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Friday, May 23 - Up as usual at 0630 for another huge buffet breakfast at 0830 - It is raining heavily so we expect the cruise on the Lijiang River to be a wet one. But the rain stops and we board buses under a grey, overcast sky to the river ports - Mopan Wharf and Jhujiang Wharf - some 14 miles from Guilin. What an amazing sight is the river port terminal. There are dozens of tourist buses disgorging a huge crowd mostly of Chinese. There are at least 25 small cruise ships tied to each other at the dock plus some already underway down stream. This is clearly a tourist heaven. Each ship carries about 100 passengers. Our wonderful guide, as always, knows what is best and directs us to the best places on board - the upper deck. Each ship has an open kitchen at the stern. Before the boat gets underway we watch the busy chefs on the other boats begin meal preparation. When it is served on a long banquet table down the center of the cabin we find 12 entrees. There is a small gift shop on board with various books and things for sale. Kelly advises us to skip this and wait to shop in the town where the cruise ends. A very wise idea. The scenery along this shallow, winding 'river' is spectacular, but unfortunately the heavy overcast turns everything to grey. The photos would be gorgeous if the sky were blue and the limestone cones colorful. The cruise is for about 50 miles and takes 4 hours. The entire way we are in a line of similar boats in a very narrow channel. The water is crystal clear. We can see the river bottom within a few yards of the ship side. We pass small craft with fisherman, some using pelicans, and also villages. There are fields with water buffalo and ducks along the river. Toward the end we begin to pass other boats that are now returning upstream, empty. That trip of course takes much longer, so one round trip is the norm with the tourists going one-way downstream and returning to Guilin by bus. Along the way we pass through a terrain covered with isolated limestone peaks forming many different shapes. Many of these have received fanciful names, such as River Snail Hill, The Green Lotus Peak, The Painted Hill of Nine Horses, The Five Fingers Hill, The Beauty of Crown cave, and the Writing-brush Peak. But with the overcast is is difficult to discern the imagery. The terminus is at Yangshou County a town with 30,000 inhabitants. One has to wonder what this place would be like without the tourist traffic: Probably nothing. The path from the river dock leads up through a mob of vendors not content to remain in their stalls. Each one is trying to capture some business before the tourist finds other shops further along the road. We break through the initial sales area to find yet more, but more staid vendors in shops selling, or trying to sell, virtually every item that might be associated with China. We buy a few gifts. Then we ride electric carts a few blocks through the actual town to the bus park. Unfortunately we do not know about this interesting town or might have spent more of the free time exploring it. The bus back to Guilin stops several times for us to take photos of the rice paddies and farmers. In Guilin once again we walk around the lake to take photos in daylight of the pagodas and city gate and the signature Elephant Trunk hill. Dinner this evening is "on our own". Kelly again leads us to a fine local restaurant - 7 main courses and rice and soup for $5.20. Tonight we pack carefully for the flight to Hong Kong. This time weight is an issue. In the morning the hotel provides a portable scale. We shift a few items into the hand bags to achieve the weight limitations on checked luggage.


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