Forget Guilin or Halong Bay. Shanglin is the real deal.

(a piece from my girlfriend about our recent trip to Shanglin)

why the title.

Guilin and Halong are incredible places, but they are overrun by tourists (local and foreign ones alike). Shanglin is not.

see anyone else beside our 2 boats?
see anyone else beside our 2 boats?

I often hear tourists moaning about visiting touristic areas with too many ‘other’ tourists. They are usually unaware that the others around them think more or less the same. We all think we are the only real adventurer on that bus.

In his spare time, Axel searches for unexplored areas whilst I would be doing something else and sometimes pay enough attention to Axel’s researches. Nevertheless, I have a lot of admiration for his findings, I am often astonished by such unexplored destinations. One of these destinations was Shanglin. I am quite unsure if Axel had found this place online or it was our colleague who first mentioned this area, however, I was more than happy to pay a visit.

A week ago, Axel, our colleagues and I rented a minibus and travelled to Shanglin. It took roughly an hour to get out of Nanning ( this is not unusual for Chinese big cities since they are forever expanding) and another hour to reach our first destination.

ancient town in shanglin
ancient town in shanglin

Our minibus climbed up a half finished road to a remote village where most residents are ethnically Zhuang. Zhuang are physically the same as Han. However, their language is somewhat different from the standard Mandarin and more similar to Thai. Most of the few residents were probably over 50 since most of their young able family members have left for Chinese mega cities. The old yellow bricked houses are clustered together on top of a mountain and you could see families of pigs and chickens running around. Rice paddies and maize surrounded the village and beyond that you could see mountains. Overall, it was a great place to take pictures and to forget about the grey and miserable buildings in big cities.

After a few snaps and politely intruding into locals’ homes, we decided to move onto the next spot. “The vineyard”.

the vineyard, unfortunately not wineyard
the vineyard, unfortunately not wine-yard

Now, I am not saying that alcholic beverages are always on my mind, but when my colleagues said, “we are going to a vineyard”, I was thinking about wooden barrels and dusty wine bottles that I used to see back in Italy. Unfortunately, it was a nice enough vineyard with juicy grapes ready to be plucked by our grubby hands. After an hour of picking and eating grapes we left for our hostel.

Before we left for Shanglin, all of us agreed on having a barbeque for the night. At first, I thought that was our only dinner. However, on that night, Axel, Benoit and I realised that shaokao (barbeque in Chinese) was our late night snack. In China, barbeque, sandwiches and chips are considered as snacks and I presume it’s because rice is not involved. We spent our time showing off our snooker skills and playing UNO. Cheeky Axel was picking on amatuers and constantly catching out on players who didn’t say “UNO” when they were holding onto their last card. After a session of card playing and dancing with the sticks, our grill was ready for barbequing. We finally finished by 2 in the morning, and everyone went to bed.

Out of my expectation, the second day was incredibly fun. Firstly, we didn’t have a great start. I was expecting us to leave promptly at 11 and, we actually left the hostel by 11.43 a.m. We were promised a fabulous lunch at a well-known restaurant that cooked a type of fish in 20 different ways. At the end, I never saw the fish and instead we went to a noodle shop which served corn congee and old friend noodles.

river selfies always win
river selfies always win

The turning point was when we arrived at some gorge on the outskirt of the town. I cannot specify the name of this place or the location. It appears to be an area where locals take their children to learn to swim. There was also a group of young men encouraging each other to jump into the water. As for us, I was the first one to jump into the water followed by Axel, Benoit and my male colleagues. All the girls were busy taking selfies whilst the boys were splashing them. There were a lot of screaming from the girls and the boys were mocking them, it was very teenager like, but all in all it was fun.

Dahong Lake, photos do not make justice here
Dahong Lake, photos do not make justice here. click on the photo to enlarge it (slighly)

Things just got better! Our final destination was ‘Da Long Hu’ literally translated as ‘Big Dragon Lake’. When we passed through the karst surrounding the lake, there were a lot of oohs! And ahhs! The sounds just got louder and louder until we stopped outside of the lake. Since we were in monsoon season, it suddenly, but not surprisingly, started to rain as soon as we stepped out of the minibus. As per usual we found some shelter and waited for half an hour for the rain to stop. We took a leisurely boat trip around the lake. With no tourists other than us, we enjoyed the full privilege of the scenery. It felt incredibly peaceful, until Axel decided to jump into the lake. Axel and Benoit were already a spectacle since they are caucasians and when a topless ‘laowai’ decided to jump into the lake, everyone suddenly stopped what they were doing to watch. With some encouragement from Axel and myself, I decided to jump too. The boatman was screaming at me holding a lifejacket, ‘Wear this or you will drown!’ After I gave him a couple of looks, I decided to ignore him and jump with Axel. Wow!

So after that exciting experience, came another. We originally thought that was the end of our trip. However, the boatman thought we haven’t had enough excitement for the day, dropped us off outside a cave and told us to make our own way back to the minibus. As we walked into the not so dark cave, we were amazed by the humongous size of it. In the middle was a huge stalagmite acting as a pillar and a statue of the buddha on a table surrounded by offerings. I joked that we should have had our barbeque in this cave, some of my colleagues found it faintly funny and some just ignored me. 😦 As mentioned before, we were all amazed by it and some of us realised that the cave continues on. Benoit, Eve’s friend and I decided to venture off. However, the others thought that we have had enough excitement for the day and urged us to come back.

the series of caves and their openings to the sky

We hastily walked back to the minibus until Benoit stopped us to film for his friend’s wedding. Axel and I gave our blessings in our chosen language and then the rest gave their blessings (even though they were oblivious on what they were doing).

We returned to the minibus, had dinner at one of many Eve’s friends and left Shanglin for Nanning. Everyone was tired and retreated to their seats although some of them were eyeing up the microphone that was lying there next to the driver. Knowing that KTV is one of the most popular recreational activities (not for our ears, though) in China, I knew someone at some stage of the trip would have not been able to resist but sing into the microphone. My predicament was right. Half way through our journey back home, Gary stood up and sang a couple of songs and others decided to sing along too. After a couple of Cantonese and Mandarin pop songs, we arrived in Nanning and it was time to say goodbye!

Overall, it was a lovely and memorable trip and, well, at least I have this journal to look back on. That’s all guys, you will see the next journal from me after Axel discovers another unexplored paradise.

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