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The Ling Canal is one of Guilin's hidden gems. The most unfortunate aspect about the Ling Canal is that it is situated about 70 klms north of Guilin City in an area that does not attract many foreign tourists because of its isolation from other tourist destinations. The other tourist attraction in this area is Merryland Theme Park and Golf Resort but by its nature it attracts a different kind of tourist.
The Canal is a wonderful example of the engineering and architectural skill that existed in Chinese society more that 2000 years ago. The Canal was built in the year 214BC by Qinshihuang, first Emperor of the Qin Dynasty. The canal system connects two rivers, Guilin- LI River and the Xiang River but as these rives are tributaries of the Pearl and Yangtze Rivers the connection linked two of the largest river systems in China thereby opening a huge area to allow travel and commerce to flourish. It was also an important political move as it unified north and south and allowed the Emperor to consolidate his power.
The complexity of the project is more easily understood when we see the difference in water levels between the two rivers which in some planes is around 6 meters. The project required a complex system of locks and dams to allow the two water systems to merge. At one point the two rivers are only separated by about 20 meters. It is fascinating to watch as the rivers flow in different directions.
It is possible to take a boat ride down the south canal to Xinan Town which is well worth the money. The wooden punt is poled along the canal by two boatmen who are happy to point out the points of interest and answer questions if you have someone along who speaks Chinese. They are happy to stop at the most significant spots on the canal for photos or to allow you to get a better look. The ride finishes in the town. The canal continues through Xinan. The walk along the waterway is very interesting. It is lined with old traditional style building where the residents go about their daily life. I do believe that it would be very crowded with domestic tourists at holiday time, but our visit was free of any congestion and we were the only western tourist in the place. We not hassled by anybody wanting to sell souvenirs or continually assaulted by hello, lookie?venders.
A Chinese guide or Chinese speaker is almost a necessity to get the most out of the experience. The ticket office at the entrance advertises a boat ride but this is just across a small lagoon and is not worth the RMB 20 per person for a 50 meter ride. The boat ride down the canal is purchased from the boat operators at the start of the south canal. You can't miss it. The park that surrounds the start of the canal also contains a small museum displaying the wreckage of one of the legendary lying tigers' squadron that operated in the area during W W 2. We found it interesting but not riveting.
Part of our tour to the Ling canal included a 1 hour stop at the tea plantation operated by the Guilin Tea research Institute just out side of Guilin. The tour was free. The 100 acre working farm produces tea for sale as well as researching better methods of crop production and new flavors while maintaining the traditional methods of processing the tea from bush to cup.
The guide from the plantation ¨C Jack, was very informative providing information like a machine gun from his armory of knowledge and he was more than happy to answers questions. We learned about the differences between white, green, yellow and black tea which are produced from the same bush and also about the various herb and flower teas. The process of drying or cooking was demonstrated by ladies who have the amazing ability to be able to toss the tea leaves while they are being cooked at 180 degrees centigrade.
We participated in a tea tasting ceremony and leaned the correct way to appreciate the taste and aroma of the tea together with the culture that goes with the ceremony. We passed through the shop on the way to the exit but there was no pressure to buy either tea or the large selection of associated equipment.