So far, we have been visiting a few of the major cities in China but for the next couple days we will be seeing Guilin which is known for its scenery. It will be nice to have some fresh air vs. the very polluted other cities we have toured.
The first thing on the itinerary was the Reed Flute Cave which is one of the highlights on Guilin…it is a large dark cave full of various rock formations and slippery steps. Although the natural formations were amazing, it was very commercialized with many tourists and neon lights to exaggerate the scenery. They had names for the various things like the mushroom for a rock formation looking like a mushroom etc. Giff went on his own with the guide since walking in the dark on slippery rocks didn’t sound smart for my sprained ankle. He said taking pictures was challenging because the lighting was so dark but had fun exploring.
After Reed Flute Cave, Giff and the guide swung by the hotel to pick me up. We went to the Elephant Trunk Hill, a large hill which looks like an elephant dipping its trunk into the Li River. There were a few vendors sitting down near the hill selling their trinkets. A nice bridge connected to an area shaded by trees with a few benches to admire the scenery. We took some pictures and then I sat on one of the benches and waited for Giff and the guide to take a longer walk on the other side of the hill for a different view. The walk was over rocks and went right across the river.
After looking at the scenery, we were on our way to a tea farm. Giff and I have really been getting into the various teas and were curious to see where it comes from and how it is made in China. After a short ride, we arrived to the organic tea estate. An English-speaking representative was waiting for us. He first walked us out to the farmland which looked like rows and rows of short bushes. He handed us each a hat…one of those straw pointy looking hats you see Asians wearing in the rice fields. We couldn’t resist putting them on our heads with our hands together in a prayer pose for a picture. The tea rep picked a few pieces of tea leaves off the bush and started explaining how tea is made.
Right away, we learned that green/white and black tea comes from the same bush! It is just harvested during different times. He showed us how to tell premium green tea over lower quality. When buying green tea, always look at it and smell it. If it has only one leaf and one needle…it is of the highest quality, 2 leaves and the needle second best and three leaves and a needle…lowest quality. When looking at it…it should be green but a lot of white…which is the needle. If it is almost all green then you have many leaves instead of the one leaf to one needle ratio. If it is brown and green…it is old and dried out. The white tea which has even more antioxidants is harvested early spring and all picked by hand, it can’t be picked when its raining nor when there is a frost on the ground. It probably has the most health benefits because it is processed the least. Black tea is the most processed…it is picked and goes through an extreme drying process.
After our tea lesson, he took us upstairs which had beautiful views of the tea farm and into a small private room. There was a whole traditional tea set on a little wooden table, it was literally a huge tree stump polished with matching small tree stump chairs. We took a seat and he prepared the tea tasting. The farm is all organic and most of the crop goes to government people. He had us taste 3-4 different teas and made them in the proper teapot depending on the type of tea. Black tea and green/white teas are not made in the same teapot…green/white should be made in porcelain and oolong/black tea should be made in clay. He always poured hot water over the pot to warm it and always threw out the first batch of tea…he called it washing the leaves. He showed us the proper way to hold our tea-cup, one for a male and the other for a female. He answered our many questions and drank the tea with us.
After tea tasting, we went into their sales room where all the tea is packaged and for sale. There were also tea sets with the tea-pot, teacups and rosewood tables hand carved for having traditional tea ceremonies like the one we just had. Every Chinese family owns one and uses it for special occasions. We shopped around, debating on whether or not we should by the whole set…it was very tempting but we kept asking ourselves if we would really use it back at home. We finally decided against it…we probably wouldn’t use it so often and would have to pay a lot to ship it. We did buy a few bags of tea since this was the good stuff. China does not export their best tea…but we got our hands on some.
After our day of sight-seeing and tea tasting we had some downtime before arriving at a local restaurant recommended by our tour guide. Did I mention this tour guide is very sweet but she is under 21! I don’t think she is quite qualified to be leading tour groups quite yet. When we would ask questions about Chinese history or culture she would sometimes tell us she would ask her dad or google it…not exactly what we’re paying for but that’s ok. The restaurant was very local…I don’t think anyone spoke English in there. She came in with us and ordered for us…then left. We had a lot of fun looking at the menu which had zero English…just symbols, as well as people watching and of course checking out all the random food around us.
We started with their standard pot of tea and a cold beer. Then the food started rolling out…there was a vegetable sautéed, two different soups with meat and noodles and the main course which was beer fish stir fry, served in a wok which was still on to keep the food warm. There was also the spicy chicken which we thought would be good except it wasn’t. In the US, when you order chicken…it is either served without bones and made all different ways or served with bones in set pieces like a chicken leg or breast or thigh etc. What they did with this was cut all the chicken parts into tiny bite-sized pieces with the bones in. So, we would pick up a piece which was tiny and need to take tiny little bites out of the tiny little bit because there was a bone the same size in the middle of it. Do they eat the bones? It certainly did not seem practical at all.
Dinner was good and entertaining, we decided to walk around just for a few minutes to see the town at night. There was a large lake in the middle with trees around it, lit with green lights. There were plenty of people out and about taking a stroll. I went back to the hotel to once again put my foot up and Giff walked around for a while around town…people watching and taking it all in. He ran into some kind of formal dinner party and watched the locals playing music and dancing which he really enjoyed.
Once he was back in the hotel room, we watched some TV and went to bed.