One of the main attractions in and around Guilin are the karst stone formations. These mountains, that pop out of a mainly flat landscape, contain many caves and some of these can be explored.
Having visited a fair share of caves in my life, but mainly in Europe, the caves here surprised me a bit. All of the ones that can be visited are lighted in all colors of the rainbow! Furthermore, the Chinese visitors have to be entertained, so all kinds of structures that look like an animal, plant or person are given a name. They then put a (lighted) sign in front of the structure, and the tour guide will point out the shape and where the head, ears, eyes etc. are. Some shapes that are not very clear are even helped a bit, by putting an eye on it or so… The Chinese tour groups love it.
This whole namegiving of structures is not my thing, but I do like the lighting, it gives the cave a very different look, and it makes for beautiful pictures. We visited several caves over the past days, but the best one by far is the Crown Cave, about 40 kilometer outside Guilin (you also pass it by boat between Guilin and Yangshuo). If you have time, go there. It’s totally worth it (taxi will cost you about RMB 200 roundtrip, based on the meter). But be warned, because sometimes you wonder whether you are in a cave or in Disneyland.
It starts already at the entrance. You don’t walk into the cave, but ride there yourself on an electric slide. It’s a 10-minute ride through the rice fields before you enter the mountain, and the last 200 meters you ride through the cave itself. At the end tour guides are waiting to take you through the mountain. Normally you have to go in a big group, but I did not like that idea, so we asked for a private guide. Although at first this was not possible, a bit of money goes a long way in China and we managed to get one.
The cave tour itself takes about two hours, but without a group holding you up you can do it in about one hour. Which was actually good, because I had to do a radio interview with a Dutch radio station later that afternoon, and needed to get out of the cave on time in order to get a mobile phone connection. The cave was fantastic, probably the best I have ever been to. It seems not many independently traveling foreigners go here (according to our tour guide), because it is too far from both Guilin and Yangshuo, and foreign tours normally do not include it either. This is a shame, it is so much more better than the Reed Fluut Cave (Chinglish for Red Flute?) or the Seven Star Cave where you see most of the foreigners.
OK, it is sometimes more than Disneyland than a authentic cave, but that’s part of the experience. Ever taken a glass elevator inside a cave? Here you can do it. A ride on a wooden raft on a subterrean river in total darkness? It’s all included. And even an electric train ride, that was taken right out of Disneyland. Including dance performances that you pass during the train ride! But for me the highlights were a huge ‘hall’ inside the cave where according to our guide 30,000 people would fit in, and a beautiful waterfall. What was less nice is the 1000-year old turtle (do turtles really get that old? Did not check it yet) next to the waterfall, that was touched by all tourists. The guide said that the turtle did not mind, because ‘he is used to it’. Right…
Pictures of the cave will be on my Flickr account soon (no way to upload them here, speeds are incredibly slow).