Hand in Hand

Hand in Hand

This site isn’t so much for travel narrative as it is for looking at pictures, so I’ll cut out a full day’s narrative, save for this:

Thursday was close to an eleven hour day of travel to get from Yangshuo to Detian. I spent less than 90 minutes shooting at the falls. From Detian (western part of the province on the Vietnamese border), I had to make my way to Beihai (southern, coastal city on the Gulf of Tonkin). It was, in distance, much shorter than Yangshuo-Detian. However, it turned into a reasonably miserable travel day and took about twelve hours (with about five of those hours spent in a bus station waiting room in Nanning). I got to my hotel in Beihai around 9:30 p.m. on Friday night. (I would stay in the same hotel Sunday night as well.)

The only positive to come from Friday’s travel was on the bus from Detian to Daxin (and on to Nanning). There was a very nice girl traveling with her parents who wanted to practice her English who happened to have visited Beihai. I think she said she was from Guangdong, too. Anyway, what I wanted to do most in Beihai was go to Weizhou Island (Weizhou Dao). She suggested (almost implied it was required) that I needed to book tickets on the ferry to Weizhou Dao in advance, so she helped me and called someone she knew in Beihai to reserve a ticket for me at 8:30 on Saturday morning.

I really didn’t know too much about Weizhou Dao, except that it was listed in Lonely Planet as a place to go. I did try to research it online, too, but couldn’t find too many pictures of the island. I found a few, though, and it was enough to convince me that it was worth going. Besides, Beihai honestly didn’t have too many places I was interested in seeing for two days.

So, I decided before the trip that I would come out and spend the night here on Weizhou Island. That turned out to be about the best decision I made for this trip, as it was much better than I was expecting from the lack of information I could find about the place.

I fell in love with this island. The ride across the Gulf of Tonkin takes a little over an hour on a high-speed boat. The cost is 150 RMB, which also includes admission to the island. The island is the remnants of a volcano, I believe, and is a reasonably circular island with a total area of 25-30 square kilometers. So…it’s small.

The port at Weizhou Dao is on the northwest corner of the island. The main city (that is to say the one place where there’s a main street running along the water for about 1 km) is called Nanwan (South Bay). To get around the island, you can either walk, rent a bike, or take a san lun che (tuk tuk). San lun che is the easiest. Depending on where you want to go on the island, it costs between 20 and 40 RMB to go from place to place. There are cars on the island, and people (though not many) do live here year-round, but for public transportation, those are your options, and they’re more than enough.

I think I paid 30 RMB to a guy to get me down to Nanwan. I hadn’t booked anything in advance (though I tried), so went to the first place that Lonely Planet mentioned: Piggybar. This was a very cheap place and as close to a dive as any place I’ve stayed in China.

This was the tropics in June, so the weather was sweltering. It turns out that I wouldn’t be alone in my room. I stopped counting how many cockroaches I killed somewhere after five or so. Big-sized suckers, too. But, that would be later in the day. At night, the electricity constantly cut out. This was only a slight annoyance because it would turn the air conditioner off. Sleeping wasn’t nearly as uncomfortable as I thought it would be. I also stopped counting how many times the power would go off. (It was never for more than 5 minutes, though.) I certainly don’t fault the Piggybar for this. The power apparently just goes out around Nanwan like that.

I did enjoy the main drag in Nanwan. There are a lot of neat little bars and restaurants (and what seemed like a much nicer hotel about midway along the road). I don’t remember the name of the place, but if I make it back there, I’d definitely stay at that place instead.

After I checked into my room in the morning, I took stock of things, thought the view in the south bay was pretty nice, and headed out for a walk towards the rest of the main drag. As this is an island, almost all restaurants have fresh seafood (which, for anyone who knows me, isn’t appealing…but seafood lovers would be in heaven here). I stopped at a restaurant and grabbed an early lunch of generic non-seafood Chinese food. It was so generic that it was forgettable. Maybe it was huntun, which is like a small dumpling soup. I really don’t remember.

While sitting there in the open-air shade enjoying the view of the sea, three college girls came along on bikes they rented and joined me. They, too, were from Guangdong if I remember correctly. I was beginning to think everyone was from Guangdong, but I know better than that. At any rate, they were friendly and we were talking about what to do around the island.

For me, the most interesting place to photograph was going to be the Catholic church. There are two churches on the island – one Catholic (founded by the French), one protestant (founded by Germans, I believe), both around 100 years old, if not a little older. Of the two, the Catholic church is the much more photogenic of the two, so that was what I was most looking forward to shooting, and that was the first place I was going to head via san lun che. It cost 40 RMB to get there. The girls had bikes, so I told them to try to get there – it was on the opposite side of the island…somewhere in the northeast part, but not on the water. They didn’t quite make it, but no worries. I saw them later, and they told me they did eventually get to it.

I wandered around the church and church grounds, and also the streets in front of it for an hour or so in the early afternoon. The church itself was quiet and peaceful and the street in front of it was lively with lots of vendors.

Besides the church, there are a lot of places with natural beauty on this island. As it’s created from a volcano, there are a lot of fascinating rock formations, but those tend to shoot best in lower light closer to sunrise or sunset. There’s even another small island nearby that you can apparently get boat rides to. While near the church, I was enjoying a map of the island with its scenic spots and their flowery names. I decided to go to one that they called Drippy Red Screen. (After all, who doesn’t want to see a screen that drips like blood?)

Really, it’s called that because it’s a dark-colored rock that, close to sunset, apparently turns a vibrant red. I figured, if this is a good place to see a sunset over the sea, I’m there. I left the church around 3:00, and paid a guy another 40 RMB to wheel me back across to the southwest corner of the island.

Though it was far from sunset, I was all too happy to go rent an umbrella and wooden beach chair for 30 RMB with a “front row view” of the sunset. This was vacation, after all, and what better way to spend it than relaxing next to a beach, people watching. At first, there weren’t too many people around. Just a few groups of entrepreneurs like these who took a little area of the beach and rented the umbrellas/chairs. There were also people who you could pay to take you around on jet skis and things like that. Other than that, just sit back, enjoy a drink, and watch boats drift by in seemingly slow motion. This was a good afternoon.

After a few hours, as it got closer to sunset, the tide started to roll out, though, and my front row view began to take more and more of a back seat. Not to umbrellas, but just to people crowding the view. During the 4 or so hours that I was at the beach here, I did manage to take a walk down the way to the Drippy (Not So) Red Screen closer to sunset to see that it wasn’t quite what they hyped it up to be. (That’s a shock…) I didn’t wander more because, as a lone traveler, I was worried they might sell my spot to someone else, even though I said I’d be back. They didn’t, though, and I returned to my umbrella for a few minutes more. There came a tipping point, though – before sunset – when I made the decision that the sunset wasn’t shaping up to be so spectacular that it would warrant being in this crowded an area, so I eventually abandoned hopes of getting jaw-dropping sunset pictures and made my way back to Nanwan before the rest of the crowd did the same. At least this san lun che would only cost 20 RMB, since Nanwan was barely a 10-15 minute ride away.

Back on Nanwan’s main drag, I had the driver drop me in front of the hotel, but I wasn’t ready to go in. I just wanted to walk along the main road there, and eventually discovered all of these unique indoor-outdoor bars. I stopped and had dinner (fried rice, if I remember) and a mango smoothie that was so good that I had a second one in this neat little restaurant where tourists write their memories on the walls.

After that, I continued down the road – all this as the sunset was turning the sky to a deep blue (and I was, after all, quite pleased with what I was able to see here) – and stopped at another bar for a drink. I had a mojito that was honestly forgettable. It tasted more like carbonated soda water than anything. Not seeing much to do besides drink myself into oblivion (which I don’t care to do), I went back out and enjoyed the last of the day’s light before walking back towards the Piggybar. On the way back, I bumped into my college friends from earlier, who told me they’d enjoyed the island, and they did get to the church after all. On the way back is when the first of the power “flickers” happened with electricity dropping on the island.

Without much to do in my hotel room, I tried to stay as comfortable as possible with the air conditioning that continued to go off. It wasn’t as hard to fall asleep as I imagined, and I fell asleep early, which also gave me an early start the next morning for sunrise over the bay.

After checking out of the hotel, still very early (around 8:00), I set off with my backpack and bag and started the walk uphill. My only goal for Sunday morning on the island was to go to the protestant church and photograph there before heading to the dock and making my way back to Beihai.

It was a nice little walk as the road away from Nanwan does a zigzag straight uphill to give a nice view of the town and bay. Also, like western Guangxi, Weizhou Dao’s “countryside” is nothing but banana farms, which was quite nice to see. I shot there a little bit and, when I tired of walking after an hour or so, flagged down a san lun che and paid 30 RMB for him to take me to the protestant church, then to the dock.

The protestant church, unlike the Catholic one, had a 10 RMB admission, and wasn’t nearly as interesting (for me, at least) as the more famous Catholic church. It was nice, however, and I was glad to see it as my “farewell” to the island. From there, I went to the dock and got a ticket for the first available boat back to Beihai.

I really enjoyed my day and night here on Weizhou Dao and was looking forward to one last, relaxing evening in Beihai before getting back to the daily tedium of Chengdu. But first, one more night to go…

Posted by Neil Noland on 2016-01-15 06:01:24

Tagged: , China , Guangxi , Weizhou

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