Getting into China was such an adventure it deserves its own post. We made it safe and sound!
Let me explain: Guilin is the big famous city around here, but all the books and other backpackers (and even locals) will tell you that the nearby smaller town of Yangshuo is the place to be. So that's where we headed off to.
Of course taking the Hong Kong metro system to Shenzhen (Lo Wu station) was very easy; we just used our Octopus passes. Shenzhen is one of the cities that marks the gateway between Hong Kong and mainland China. You do not need a visa to stay in Hong Kong, but you do to get into China... we had ours issued in April so this was not a problem. (It's a very expensive pretty sticker for your passport... $350US!)
After passing through Hong Kong and China immigration stations, Jim and I managed to find a place to have dinner (we were getting worried for a bit that we wouldn't) with some wonderful dumplings. After a teeny adventure involving lots of pointing Jim and I found the bus terminal and were happy to find that our bus was a "sleeper bus" with the seats lying down.
The ride was:
-over 12 hours long (7:45pm-8:00am)
-very bumpy... no, VERY bumpy
-very bright (many cities)
-full of twists and turns
I'm never going to try driving in China. The traffic wasn't bad, but the roads weren't great and I'd have no idea where I was going. We must have gone through a toll station every 20 minutes (maybe more frequently). I was expecting some sort of highway, which it was at times, but we ended up going through so many small towns on tiny roads that I have no idea how they figured this route out.
Imagine a place that is filthy beyond belief, super smelly, and involves a hole in the ground. That would be what the bus stop restrooms were like! (Though that's just expected around here...)
We didn't sleep much, maybe 3 hours total each, but the views were cool. We also met some other backpackers. One was also from the US (Washington), a guy about my age who was really friendly and basically doesn't know what he wants to be when he grows up. He was on his way to Yangshuo to teach English for a while (he didn't know how long) because the living is cheap and he wanted to go rock climbing here. He had no idea if he really liked teaching or not... a much braver soul than myself! The other backpackers were a pair of Israeli girls. Come to find out that there are many young Israelis backpacking around here. I guess everyone who is not disabled has to serve their military, girls for two years and boys for three years, when they turn 18. They all seemed to have enjoyed it at least and weren't upset. They all go backpacking when their service is up, which they enjoy! They were very friendly and their English was very good... I feel lame to only speak English and a little French!
As an aside, I read a very interesting tidbit: If you are bilingual in English and Mandarin Chinese, you can converse with 50% of the world! That's a pretty powerful stat... a great reason to learn Mandarin!
Around 5am we started to see the famous Karst hills... and we arrived at 8am. Let the adventures begin!