Our first night in Guangxi Province after the long train from Shanghai is spent at a delightful guest house by the Yilong River in Yangshuo, The Giggling Tree. Guilin itself has little to recommend it, other than as a means of departure to more beautiful countryside, and most travellers head south to quieter, more lovely Yangshuo – and we do the same.
We are collected at the train station by a man holding a hand-written sign that says ‘Fiona’. A good start. His name is Xiao Liu (Little Liu), and he is neither young, nor short, but a good driver nonetheless. He takes us via the ‘second rate cement-road’ (in the words of the Yangshuo Tourist Guide Map) around potholes, yawning gaps in the concrete and watermelon sellers with ease and delivers us direct to the Giggling Tree’s door.
What a welcome place for weary travellers! The moon shaped gate enters on to a long terrace filled with tables and chairs, and lined with red lanterns. Perfect for breakfasting, and easing into a cold beer after a long, hot day. On one side of the terrace is the converted stable and barn, and our room – light, airy, clean and comfortable. On the other is the restaurant serving wonderful Chinese food, western food, and cold drinks. The magnificent karst peaks are visible above the edge of the traditional tiled roof in every direction.
We sit at the outside terrace sipping smoothies, under the shade of the Giggling Tree itself – an ancient and enormous camphor laurel tree with wide-spreading branches. From here I can see rice fields all around me, a lumbering water buffalo and a herd of geese ferreting for insects in a puddle. As the sun sets the karst looms large and dark against the deepening sky and the crickets take up their song for the evening. I think I’m going to enjoy these two weeks. A lot.