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What It’s Like Turning 30 Years Old in China: My Epic Adventure From Shanghai to Guilin, My Favorite Travel Destination in the Country
Karsts hills, bamboo rafting, five-hour cruises, scenic bike routes, hiking trails, and the most beautiful natural scenery you can find across China. What an awesome way to celebrate my 30th birthday in Guilin, China!
First and foremost, you should know that I never thought I'd turn 30 years old in China. Heck, when I first arrived in China back in 2012 at the ripe age of 25 I knew there was the possibility that I'd stick around for at least 2 years, but I never imagined that I'd be going on 5 years strong. I guess living abroad and loving the experience really does that to you.
So, after taking on so many travels, adventures, and unique experiences around China over the years, I decided early on that I'd celebrate my 30th birthday in none other than Guilin, my favorite tourist destination in China. Jill, my girlfriend, and I had explored Guilin once before with a local tour group back in 2014 and I absolutely fell in love with the city for its remarkable natural landscape, so I thought it'd be a fitting idea to get outside of the city scene in Shanghai, my current residence, and pay a visit to Guilin and Yangshuo.
DAY 1 - Shanghai to Guilin
My birthday lied on Monday, December 19th, but Day 1 of our adventure actually began on Sunday, Dec 18th. After finishing up my normal working day at an English training center a tad early, I met up with Jill and we ventured off to Shanghai's PuDong International Airport around 5pm to catch an 8 o'clock flight. I was definitely excited about our trip and found myself just as eager to use my new GoPro Hero 5—a birthday gift from Jill—for the first time to document my 30th birthday experience in Guilin, so I made sure to snap pics and record videos at every turn.
We arrived in Guilin shortly after 10:30pm, caught an airport shuttle bus into the city, checked into our hotel, and made reservations for a cruise on Li River the next day, all before midnight. Day 1 was officially over!
DAY 2 - My 30th Birthday
I started my 30th birthday in Guilin, China with a prayer. I thanked God for His many blessings over the course of my life and prayed for more to come in areas of happiness, love, health, wealth, and safety, to name a few. Afterwards I'd pose in front of the mirror and take a few photos of my God-like physique at the start of a new decade.
A few of my older friends had already jokingly warned me that "life is all downhill from 30", so I made sure to take the pictures to compare how I'll look at 40. Before long Jill and I would set out in the early a.m. to Mopanshan Pier, the docking point for 5-hour tours down Li River.
Our cruise departed promptly at 9:45am. We were one of about 5 other ships that were touring Li River, as well.
Over the next 5 hours we'd be moving back and forth between the ship's rooftop observation deck and interior cabin snapping tons of pictures, recording videos, and taking in Li River's remarkable natural scenery.
One of my favorite parts of the cruise along Li River was catching sight of the very same spot that's printed on the back of China's 20 RMB paper note. Once it was announced that we were passing it everyone ran to the top deck, whipped out their 20RMB note out and did their best to capture an identical shot of the landscape. How do you think my picture turned out?
Furthermore, I did make time to do a little reflecting while cruising down Li River; after all, the reason I chose Guilin to celebrate my 30th birthday was to escape the bustling city life and soothe my spirit amidst its breathtaking natural backdrop.
Much of my thoughts centered on the usual items: career path, personal goals, family, friends, and my ongoing road towards entrepreneurship.
By the end of the cruise my phone was overflowing with important notes about how I'd take in this new chapter in my life.
We arrived in Yangshou just before 3pm and took a bus to our hotel. Actually, the bus dropped us off about 2.5 kilometers from our hotel and we managed to walk the rest of the way after all the taxis in the area tried to cheat us on a price.
The narrow pathway we took, though, ran directly parallel to Yulong River and provided a picturesque view of the city's karsts hill landscape. The area's remote, serene, and remarkable natural terrain was exactly the place I was looking for to celebrate my 30th birthday in China.
After an hour of walking we arrived at our hotel, checked in, took a few photos and ate a small plate of Yangzhou fried rice. In less than another hour we were off on our bicycles—provided free of charge by our hotel—and cruising down the single road adjacent to Yulong River.
Electric bikes were also available to us at 80rmb for the whole day but Jill insisted that cycling was more of the romantic activity we should do. Hey, sometimes you just have to give in!
We only spent about 30 minutes cycling before we were caught in the rain and had to U-turn back to the hotel. It was around 7pm and more rain began pouring over Yangshuo, so for the rest of the night we'd end up watching TV, chatting, grabbing a big and delicious dinner, and prepping for a busy next day. What a great way to bring in my 30th birthday in China!
DAY 3 - Chillin' in Yangshuo
Day 3 began with a savory breakfast and a lot of time spent on Facebook and Instagram. It was Tuesday, December 20th in China but still the 19th—my birthday—in America, and after checking up on messages and updates from family and friends, we set out on bicycles for our first adventure bamboo rafting down Yulong River around noon.
Bamboo rafting looked ridiculously awesome. The weather was perfect, the mountainsides were lush green, and perhaps most importantly, there were no crowds. We ended up paying a hotel manager to book our tickets, drive us to the bamboo docks and pick us up at the end of its 3-mile stretch.
Riding a bamboo raft down Yulong River was an activity that I've always wanted to do since moving to China and I couldn't have asked for a better time to do so than during my 30th birthday celebration.
Jill and I hopped onboard a raft and were pushed by a young twenty-something year old rocking jeans and a sweater. Sucks that we missed out on being escorted by one of the many elder, long bearded locals donning Asian conical hats, or farmer's hats, waiting at the docks, but I digress.
For the next 45-minutes we'd sail along clear and sparkling dark green water, pass through Yangshou's infamously breathtaking karsts hills landscape, and even raft over several small waterfalls scattered across Yulong River. We spent most of the trip chatting, making jokes, and taking in the fascinating views. At the end of our journey we were picked up and taken back to our hotel to start out next activity. Whether a solo traveler or traveling with friends, family, or as a couple, I highly recommend bamboo rafting on Yulong River in Yangshuo!
Next up on our agenda was a fun scenic bike ride around Yangshuo. We'd pass many of same the hills that we caught the previous day while walking to our hotel before finding ourselves riding on a long road riddled with tourists, small shops, restaurants, vendors, and bikes for rent.
With a few hours to spare until we'd venture over to the Yangshuo Impressions Light Show later in the evening, we decided to take a hike up Moon Hill, which wasn't too far away.
All it took was 14rmb to enter Moon Hill, but it took what seems like a million steps to reach the top. I could hang cause I had played a lot of basketball in the previous weeks, but Jill definitely had some trouble keeping up (She’d killed me for saying that!).
Before long we arrived directly under Moon Hill's colossal archway and were surprised to find foreigners rock climbing on it. We also didn't expect to bump into local vendors waiting at the top and hassling us to buy water.
The best part about hiking up Moon Hill was the spectacular view it provided of Yangshuo's karsts ridden landscape. It's one thing to see the hills from surface level, but overlooking the vast range of karsts hills from above was definitely more of a mind-blowing experience.
It was about mid-day when we headed back to our hotel, and the day was far from over. We'd stop by a busy intersection to grab some smoothies, eat a big meal at our hotel, and simply relax for the next hours up until it was time to leave for the Yangshuo Impressions Light Show.
The Yangshuo Impressions Light Show began around 7:45pm. Advertised as one of the hottest attractions in Yangshuo—our driver also informed us that it was the largest water show in the world—it was no surprise that everyone in the city showed up for the spectacle.
There was a mass section for seating that filled up fast and though it was pretty much pitch black over lake in front of us we could see that we were surrounded by huge karsts hills on each side.
The Yangshuo Impressions Light Show pre-show began with an auction off for canvases inscribed on the spot with beautiful Chinese calligraphy. The show began around 7:45pm and over the next 90 minutes we'd mostly be entertained by a number of songs, chants, and performances carried out by what seemed like hundreds of members from Guilin's local residents and ethnic minority.
The two most memorable events of the night, though, had to be the performances by dozens of elderly locals donning Asian farm hats and executing well-crafted movements on bamboo rafts, and an awesome light show performed by a least 100 women cloaked in flashing ethnic minority garb.
The Yangshuo Impressions Light Show was far from the best live shows I've managed to see during my 5 years in China, but it was certainly a marvelous experience.
DAY 4 - Guilin to Shanghai
And there you have it folks; a great way to end my 30th birthday celebration in Guilin, China. The next day we'd catch a shuttle bus to the airport very early in the morning and arrive back in Shanghai just before 2pm.
Spending my 30th birthday in China was something I never imagined doing and I'm very humbled to look back over my experience in the country with a great sense of satisfaction. Likewise, spending my 30th birthday in Guilin, my favorite travel destination in China, with my girlfriend of 3.5 years was definitely the icing on the cake to top off the joyous occasion and I couldn't have asked for a better way to start a new chapter in my life!
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Youtube: Don's ESL Adventure