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Zhuhai to Yangshuo/Guilin via rail (and Banyan Tree Yangshuo review)

Zhuhai to Yangshuo/Guilin via rail (and Banyan Tree Yangshuo review)

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Old Aug 5, 19, 1:09 am
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Join Date: Apr 2015
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Zhuhai to Yangshuo/Guilin via rail (and Banyan Tree Yangshuo review)

The trip starts in Zhuhai, China… although it could really start from any one of the many rail stations that dot the China landscape. Although these trains aren’t cheap… in fact, they’re about the same price as a plane ticket, they can often be more convenient than a plan for trips under 4 hours. For one, the ticket prices are static so you don’t end up getting price gouged when booking on short notice. You also don’t have to arrive well in advance of your flight to check in and clear security. Lastly, the typical train seat is far more comfortable than your average economy seat and you can walk around as much as you want.

The downsides of course, include needing to keep tabs on your own luggage, since it isn’t secured into the cargo hold but there are luggage racks above the seats for your carryon or small luggage. Another downside is the bathroom. Although it is difficult to believe, I feel like the train bathrooms can get far more disgusting than even airplane bathrooms, despite being (or perhaps because it is) far larger in comparison. This ride involved a short transfer in Guandong, which is a massive station with tons of F&B options while you wait.


Once we arrived at the station, we walked out to a cacophony of screaming “entrepreneur” drivers and tour guides. We skipped these and hopped into one of the waiting cabs just past them to head to our hotel. The drive takes nearly an hour, but is a stunning mix of stark poverty and rare beauty. The famous karst mountains and beautiful natural scenery clashes harshly against the dilapidated rural villages that you drive through. Eventually the driver pulled off into a small side road of withered farmland and broken down buildings for no apparent reason. I prepared to defend my family in the event that he was pulling off to murder us and dump our bodies into the bushes, but we saw a sign for our hotel shortly after.

Hotel review:

Banyan Tree Yangshuo is a lovely property, but stuck in the incredible dichotomy of its location. The physical property is beautiful and luxurious, but literally smack dab in the middle of a rural slumlands. Farms and dilapidated buildings entrenched in deep poverty dot the landscape while there signs every 100 meters or so advising people not to take drugs, educating them on what drugs look like, informing them what to do if they encounter drugs… Not the most promising first impression. Essentially… you don’t want to walk out of the front gates of the resort.

However, once we turned into the resort the entire landscape changed. While there was lush greenery throughout the area, it was wild and untamed. Within the boundaries of this resort sanctuary, we discovered another world of manicured and well managed foliage. There is a hotel building with suites, but for a –relatively- small increase, about 20% more, you can get a private 108 sq. meter (1162 sq. ft) villa in a walled garden out on the sprawling grounds instead. I emphasize relatively because the property isn’t cheap, but if you can afford to stay here (or are splurging anyway), then another 20% makes a whole universe of difference.

The Good

The space – 108 sq. meters of private villa with a front and back garden in your own walled sanctuary. Unlike most other properties, the difference between a regular suite in the main hotel building and the villa isn’t tremendous so it is well worth the extra price. The staff also use electric golf carts to shuttle you from the main building to your villa if you don’t want to walk, but the grounds are peaceful and lovely so we usually chose to use our feet. The villa is beautiful and while the front garden is small, the rear garden has a small patio with furniture and you can just relax outside and feed the mosquitos if you like. The living space of the villa is well appointed with just about everything you could want, the bed is soft and inviting, and the massive bathroom has an equally massive bathtub that easily fits a family of 4. If you don’t want to go swimming in the tub, you could use the rainshower instead while his and her sinks round out the bathroom facilities.

The facilities – If you’re coming to Yangshuo, then you’re coming for the natural beauty and you’re surrounded by it (inside the resort). The property is built along the river and next to one of the famous karst mountains and the views are beautiful anywhere you go within the property. There is a koi pond and small koi river surrounding the villas, and a peacock pen filled with juvenile peacocks. Two adult peacocks (the parents) also wander freely around the facilities and you might have a chance encounter with one of them. The male loves to show off and spread his feathers, which is always an exciting event for visitors (and my kids). There are also yoga facilities, a spa, and two restaurants but the peacocks are a relatively unique highlight of the property.

The activities – Speaking of peacocks, you can sign up to feed them on a daily basis. This is a lot less exciting than it sounds as it mainly involves sticking leaves of lettuce to the juveniles through the slats of their pen. If you’re wondering why they’re so cruel as to never let the juveniles out, they apparently used to let them roam free… but they liked to fly on top of, and sleep on the roofs of the villas… and sometimes would also fall off. You can also feed the koi any time by helping yourself to one of the bags of fish food next to the entrance of the hotel. Several additional cultural and children’s activities (silk ball making, fishing, bicycling, etc) are available with a 24 advance reservation, and various paid activities are also available (bamboo rafting, candle making, helicopter tour, etc).

The view – Due to the nature of the grounds, you’re always surrounded by a beautiful view. Beautiful mountains surround you on all sides, the grounds are well maintained, and you can take a stroll along the river. The villas themselves are charming to just take a stroll through.

The privacy – It doesn’t get much more private than a walled villa. The property itself is also so remote that it adds to the feeling of “getting away from it all”… because you pretty much have gotten away from just about everything except the apparent rampant drug problem right outside the gates.Of course, it’s surprisingly easy to forget about that once you’re inside the resort walls, so let’s just pretend I didn’t mention it. You won’t encounter many other guests, as the property is huge for the number of rooms that it has… and like I said, if you’re feeling antisocial you can just go back to your villa, bolt the outer door to your villa, and be completely secluded in your sanctuary. If barring yourself into your walled villa isn’t private enough for you, then you might need to purchase a cave in the middle of the Himalayas and become a hermit.

The extras – All rooms include breakfast… of course, at this price you’re actually paying for it, so I suppose it’s more accurate to say that breakfast is included in the price. The daily buffet is more of a brunch with a huge selection of sweet and savory breakfast and lunch items with a fresh noodle bar, egg station, fresh squeezed juices and a rather extensive selection of baked goods and home-made yogurt as well. We even had the peacock come visit just outside the brunch area one day, just showing himself off in all his feathery glory while we ate our breakfast. The various free activities are also pretty fun, and if you have kids… they seriously never get sick of feeding the fish. There is also a scheduled shuttle that will take you “downtown” to the relatively famous West Street which is about half an hour away if you’re looking for an urban infusion. There is also a lovely tea set in the room with a selection of teas. The kids had many nice tea parties.

The Bad

The lobby – While it’s not exactly bad… it’s pretty underwhelming. For a resort of this size, the lobby is just two workstations somewhat integrated into the corner of the “bar” and a sitting area. Not entirely bad, but I found it a bit odd.

The service – This might have been the biggest surprise. For the brand and the price that you’re paying you would really expect more anticipatory service. While they mostly met our needs, there were several times when they took far too long, or didn’t anticipate somewhat basic needs. Perhaps my expectations were too high, but when you have 5 tables occupied in the restaurant and about 10 staff, you would expect dishes to be cleared quickly. When a family walks in with two very small children, at this price point I would expect that the staff would offer children’s utensils (rather than needing to ask). There were a number of other minor service failures. Once again they were minor, but they often failed to meet my expectations and NEVER exceeded them. Acceptable for a Holiday Inn, but not for a resort 5-10 times that price point.

The Ugly

The location – As I mentioned, your impression just outside the resort is essentially that of drug-infested rural slums. The stark contrast to your resort may give you a few pangs of guilt you’re your overindulgence as you prepare to spend more for a single night at the hotel than the locals in the surrounding area likely make in a year. It’s impossible to forget entirely, and it may even cause you to question your safety within the resort, despite the walls.

Guilin/Yangshuo

As difficult as it was to tear ourselves away from the beauty of the hotel, we came to the area for a purpose… and that was to be camera-toting tourists. During our stay we made a few jaunts to the surrounding attractions which I will highlight:

The big banyan tree – This place actually has nothing to do with our hotel. It is actually a famous location with…. A big banyan tree. Literally. That’s the attraction. You pay a (not small) fee to enter a tourist attraction that has obviously seen better days. There appeared to be a small dirt archery range that was currently serving double duty as a mosquito breeding pit on one side and various other abandoned attractions on either side of you as you walk to the tree. Once you get to the tree…. That’s it. It’s a big banyan tree. Walk around, take a few pictures, and then leave. Better yet, don’t bother going in the first place.

The river cruise – One of the more famous things to do while you’re in the area is to go on one of the river cruises. As with most things around the area, the boats are old, dilapidated, and smelly…. But you should still take the cruise. Midway through your cruise, the boat will be boarded by a heron fisherman. He will let you take pictures with his heron and his hat for a small tip… I’m serious about the hat, they literally don’t even let you refuse to wear the hat. It’s a fun little event but takes quite a bit of time while the entire ship of people take their pictures, one at a time. Afterwards, you can buy pictures taken by the crew for a moderate fee. From there you proceed to several of the famous mountains, including the ones featured on the 20 yuan bill.

Bamboo rafting – Arguably the best attraction in the area is bamboo rafting. There are a few versions of this including the “luxury” rafting experience from the hotel with a large, motorized raft seating 4 with a canopy. I advise skipping this and taking the far more entertaining 2 seater rafts in the Lijiang area. These rafts are pushed manually by a guy with a bamboo pole, without a canopy. FAR more fun and entertaining as he pushes you down the river and you splash down tiny (a few inch) drops. The manual rides also have a much lower age limit (they allowed my 4 year old) than the motorized ones.

Downtown Yangshuo (West Street) – Your standard tourist area, but it was still a lot of fun. You can buy tons of cheap little trinkets along with your assortment of extreme fratboy dare foods such as scorpions, centipedes, crickets, and beetles… (at least I hope they were beetles… Dear God they better not have been roaches… let’s just say they were beetles…) Street artists and toy peddlers round out a festive atmosphere. The whole area is reasonably large, and it can warrant multiple trips as we continued to find new things every time we went. It’s very quiet during the day making it a good time to do your shopping. It becomes lively and crowded in the evenings when you may want to ease up on shopping and just enjoy the atmosphere.

Closing – Yangshuo was an amazing and beautiful destination suitable for a short trip away from the hustle and bustle of the big cities. The majority of hotels tend to be tranquil and relaxing, although there were also several choices in the West Street downtown area if you want to stay closer to the “action”.

Last edited by baroqen; Aug 5, 19 at 1:15 am
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Old Aug 6, 19, 1:01 pm
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Join Date: Oct 2001
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Do they have a restaurant car in trains, or do you have to buy food at stations?
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Old Aug 10, 19, 5:18 am
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Join Date: Mar 2001
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Interesting review! I really enjoyed Yangshuo when we visited the area a few years ago (and stayed somewhere super cheap and basic)... but if I went back the Alila would be #1 on my list.
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