Flying down low across Guilin during the last couple of hours of our 25 hour door to door journey my first impression was “Wow, that’s a lot of not a lot”. Green mountains covered in trees rose and fell as rain clouds worked their way through the valleys, at the bottom of which there would occasionally be a big muddy river. Apart from a couple of factories and the odd scattered habitation there didn’t seem to be a lot going on. Once we’d checked into our riverside hotel and taken a walk down the high street the sportswear shops, cafes and bars made it clear that this was still the 21st century. In fact Guilin is the start point of one of China’s most popular river cruises, so they have a lot of tourist trade here and people keen to take your money off you. After a day off floating about town in a now familiar jet laggy haze it was time to get to work with my co-presenter for this week, CBBC stalwart Barney Harwood.
We wound our way up mountainsides on, at times. crumbling roads to arrive at the 9 Dragons and 5 Tigers rice terraces viewpoint. There are rice terraces throughout this region, huge curved steps cut into the hillside like contour lines on an ordnance survey map. These ones have been made more accessible with a concrete path leading up and a restaurant and toilet facilities for click happy tourists, so it was a good spot for us to film an item… dressed as the Hairy Bikers (or in this case, Hairy Hikers). Barney and I had had to do our research as neither of us had ever watched the Hairy Bikers (cookery programmes are bottom of the list in terms of stuff I want to watch on TV), and our Geordie accents turned out to be, well, less than “mint”. But I quite enjoyed our shambolic attempts to cook rice and being filmed hiking up and down the terraces in our big fake beards and leather waistcoats. In the afternoon we were carried about the place in sedan chairs for a sketch that tested our Geordie skills even further (and no doubt found them wanting).
The sun had been beating down on us all day and I was quite glad to see the back of it, but we had a mammoth drive ahead on some very twisty and bumpy roads. We stopped off in the middle of nowhere for dinner in a small bare concrete restaurant in someone’s house, with pictures of Communist leaders dotted about the walls, and were served up some absolutely delicious egg noodles that I couldn’t get enough of. I remember this last time in China; quite often the cheapest places to eat were my favourite as they keep things simple. Start paying a bit more and they want to impress you with deep fried duck heads, chicken feet and all sorts of other “interesting” things.
Arrived at our wooden hotel in a traditional Dong village (where all the buildings are made of wood) around 11pm and got my head down wondering what UK election news would greet me when I woke up in the morning.