Saturday, 16 April 2011

guilin, yangshuo, longsheng: a scenic journey

I had a full, fun-filled week in Beijing, and whilst towards the end it was no longer as new and exciting as it was initially, I was still sad to say goodbye. But say goodbye we must, and we packed our bags and headed to our next destination - Guilin!

Upon checking in to our hotel, Simon and I went out for a walk to get a feel for the city. The food scene in Guilin was not quite as vibrant as it was in Beijing, but it was still very fresh and stimulating with its own charm.

These steamed osmanthus cakes sold by a man by the roadside were one of the first things that caught my eye, and it was the very first thing that I bought and ate. Light and delicate with pockets of osmanthus jam and just a hint of sweetness, this may be slightly bland for some, but it pleased my senses - a lovely introduction to Guilin.

steamed osmanthus cakes.

That night, we had dinner at a popular chain restaurant in Guilin, A-Gan, or Forrest Gump restaurant in English. Trying to rein ourselves in after pigging out on mostly heavy, albeit delicious food in Beijing, we changed gears into a gentler cuisine here, ordering some vegetable dishes and a perfectly steamed fresh river fish accompanied by bowls of rice.

steamed river fish.

After dinner we checked out the Guilin night market, where there were stalls selling clothing, toys and knick-knacks as well as food and beverage. Unfortunately, I didn't take pictures, but I can tell you I had some lovely sweet, sour and spicy pickled fruit on skewers, and also a coconut beverage which tasted like watered-down coconut milk. I also noted that tropical fruit seems to be quite abundant here - to my surprise, I saw quite a few stalls selling jackfruit and rambutan.

night market in guilin.

The next day we hopped off to Yangshuo. My favourite part of the journey was the relaxing two-hour cruise on a bamboo boat.

relaxing on a bamboo boat cruise.

We got to Yangshuo and then took a taxi to our inn, which was in a rural village, Chaolong, about a 10-minute ride away. It was very quiet and peaceful here. For the first time, we didn't have to say "no thanks!" to every person trying to sell us something, which was a nice change. Plus, they had the most adorable sausage dog in the premises.

sausage dog guards his territory. do not underestimate sausage dog.

As much as we appreciated the serenity, we soon itched for a little more action, and started walking to Yangshuo town. As we trudged along, a man on a motorcycle stopped and asked us if we would like a ride for 8 yuan. Faced with the conundrum of heeding caution versus walking for the next hour or so, I have to confess, no doubt to the horror of my parents reading this, that yes, we took him up on the offer. Oh, and yes. It was absolute joy.

After the invigorating ride, the soft breeze gently whipping us on the way, we headed to West Street, the buzzing hub of the town. It wasn't long before night fell and things really came alive.

west street at night.

We saw quite a few vendors on the street selling this tofu dish cooked teppanyaki-style with spicy local condiments, and decided we would make this our entree for the night. It was hot, tender and full of flavour.

spicy teppanyaki tofu.

One of the signature foods in Yangshuo is beer fish - fish braised with beer, tomatoes, spring onions and assorted seasonings. We tried this at a restaurant and, while not remarkable, we found it to be a pleasant, homely dish.

beer fish.

The next day we went the down-to-earth route and had a glorious day of cycling through picture-perfect yellow rape flower fields and majestic karst mountains.

my photos don't do the scenery here justice.

As the clock ticked past noon, we kept our eyes peeled for potential lunchtime spots. A sign caught my eye and we parked our bikes and wandered in.

The restaurant turned out to be a welcoming little open-air shack just adjacent to the living quarters of the lady in charge. She had a cute little boy toddler and the most adorable, playful little girl, who kept us entertained while we waited for our food to arrive. She is a gem. I think I want to be her fairy godmother.

adorable little girl getting herself some water so that she could wash her face.

But anyway, this was what we had for lunch. Stir-fried bamboo shoots, vinegared potato strings, and fried rice with eggs from the local free-range chickens. Simple but satisfying.

a healthy home-cooked meal.

That night, we went to watch the Impression Liusanjie light show. Set on the waters of Yangshuo with karst mountains in the background and a cast of hundreds, this was quite a scintillating sight.

impression liusanjie light show.

Our final day in Yangshuo started out shaky - plans fell through, and I got sulky. But gradually, our luck turned and my mood bounced back on cue. After a thrilling evening watching cormorant birds doing their fishing, we had a delicious dinner at Music East West Cafe. They do a mean beer duck - Simon and I were instantly converted.

beer duck.

We only ordered this pickled cabbage because we felt like something healthy and refreshing, and because it was one of the cheapest items that fit the bill. But it was tangy and appetizing, better than what we expected. In Simon's words - "I never thought I'd find myself enjoying pickled cabbage!"

pickled cabbage.

We continued walking around the area after dinner and saw this woman twirling cotton candy. A very bubbly girl was there with her boyfriend, cheering the woman on with an amazing enthusiasm, and after getting her massive cloud of cotton candy, she even held it out to Simon and invited him to pluck off some to sample. Swayed by her infectious energy, we, too, put in an order, and though the strawberry flavour we got was almost imperceptible, we still had good fun eating it. I felt like a child again!

the cotton candy woman.

The morning after we woke up very early and took a trip to Longsheng for the Longji rice terraces at Ping An village.

longji rice terraces at pingan village.

Unfortunately, I fell sick here, and during the first day I couldn't keep anything down, though I was eventually able to drink some hot tea with honey. Simon was gorgeous throughout the whole disaster, taking care of me and comforting me. (Thanks babe!) I managed to take a short walk the next day, but throughout our stay here the entire village was shrouded in major fog, obliterating the scenery, so it seemed I wasn't missing much anyway. I ended up spending quite a bit of time ensconced in bed, watching rather addictive matchmaking shows and translating them for Simon's benefit.

Regrettably, we found most of the food in this village to be quite tasteless. To be fair, though, neither of us had much of an appetite, especially with my illness, so there were lots of dishes that could've been interesting that we didn't try - such as wild sparrows! Also, there are definitely people out there raving about the rustic cuisine here, so it could just be the limited and uninformed choices we made that were our downfall.

bamboo rice.

Upon returning to Guilin, I was still not feeling a hundred percent, and it was miserably rainy. I hardly ate anything the first night. The next day, it was still rainy, so Simon and I spent most of the morning browsing shopping centres and, more importantly, an awesome afternoon at the games arcade. Yes, we could've done more sightseeing, but we just couldn't be bothered. So we had a blast playing games!

Then later, our friendly young Chinese hotel reception guy, Victor, offered to take us to his favourite Guilin rice noodle shop for dinner. They give you the portion of noodles and the accompaniments (various forms of meat, egg, beancurd skin etc) you want, and then you help yourself to the condiments and the soup stock. While my appetite had not yet completely returned, it was a decent meal with a bit of a kick and we had fun hanging out with Victor.

the famous guilin rice noodles.

So, getting sick on holiday and encountering bad weather may be a downer - but I think we did alright in the end!

Next stop, Shanghai!


  1. Love the photos! This looks so exotic and interesting!

  2. the joy of traveling is tasting all the diff types of food and enjoying it.

  3. This all looks beautiful! I'd love to try the osmanthus cakes and the bamboo rice. Oh, and absoluely never underestimate a sausage dog - I housesat for one recently and he was the naughtiest, naughtiest creature!

  4. Wow.. I really want to go see this for myself now... I love sausage dogs.. they are soooo cute!

    I was sick once on a holiday in Japan... was running a fever the entire trip :(

  5. The steamed osmanthus cakes definitely caught my attention :) I love that photo of the little girl by the well, so old-fashion! The bamboo rice looks really yummy too!

  6. Thanks Maria!

    Nava.K, I agree!

    Hannah, yeah this one was chasing off stray lurking dogs that looked much tougher! And then it'd return and curl up ever so benignly on the couch.

    msihua, I feel your pain! Getting sick on holiday really was no fun.

    Thanks Min! I love that photo too - and she is an absolutely gorgeous kid.

  7. Till I saw the caption "steamed osmanthus cakes", I thought it was a white keyboard...hahahha...I must be blogging too much!

    The food looks good though. Too bad most was tasteless.

  8. No, most of the food was good! Just not so much some dishes we had in one small part of our journey.

  9. I am really enjoying your last 2 posts about China! The dishes look so delicious and fresh. I love the images of the more rural areas too. Thanks for sharing. I can't wait to visit China myself. Only 6 more days until I leave

  10. Thanks Brittany - hopefully I'll have the Shanghai post up as well soon. :D

  11. Before reading the post, I almost thought it's a gigantic white chocolate bar ;)!

  12. Haha! I think I prefer the osmanthus cakes to a white chocolate bar. ;)

  13. Wow, great pictures and the food look absolutely inviting. Thank you so much for sharing these pictures . Have a great week :-)

  14. Oooh ahh! I've been to some beautiful places, but I still think the area around Yangshuo is the most beautiful place I've ever seen. It's like being in a painting! <3!

    Sorry to hear that you got sick though - what a bummer while you were on holiday!

  15. Oh my thoughts exactly! In fact, I actually did say to Simon, "I feel like I'm cycling through a painting!" Sigh.


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