Don’t get me wrong, we had a great time, but we made a few mistakes along the way that almost ruined the whole visit! Here’s how not to plan a trip to Guilin!
We’d heard wonderful things about the southern China city of Guilin, mainly due to its beautiful scenery and the famous rice fields. It was meant to be an exciting trip – our second sleeper train but this time for 27 hours, and a chance to explore some of China’s natural landscapes.
MISTAKE NUMBER 1: NOT BEING ORGANISED WITH TRANSPORT!
Our train tickets were never actually processed because the company we used told us that we wouldn’t be able to get them in time. In China, you can buy a train ticket through an agent (and seeing as our Mandarin is EXTREMELY basic, that’s what we did) but you don’t actually get your ticket there and then.
Tickets are released a certain number of days in advance and they sell out very quickly, especially trains like this one because there is only one per day. This wasn’t really a problem as flying actually gave us an extra day in either Guilin or Xi’an, at a cheaper price too so we asked the agency to book a plane ticket for us.
If I’m honest, I do take part responsibility for what happened next as surely the first thing you do when you plan a trip is check that your plane leaves at the correct time, right?
On the bus back from the Terracotta Warriors, five hours before our flight was scheduled, I checked which terminal we needed to go to. Imagine your heart sinking through your ass – that’s what happened to me when I realised our plane was actually leaving in about 45 minutes.
The agency, Travel China Guide, had offered us a flight to leave at around 7pm, and I had replied confirming we would take that flight. However, when they sent the booking confirmation, they had accidentally booked the afternoon flight, which we were never going to make. I emailed and called the company, who originally offered to book a new flight for us but by this time we had been panicking for around five minutes and Kev had already booked us onto the correct plane (around £50 cheaper as it was last minute!) so we asked for a refund due to their error.
After a few phone calls and offers of booking a new flight for us or half the money back, we spoke to someone who was obviously feeling generous and gave us the money plus our booking fee back. I thought it was great customer service as they responded really quickly and were able to give us the money back without too much of a fuss.
We had a great two hour flight with China Southern and even enjoyed a little snack box, which I wasn’t expecting for such a short amount of time being in the air!
Moral of the story: ALWAYS ALWAYS double check everything, even if you think you’re being an overly-organised travel freak. You don’t want to be stuck 900 miles from your next destination, wasting time in an airport waiting for the next available flight!
MISTAKE NUMBER 2: EXPECTING EVERYTHING ON THE INTERNET TO BE TRUE
We managed to arrive in Guilin safely and headed to our hostel, which I was very excited about. I hadn’t slept in bunkbeds in about 20 years, and only once with a group of people of a Year 4 school trip. I had read loads about how you can meet friends for life in your dorm room, and listen to fascinating travel stories from inspirational people. I was really looking forward to it!
The pictures looked great – it had a bar, a pool table and cute little beds with fluffy duvets. Now, I’m not saying that the pictures were lying – there was a bar, and a pool table, and the beds were fantastic and snuggly.
There was one thing missing though – PEOPLE. As we walked in, there was a young couple sitting awkwardly with a drunk middle-aged man, who was yelling homophobic slurs about Freddie Mercury to the lady behind the bar. Not a great start, but surely there will be a group of wild youths waiting in our room, ready to put dreadlocks in my hair and sing Kum –By-Ah all night long?
We were first put into a room where a girl was already asleep (at 10pm) but the locker keys weren’t working so they moved us next door. Where four beds were neatly made up, waiting for their guests. We were the only ones there that night….and the next. Who ends up with a dorm room to themselves!?
We didn’t really get into the swing of hostel living – our belongings were everywhere and I slept with no pyjamas on. We were told that there were no guests booked into our room so we locked the door from the inside until someone told us not to…which they didn’t.
We also ended up making friends with the couple we spotted on the first night – they were Australian and actually did tell us some great stories just from living in Tasmania, so that was great. Unfortunately Kev lost their email address so we’ll never know any more!
We also met another expat who comes to the bar a lot as his Chinese wife is in America studying, and he taught us lots of different ways to play around with our camera so we could get some great shots on the rest of our trip. This lesson was actually priceless as we learned so much in that short space of time and ended up taking pictures we are actually proud of!
Moral of the story: Firstly, China isn’t really in the backpacker scene, so don’t expect to see a lot of hippies wandering round. Secondly, if you’re going to plan a trip in the low season, don’t expect many other travellers in general – the weather is still shite in January so people are more inclined to be further south at this time of year. Thirdly, always sleep with pyjamas on. Imagine if they’d just burst in with their spare key and….oh man, it doesn’t bear thinking about.
MISTAKE NUMBER 3: NOT CHECKING THE WEATHER FORECAST BEFORE PLANNING YOUR TRIP
You’ve probably already guessed how this mistake went but I’ll enlighten you anyway.
As I mentioned, Guilin is renowned for its beauty. With our new photography expertise (!) we were ready to take photos like this one:
However, Mother Nature decided to be a bitch and we ended up with pictures like this:
Here is my personal favourite:
We had a fantastic day wandering up and down the hills, looking down at the little villages and paddys as far as the eye could see. Unfortunately, with the fog and the rain and cloud, the eye could only see about 5 metres. At one point I thought I’d gone blind because we were so high and everything was just white and blurry.
We also had an interesting lunch in a restaurant (not entirely sure it comes under that category as there were a few seats and an outdoor barbecue type thing hanging off the edge of a cliff, but we did have lunch there) and we sent postcards home from the very top of the mountain.
It was a nice day for us but it was a real shame that we couldn’t capture the essence of Guilin – we would stand in a spot and talk about how beautiful it must be when the sun is out and the sky is clear!
It means that we’ll have to plan a trip again to see the terraced fields at some point, maybe not to Guilin again because there are other great places to see – we were just so disappointed that we didn’t take the weather into consideration when we planned our trip! Check out this great photos and videos from the Longji Terraces instead!
Moral of the story: If you’re going to plan a trip, be organised and check the best time of year to go. If the forecast is bleak, it may upset your travel plans but you probably don’t want to waste any time going somewhere if you can’t enjoy its main attraction! Saying that, we did have a great time in Guilin but we probably would have decided to plan a trip in the summer, especially as we live in China so we would have had so many opportunities!
Have you ever made big travel mistakes? What’s been your worst travel idea? Let us know!