it has been an adventurous day with many new impressions.
We have been staying at the wonderful Guilin Central Hostel. The staff here have been amazing and eager to go the extra mile and provide excellent customer service. Find them on Expedia.