Macau – Guangzhou – Guilin – Yangshuo
We decided to describe this first stretch of our trip in “China proper” in great detail, simply to show how easy it is to travel in an environment where communication is rather difficult. It took us about 23 hours to cover the approx. 750 kilometres between Macau and Yangshuo, but it was hardly tiring or boring. The public bus in Macau took us to the border at “Portas de Cerco” where we crossed into Mainland China together with zillions of gamblers who had spent the weekend in Macau. Despite the big crowd things moved smoothly.
Once outside the immigration building a small visitors’ desk helped us to find the way to the underground bus station. Actually, we were the only “Westerns” crossing the border there. There were however quite a few other Asian nationalities. This very comfortable bus took us Guangzhou in about 2.5 hours.
Again, there were a few young people at an info desk eagerly telling us how to get to the railway station, which involved taking the subway. They even walked us to the nearby subway stop equipped with a bilingual subway map! The rest was a piece of cake. We were so surprised how easy it was to travel with mostly Chinese writing all around us, but this feeling changed once we approached the square in front of Guangzhou’s train station. Although we were not even quite sure whether it was the train station, we just moved with the crowd, assuming that if sooooo many people with luggage want to enter a building, it must be the train station!
The crowd was huge, many sitting on the ground in large groups, others making their way to the entrance. Although there are three huge entrances, only two small passages were open and the pushing and shoving got worse and worse the closer we came to the door. Once we were pushed through the gap, the reason for the congestion became clear: every luggage was screened!
There was no place to change money inside the train station and although the train did not leave for another two hours, we could not see ourselves fighting the crowd entering the train station again. For this reason, we also chose the only (!) eatery inside. We expected this place to be equalled mobbed with people, but we were wrong. Most people had brought instant noodle dishes or other snacks. The time till our departure we spent in the very comfortable “soft sleeper” waiting room, discovering how the system worked.
Once a train was leaving a lady with a big megaphone would enter the lounge and shout orders, apparently asking the passengers to go to the platform. Only then passengers are allowed there, obviously to move such crowd, rigid organisation is necessary. Since we had no clue what her commands were, we carefully watched the clock, but when it was time to board the megaphone lady waved us over and again we rolled with the crowd. Again the only foreigners!
Now our ticket did the talking, the attendant that stands like a sentry at the door of each carriage passed us on to another who showed us our compartment, which, to our relief, we did not have to share with anybody. Actually only half of the compartments in our carriage were occupied, apparently the 40 Euros being too expensive for the vast majority of Chinese travellers.
Of course, we checked out the dinning car, most customers were the many conductors and other employees who enjoyed themselves there, especially when it came to who was going to take OUR order. After a brief discussion amongst the waitresses, a young girl was sent over to our table with a little piece of paper in Chinese, the menu (?), looking embarrassed and shrugging her shoulders. She asked all the other passengers for help but in vain. Eventually, Heidi got up and pointed at some dishes at the neighbouring tables – those that could be somehow identified – and we ended up with a delicious dinner for a few Euros.
Once in Guilin, things took a different turn, we were immediately approached by touts and people working for the small bus companies speaking good English. Of course they tried to badly overcharge us, but Gilles knew what the bus ticket should cost, so we eventually paid approx. the normal price. Within minutes, we were put on the bus to Yangshuo and off we went for the last 1.5 hour of our trip.