Wednesday, 19 February 2014

My Guangxi journey with Wendy Wei Tours

It was quite a last minute decision that my friend and I picked Guilin and its surroundings for our short Chinese New Year holiday. We were contemplating between Beijing, Shanghai, Kunming, Guangzhou and even toying with the idea of Taipei but Guilin won at the end because of flight and weather considerations. Once the destination was confirmed, my next task was to draft out the itinerary and to look for a tour operator that will be able to cater to our request for some off the beaten path routes.

The iconic Elephant Trunk Hill
At this juncture, Wendy came into the picture. I gave her a call, explaining the routes and places that we intend to visit and skip, entrance tickets and meals, hotels suggestions and lastly, a reliable and honest driver. Wendy was only given 5 days between the call and our arrival in Guilin to do the necessary planning and arrangements.
Her efficiency put me in awe. She diligently planned out the best itinerary for me and dutifully changed some upon my request. Wendy was full of ideas when I solicited for her suggestions. Aha…this is the person who knows the place at her fingertips; I said to myself, quite unlike other tour operators or guides that are only interested in squeezing your bucks but offers little. (I will share my experiences with other tour guides in my next posting.)
As we do not need a tour guide, Wendy assured me that we will be well taken care of by the driver that she’d arranged for us. Leo, an honest, responsible, helpful and reliable driver in his 30s picked us up from the airport. Besides that, he is friendly and he knew the places well, having been in the trade for many years.
Leo will try his best to fulfill our requests and did his best to cater to our last minute adjustments. It is also rare to find your local guide helping out in bargaining for prices but Leo did it for us on many occasions. He even brought us to a restaurant in Guilin that serves wonderful local dishes where he can get a discount while other guides will bring you to somewhere where they get a tip for bringing in tourists.
Due to bad weather condition, we were not able to visit Sanjiang, famous for its ethnic minority architecture and rice terraces which were in our original plan. To Wendy and Leo’s credit, they suggested other places for us to venture and even doing a refund to us. When I complained that Yulong River bamboo rafting cruise sucks from my previous experience, Leo assured me that he will bring us to another section of the river that will help me change my perception of Yulong River. It did and I knew we were shortchanged by the previous guide we hired during my 2009 Guilin trip.

Enjoying the beautiful scenery along Yulong River 
Another memorable thing during the trip was when I asked Leo to drive us to buy fireworks to be lit on the night of the 15th day of the lunar calendar, known as Chap Goh Meh in Malaysia or Yuen Xiao in other parts of the world (元宵节). We had a good bargain for the fireworks purchased thanks to Leo. On that night, he selected a bund next to Li River in Yangshuo, away from the crowd for us to light the fireworks. But it ended up with Leo lighting all of them while we watched the spectacular fireworks.
En route to Xianggong Hill
Another notable mention was Leo driving us to Xianggong Hill, nested between Yangshuo and Yangdi for a bird eye view of the Li River after I showed him a photo that was taken from there. Xianggong Hill was not part of our itinerary but he was more than happy to go the extra mile. Apart from that, when we were on rides along the Li River and Yulong River, he arranged for us to be on his friend's boat and bamboo raft so that we can enjoy the beautiful scenery and taking all the pictures that we want at our own sweet time. It is well known that boat operators will do the cruise as quickly as they can.

The beautiful bend of Li River and the towering peaks.
Leo selected this secluded spot for a perfect snapshot of Moon Hill
After Guilin and Yangshuo, we proceeded to Hezhou where we visited the Gupo Mountain where two famous TVB series were filmed - Plain Love 2 (茶似故乡浓) and Country Spirit(酒是故乡醇), Jade Stone Forest which is of the same formation as the famous Stone Forest in Kunming and Huangyao Ancient Town. It is rather unfortunate that the preservation work at Huangyao, once a prosperous small town during the Ming and Qing Dynasty, was not carried out properly. The rustic charm that previous travellers experienced isn’t there anymore, replaced by commercialization, much to my disappointment.
At Gupo Mountain Country Spirit filming site
One can easily get lost at this vast stone forest

The main street of Huangyao - a paradise lost. 
Hereby, I would like to express my deepest gratitude and thanks to Wendy and Leo for making our Guangxi trip a memorable one. Big thanks to Kar Lyn as well for the great company and all the beautiful pictures.

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