Toilet star rating = 4 stars
The Li River runs through Guilin on its twisting winding way southward to the sea, but within the city itself it's less of a river and more of a creek. It's so low in parts that you could walk from one bank to the other and hardly get more than your ankles wet. Consequently the starting point for the stunning Li River cruise is a port about half an hour south of the city. Even so, the river was still so low you could see the bottom only inches below the hull of the the cruise boats. And there were plenty of cruise boats. We were part of a long convoy of about twenty boats. The Li River cruise rivals the Yangtse River cruise for popularity. The difference is it's only four hours as opposed to four days. Neither Shelly or I could stomach the idea of being couped up on a boat for that long, regardless of how luxurious it might be.
There isn't much to say about the Li River scenery. It is beautiful and I hope the photos do it justice (as far as that is possible). Even so, after four hours you do tend to get a little blaise. The lunch on board, despite reports to the contrary, wasn't so bad.
The cruise terminates in the little town of Yanghuo. Tourism is Yangshuo's raison de-entre and it starts the minute you set foot on the dockside. Vendors are calling you and trying to lead you to their restaurant / bar / guest house, etc. You should avoid the touts as they invariably try and swindle you.
We had booked a room at the Charming Inn, which although servicable wasn't exactly charming. The bed was rock hard, like many in China. To our delight we found we were right next to a late night bar and got to enjoy the beats pumping through the wall into the early morning hours. Ahh well, that's what you get when you go cheap!
That evening we went to the Sanjie Liu Impressions spectacular. We weren't exactly sure what to expect of this show but it was basically a version of the Beijing Olympic opening ceremony. It is set on a beautiful lake surrounded by jutting karst peaks that were as much a part of the show as the choreography itself. It was truly memorising and we were very impressed. Unfortunately no photographs can really do the show justice.
The next day we took it easy in the morning before venturing out to Shangri-la on a tour in the afternoon. Shangri-la is a Chinese 'minority peoples' theme park village. It was totally for Chinese tourists and no one actually spoke English. While all the activities and shows were pretty lame (I guess), there was no denying Shangri-la's beautiful setting.
After the tour we piled back in the van but instead of returning to Yangshou we drove to a massive military warehouse. Even the Chinese tourists were perplexed as Peoples Liberation Army soldiers escorted us into the lobby of the building. In front of an enormous tank a young soldier gave a lecture about defense hardware produced by the factory 'to keep China safe' or some such thing. Then we were escorted to a small theatrette and were locked in while the young soldier commenced a 'Demtel' type demonstration for kitchen knives! It was surreal. After the demo, the soldier left the room and was replaced by a young female officer who tried the hard sell technique. One couple bought a set but the rest of the customers were as bored as the rest of us. After 15 minutes we were finally let out of the room and escorted to the gift shop, which was positively enormous. On the way through I counted 34 'interview rooms.' Even after we passed through the gift shop we weren't free. The gift shop opened onto a zig zag market filled with aggressive shop keepers grabbing at us and trying to sell us .... cr*p. When we got to the van we were all offered a complimentary steak knife, which we politely refused.
That night we bounced from bar to bar, enjoying the spectacle of the Chinese night club scene. The Chinese certainly can drink!
We spent the next morning at the Yangshuo Cooking School. The session started with a trip to the local food market. The fruit and vegetable section was interesting but the meat section was both distressing and disturbing. The one thing that you could say about the Chinese is that they are unsentimental when it comes to food animals. Seeing fish and frogs dismembered alive was bad enough but there were much worse things going on there.
The cooking lesson afterwards though was excellent and we can definitely recommend it. The food was delicious and so simple to prepare.