To get to Guilin, the first town on our mini tour of Guangxi, Nick and I took a sleeper train from Zhangjiajie to Liujiang arriving at 5am, we shared a compartment with a Canadian couple and the next morning we all took a walk to a bus stop and caught a local bus across town to a different train station, Liuzhou, to catch our trains to Guilin. The last train only took an hour which was nice after such long travels. We could have made our lives easier and grabbed a taxi from one station to the other but this worked out cheaper and it was more fun, I love watching cities wake up. It would have gone without a hitch if the roads around Liuzhou station weren't totally closed to traffic because of roadworks meaning that our bus took an unexpected detour. Apple Maps had a hard time finding us a route around them but thanks to some friendly locals we all made it there with over an hour to spare. Upon arrival in Guilin we hot footed it across town to Tian Fu Lou, a buffet style veg place that we spotted on Happy Cow, before my hanger kicked in.
This place is a bit of a wander from the centre of town but it's well worth it. After spending two days somewhere that we didn't love eating just steamed rice, fried greens, and Pringles for every meal we were beyond excited at the sight of the buffet and ecstatic when we were told that everything was vegan. We went around a few times trying new things as we went, I was most excited for the noodle soup bar and made myself something delicious after watching how it was done.
In the evening we found more delicious street potatoes, just like the kind we ate and loved in Xi'an, an excellent chain of bubble tea shops, a branch of F M Wheat with what we thought were vegan bread rolls (sometimes language barriers are hard and you become a little suspicious of things afterwards!), as well as a branch of MiniSo which is up there with Daiso and Paperchase as one of my favourite ever stores - it sells super cute things and I would have bought a whole bunch of stuff if I wasn't currently choosing to live out of a 40 litre backpack.
One interesting thing to be aware of in China is that there are a lot of fake versions of things and bubble tea stores are no exception. After drinking a perfect bubble tea at this Gong Cha location we ventured into another somewhere in Yangshuo only to realise upon tasting our drinks that they were nowhere near as good - the flavours were off, the bubbles had the wrong texture, and upon closer inspection the little tea logo was a teeny tiny bit different! We spotted a few more fake Gong Cha's on our travels and got pretty excited when we'd find a real one and could indulge in our bubble tea love... I say our, Nick just gets the tea. No bubbles. So weird!
The next morning we were up bright and early to catch a bus to the Longsheng, or Dragon's Backbone, rice terraces. We decided that the Dazhai spot was where we wanted to be and we chose to walk from the bus stop up to our guest house. It took about an hour and it was all uphill but it was totally okay because the temperatures were pretty cool, we only have small backpacks, and we're moderately fit from all of the walking we do. There are also plenty of places to stop, sit, and look at the views!
Checking into our guest house was a bit of a disaster, we'd chosen a little spot run by a couple, one of whom we read speaks good English, and their cute dog. We'd also read in reviews that they were able to make people food in their little dining area. Unfortunately when we arrived nobody was there, after a while an older man appeared, and after a lot of gesticulating (we don't speak Mandarin and he didn't speak any English) we managed to convey that we were here to stay the night and he put us on the phone to his son, one of the owners. It transpired that the owners had decided to take a holiday and wouldn't be there meaning that nobody could cook us anything or help us find vegan food! Also, there would be no dog. So sad! Thankfully after years of travel me and Nick are pretty good at rolling with things and well, with this view nothing else matters, not even a bathroom made almost entirely out of corrugated plastic.
I kind of loved everything about Longsheng Dazhai, from the atmospheric mist that hung over the valley to the remote feel of the place. We managed to find some vegan eats at the YHA hostel just around the corner from the guesthouse and whilst this wasn't the most amazing meal ever it kind of felt like it after all of the walking we'd done up, down, up, and around, the terraces that day.
After leaving the rice terraces the next morning (that downhill walk was a whole lot easier!) we travelled to Yangshuo by bus. We decided to splurge a little and stay at the Li River Resort, a boutique hotel a little way out of the centre of town. After our basic room at the terraces, nights spent on trains, and at hostels this place was ridiculously nice. They even had a pool which we weren't expecting and our view out across the river to the limestone karst beyond was amazing.
The best thing about the hotel was how easy it was for them to understand and cater to our dietary requirements. We had a lot of exploring planned so being able to fuel up with a decent breakfast was important. Baked beans on Alf's homemade bread, enormous hash browns, fried noodles, dumplings - there seemed to be no end to the vegan breakfast options!
The dumplings were a little much for me at breakfast, steamed I can do but fried is a step to far for me before lunch, but the noodles were perfect fuel and the Heinz baked beans were a fun taste of home although sadly I could only have a little nibble of Nick's as beans are something I struggle to digest because of my colitis. We took a long walk along the river on our first day and on our second we hired bikes to explore a different section of the river. The hike was pretty epic, 12 or 13 km along the Li River zigzagging across using the little ferries and, at one stage, a motorised raft organised by a very persistent man on a motorcycle.
We visited the spot pictured on the 20 yuan note which I was pretty stoked about as we saw the place pictured on the 10 yuan note during our Yangtze River cruise and I was building up something of a collection. Sadly I didn't have a 100 yuan note when I visited the Great Hall of the People in Beijing so I didn't manage to get a photo of me with that note and it's real life landmark.
Our walk took us away from the river at points, past gorgeous karst scenery and through fields that I'm not 100% sure we were meant to be traversing - we stayed on marked paths of course but sometimes we were pretty unsure of the route. We only got lost once. There are no proper maps of this walk you're just kind of looking for landmarks along the way and trying to keep on the correct side of the river until you reach an obvious crossing. As well as the man on the motorbike who followed us for a long time we were also chased for over a mile by an elderly lady trying to sell us berries. We were running low on water at this point and couldn't waste any washing berries nor did we think they'd survive in our bag so we just politely said no and continued on our way. This didn't seem to be good enough for her though and at times she was actively chasing us, we had to break into a jog once when we were out of sight around a corner to get her to finally give up on her quest!
As any westerner who's travelled in China will know getting stopped for photos is the norm - I probably got stopped for pictures 20 - 30 times that day as it's quite a popular spot for domestic travellers.
Nick bought me a gorgeous fresh flower crown when I was in the bathroom, I came out to find him wearing it and he was getting some strange looks. I thought that he should keep it on but he insisted that it was for me. I felt like a snapchat filter!
This route along the river is much busier than the walking route we went on the previous day but it was well worth it for the stunning views down the river. We wanted to continue a little further but were stopped by police and turned back around. I have no idea why! After exploring we cycled back into Yangshuo to go to our new favourite local spot, Mango, to grab a cool drink before dinner. Their name is pretty self explanatory - they just make a whole host of delicious blended mango drinks.
Our fave' was just straight up fruity, delicious, refreshing blended mango with chunks of perfectly ripe mango on top. They have other drinks with more ice or with coconut cream but this was our go-to. We'd already eaten at the only vegetarian place in the centre of town and found it to be pretty uninspiring so we went across town to Mood Food Energy Cafe for dinner. They had both dogs and nooch, two of my favourite things, so obviously I loved it. The dogs were rescues and I hadn't seen nooch since leaving the UK so I was pretty excited. I was more than happy to eat a big delicious bowl of noochy pasta but I took a hard pass on the essential oil water. I was actually pretty impressed with the availability and amount of vegan options in such a small town, I'm sure we would have been able to find even more if we'd had a little more time or weren't staying somewhere that was making us such delicious food.