Yunnan vs. Guilin

Feb 2nd, 2008, 08:57 PM
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Yunnan vs. Guilin

Can you shed some lights on the one to select for a 3-4 day trip towards end February?
We are interested mainly in culture, history, sceneries & small typical villages.
Since we relocated to Hong Kong, we have already seen Beijing, Xi'An, Shanghai and Macau.
TGDXB is offline  
Feb 2nd, 2008, 11:09 PM
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Is it permitted to say neither, and suggest other alternatives?

Guilin's problem is that even during the most benighted periods of China's post-1949 history it never closed for tourist business, and all the worst scams are concentrated there as a result. The trip down the Li Jiang is one of the last in China where foreigners are officially charged twice as much as locals. There are ways around this, but they are illegal (whatever that means in mainland China) or at least there are police watching for non-official boats. The scenery is certainly beautiful, but the environment is much more polluted than advance publicity may suggest, and water levels can be a problem, making the boat trip ever shorter.

The destination town of Yangshuo, as popular as it seems perennially to be, is some oddly Disneyfied caricature of China, with pizzas on sale in every other restaurant, and even if you choose to eat them no peace from (entirely unnecessary) guides who pester you for business. The surroundings are pretty (but every five mins there's an entrance fee now) but the town no longer has any atmosphere at all, and in no way is a 'small typical village'.

Dali and Lijiang in Yunnan have gone the same way. Each has a street known to the locals as 'Foreigner Street' (Yangren Jie) and Chinese tour groups are paraded down these so that the pizza-eating foreigners can be pointed out to them. At both it's still possible to find some real life by taking side turnings and nosing about, but each has sections rebuilt in inauthentic styles to please visitors, and brand new old sections that didn't exist before. Lijiang is so crowded that the authorities are looking to expand the old city with new old building.

In short, anyone in search of authenticity needs to look elsewhere.

But in each case, just beyond these towns, there are others either untouched or only just on the turn. Wei Shan, reached from Xiaguan, the modern gateway to Dali, for instance, has had some tidying up, but remains more authentic. Villages beyond Yangshuo are becoming the next big thing--due to go the same way, but not yet.

But other areas of Guangxi and Yunnan Provinces, and better still Guizhou Province between them may offer more of what you need. In particular have a look for information on 'wind and rain bridges'. In Yunnan consider points further south and west: Tengchong and beyond. In Guizhou, consider Zengchong, for instance. Although already hoping for growth in tourism, these places are nothing like as far gone as the usual stopping places. See this article:

I think that will offer you culture, history, scenery, and a small typical village all in one.

Much closer to home, consider Kaiping, which can be reached directly by ferry from the Central Ferry Pier in Kowloon. Unfortunately the hundreds of bizarre towers in the area have recently gained World Heritage status, so it will be all downhill from here. But using Kaiping town iself as a base you can potter about on local buses visiting well preserved villages whose watchtowers are reached through mazes of traditional housing. I can post a lot more detail if needed. The ferry schedule, to Kaiping's Sanbu port (right in town) is here:

Also consider visiting the tulou (giant earth-built fortresses) of the Hakka people in southern Fujian, reached by bus from Xiamen (which itself is reachable by bus or plane from Hong Kong). You'll find plenty of information about them, particularly those at Yongding, but you can easily venture by bus to others at Hukeng and beyond. There are less well-known ones in eastern Guangdong, too.

Sorry--this is getting random, but is merely intended to suggest a wider choice of destinations from Hong Kong.

Peter N-H
PeterN_H is offline  
Feb 5th, 2008, 06:07 AM
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"If you want you make a tour to China, and fail to pay a visit to Guilin, it is equal to having no tour to China." - wow, jadeleo, you sound like a tourist office brochure! Are you a tour guide? That's a big exaggeration. I've been to both places, and I agree with Peter that they are both over-touristed. They also both have great scenery.

With 3-4 days I think I would pick Yunnan, where you have more chance of seeing non-Han people, and the mountains are magnificent. If you're up to it, you should consider visiting Tiger Leaping Gorge.
thursdaysd is offline  
Feb 5th, 2008, 10:08 AM
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Jade Leo is indeed runs a tour operation in the area and regularly spams public forums, including those of Rough Guide Frommer's, Lonely Planet, and the news group. This is the on-line version of the constant buttonholing by guides at Yangshuo itself.

There's no doubt that there's much beauty in the area, but it comes at a fairly high cost. There are, of course, other areas of karst limestone scenery--the Guilin-Yangshuo area is not unique. But none where you can float through it on a boat, if it's the boating bit that matters, or where there's much tourist infrastructure (for better or worse). There's a fine section on the way to Longzhou in the south of the province, for instance, easily reached by bus from Nanning.

I can remember Yangshuo being a pleasant relief during a long China trip in 1987. At that time travelling was difficult, and Yangshuo was one of those bright spots where people seemed friendly and welcoming. Instant coffee was available which seemed a real treat at the time, it was blessedly quiet, you could jump on a bicycle and with little effort find yourself in villages where everything would come to a halt at the sight of a foreigner. There were no guides or entrance fees, and no son-et-lumiere except the moonlight enjoyable while sitting on the roof of a guesthouse drinking a beer.

Already by my second visit in 1992 there were many more cafes with jokey names to amuse the backpacker (Minnie Mao's, Hard Seat Cafe), banana pancakes on sale everywhere, but the place still seemed like a bit of a relief to anyone who had just crossed China from west to east then north to south over several weeks, and although the boat trip prices had already become outrageous it was worth taking a bus down there to relax, having cleared the final hurdle of hotel touts and other pests around Guilin's bus station.

Now no peace is to be found, and the jackhammers provide a constant background as the place is redeveloped: the quiet village of the past is unrecognisable. Walls have gone up round beauty spots and there's a tout at every street corner.

Nevertheless, many still like it, and many Chinese tours are brought to be shown 'foreign' life. Young Chinese come to study at language schools on the grounds that there are so many foreigners about (but are lucky if their teacher isn't some backpacker with no training or even English as their native tongue).

It's an odd place; neither China nor anywhere else. Its nearest relations are other international hang-out, chill-out places such as Boracay in the Philippines, Kuta and Legian in Bali, certain Thai islands, except that the karst scenery is its answer to the beaches.

Peter N-H
PeterN_H is offline  
Feb 5th, 2008, 10:46 AM
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I personally think Lijiang, Yunnan and the area is one of the greatest rtips I have ever made. You will hear endless carping about it being "Touristy," but this is nonsense. 1) Most of us are adult enough to view the great natural beauty almost no matter what the distractions. 2). Try a "non-touristy" area sometime which is utterly unprepared for travelrs. I did last yr - a desert isle in the indian ocean, & altho I loved it, not enough food, no bathrooms (at all, no running water etc. 3). The Li River is one of the great sights of the world. Yangs. is the only place like itself in the country 1 place w/ expresso, pizza, etc is hardly the end of the world. You need to do Gulin sometime, going to Y. is just going to make it more "Touristy."
anatoleschadenfreude is offline  
Mar 8th, 2008, 02:49 AM
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Thanks to all of you for sharing your views. We finally elected to take the chance of a trip to Guilin/Yangshuo/Jong Li, but trying to escape the touristy areas as often & in as much as we could (challenging, we have to reckon).
This said, we had a great time. Yet we'd like to alert fellow travelers of some of the traps. Let us just list them hereafter:
- Sheraton in Guilin: excellent location and not that expensive. Very friendly staff.
- Snake food: while we were interested to try it, hotel advised us against it if not local.
- Long Ji (rice terrace fields): be aware of the different looks/shapes depending on the season (brown in March (still lovely), watered in April, lightly green in May, deeply green in June, Yellow in August & autumn colours in October). Our guide preferred October. The village offers nice top view accommodation with English speaking owner (apparently) at 150 RMB/night with private bathroom. We will do it next time!
- Yangshuo: take a guide to stroll through the countryside (no real map available & easy to lose your way). Biking thourhg the scenery & villages really worthwhile!
- ALWAYS TAKE OFFICIAL GUIDES/BOATS/ETC!!!!! They are licensed. Else take private guides at your own risk!!!!
- In Fuli (woth visiting) do never accept the "Three Sisters Restaurant's" boat ride back to Yangshuo. They are not licensed, thus can't enter the city & drop you along the river "15' away" which quickly proves to be 1 hour.
- Local buses fare between 1RMB & 2.5RMB/person. Be aware & beware!
- Li River Retreat: be aware that it is actually 2.5km off the city, thus not easy to reach on foot, especially at night. A good--yet less cost efficient--alternative is the Paradesa Hotel (****).
- English is not widely practised.
Despite the above, we had a great time & lots of pictures.
Good travels.
TGDXB is offline  
Mar 14th, 2008, 06:07 AM
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ekscrunchy is offline  
Mar 14th, 2008, 08:30 AM
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Thanks very much for the candid comments, greatly appreciated.
Shanghainese is offline  
Mar 14th, 2008, 12:09 PM
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These places both do have lots of tourists and I have visited Yunnan twice and Guilin twice.

My first visit to Guilin was in 1985 - we went indepedently, not on a tour which was quite unusual at the time. At that time it was very hard to get a hotel room for the night if you weren't in a group and if someone couldn't be bothered to help "bu yao" was the only answer. We went on the Li River trip then - a group of HK Chinese was very angry about the quality of the food and there was almost a fight on board!
Where an I going with this? Well places move on and develop and get more people who want to visit these beautiful places - all those years ago not many mainland Chinese people had those opportunities. So we may look and wish everything stayed as it was, but people there need progress too and want to see nice things. Both of these places are still beautiful and there are still nice things to find in both, at least thats how I see it and have experienced them over the years.
janev is offline  
Mar 14th, 2008, 12:34 PM
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I have been to a few places in Yunnan, but not Lijiang. But one major issue I have with the current condition of Lijiang is that the town becomes a UNESCO World Heritage site not only because of beauty but also cultural. It gets tradition from various peoples over the centuries; but in the past 15 years, a lot of that has been displaced by Han commercialism as a result of the increased tourists.

That's different from places like Huangshan, Zhangjiajie or Jiuzhaigou, which are just plain crowded with tourists, because those places were not significantly populated prior. For Lijiang, the recent development meant displacing the Naxi people who had been the main population for many centuries.
rkkwan is offline  
Mar 14th, 2008, 04:50 PM
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> Well places move on and develop and get more people who want to visit these beautiful places - all those years ago not many mainland Chinese people had those opportunities. So we may look and wish everything stayed as it was, but people there need progress too and want to see nice things.

I can't find that anyone has said they wished that Yangshuo or Lijiang had stayed as they were. This is quite different from wishing that they hadn't developed in the way they have.

Nor does the acceptance that people in China 'need progress too' constitute much of an argument that these towns have to be as they now are. That some people still do like them was expressly admitted in an earlier post. Beauty is clearly in the eye of the beholder.

Does the development of a destination for tourism have to mean largely pulling it down? Does it have to mean overcharging and cheating at every turn? Is there something mandatory about development that it has to include pizza parlours? Does an improved standard of living automatically mean fitting a tawdry son-et-lumiere show into quiet hills? Is it essential to ruin the scenery by throwing walls up around the prettiest peaks so as to charge entrance for what once was free? Is is necessary to turn what was once a simple matter of jumping on a bike into something that 'requires' a guide, creating a legion of pesterers hungry for kick-backs disturbing you between each mouthful of ersatz spaghetti carbonara?

Or might it have been different?

In the case of Lijiang, would it have been better to have preserved the town as it was--supposedly an aim of World Heritage listing--or was it better to rebuild large sections in fake styles and to invent fake old buildings rather than reconstruct people's houses after the earthquake?

Is it better that everyone who works in the tourism industry there is compelled to wear Naxi minority costume even if they are not Naxi? Or that that costume has been redesigned by the Han tourism authorities to make it more attractive for visitors?

Does authenticity have to mean squalor, or could it have been possible to add more convenience and comfort to the lives of those resident without driving them away, and rebuilding their houses in fake copies with the cheapest possible materials? Might it have been better to institute timed tourism and limit numbers rather than purely from greed exceeding every analysis of the town's capacity and planning to build a brand new section of 'old town'? If you think the Epcot Center's accounts of Britain or France are accurate, then you should find Lijiang very pleasing, too.

And as rkkwan hints above, it's the always the authorities and their cronies who benefit most from all this rapacious and cynical development, and rather less the ordinary people for whom concern is being expressed. Indeed, one woman who ran a small guest house at Yangshuo the first time I went there was lamenting bitterly the changes in the town on my most recent (and certainly last) visit. Taxes and charges of various kinds, kick-backs to tour companies and guides, and the competition of myriad coffee shops, pizza parlours, and so on, were crippling her business.

And although there may still be those who like Disneyfied Lijiang, you won't find the World Heritage official largely responsible for seeing the town listed oversight amongst them. A thoughtful man with an international law background, he was appalled when he saw on a recent visit just what World Heritage listing had done, and I could practically hear him woefully shaking his head down the line from Paris when I interviewed him last year.

But if neither of these towns had to be developed (raped) in quite this way to provide 'nice things' for people, the point of the original remarks was to note that now it has happened there are other towns, nearly or equally as pretty, that have yet to be disturbed much, and that might be tried in preference to the carnivals of Yangshuo and Lijiang by those actually wanting to experience something real, and without being forced to rub elbows with a million pizza eaters to do it.

But each to his own. And there's no need, just because Yangshuo and Lijiang may have been enjoyed to rush to defend them here: it won't restore the cultural or physical heritage which is undeniably scarred or now lost altogether. Nor will comment on either side make much difference to the perfectly happy crowds in season, foreigners and Chinese alike.

Peter N-H
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Jun 29th, 2008, 11:58 AM
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