The Karsts of Guilin, China
As a child, I remember seeing pictures of a magical place where the earth seemed to have burst right out of it's shell and created giant rounded stone mounds, set amongst rice paddies, rivers and farms. I said then that I was going to see that place one day. Much to my enjoyment, we found this place in Guilin, China.
The mounds are actually called karsts and are made of limstone. 200 million years ago this part of China was under the sea and limestone was thrust upward from the earth's crust and then eroded into the shapes we see today.
The karsts are best viewed from a boat on the Li River and as most things in China, it is done as part of a package tour, complete with flag waving guide. Our guide was the delightfully geeky "Jack". The tour included lunch and costs about US$58 per person.
We learned today that English teachers in China often suggest western names for their students. The person who told us was given the name "Norman" but didn't like it - so he chose "Steven" instead.
Jack led us on a 4 hour trip down the Li River, accompanied by a very long line of similar boats, each holding about 100 sweating people.
The whole trip was narrated by a women with English skills far inferior to Jack's. She told us how the Li River "winds through the grotesque peaks exactly like a blue silk ribbon" and how we should watch out for the peaks that "look exactly like 9 oxen". Most aboard looked around in a confused state, amazed at the scenery nonetheless. And the scenery was amazing. There is surely no other place in the world like the karsts near Guilin - it's the stuff of poetry and paintings. In fact, the area appears on the back of the 20 RMB (chinese currency) note.