Stranded by Floods in China - My Crazy Experience
Updated: Nov 4, 2018
Getting stranded in a hostel in China with no running water, food or electricity surrounded by rapidly-rising floodwaters probably takes the cake for my scariest travel experience to date...
My friend and I planned to visit the tourist town of Yangshuo to go river-rafting, rock climbing and hiking as the last stop on our 3 week backpacking trip of China - but somehow ended up getting caught up in the area's worst flooding in 65 years!
It all started when we arrived in the city of Guilin to pouring rain. A traveller we met mentioned that it had been raining non-stop in the area for around 2 weeks and when we tried to book a bamboo raft at our hostel (how most tourists travel from Guilin to Yangshuo) we were told the water levels of the river were too high and that we would have to take a bus instead. No one mentioned anything about flooding to us. So we took the bus... and very nearly got swept down a flooded river as our crazy driver decided to keep driving as all the other vehicles were turning back.
Once we got to our hostel in the centre of Yangshuo everything was normal (it seemed). We had lunch at our hostel and were pretty exhausted so we decided to take a quick nap. Little did we know that so much could change in an hour...
I woke at around 1pm to strange noises and yelling outside our hostel room, looked outside and discovered all the streets around our hostel flooded and by flooded I mean the water was over a metre deep and rising! There were locals paddling bamboo rafts down the street and shop owners attempting to save their store's stock - carrying it above their heads whilst paddling through the water. I woke my friend to tell her what was happening and it was then we discovered that we had no power, no internet, no running water and pretty much no way to get out. Luckily our hostel was on the 2nd floor of a building so we were safe but the lower street level was completely flooded so we were indeed stuck!
View from our hostel less than 2 hours difference...
We spent the rest of the afternoon reading in our hostel room. Every time we looked out the window the water had risen even further. A British family swam past our window with their suitcases piled on on a bamboo raft yelling, "We're going to Beijing!". In that moment we thought that was going to have to be us next... The water had completely covered motorcycles parked downstairs and was chest-level on people wading through the water on the streets. For dinner we ate rice out of a crockpot that a neighbour had brought to the hostel and leftover muesli bars that we had in our bags. We went to sleep that night not knowing when we would be able to get out or get in contact with anyone at home.
Luckily, the next morning the water levels had receded significantly. We started talking to a Chinese girl staying in our dorm who spoke a little English and she told us that she also was wanting to get to Guilin and that we could come with her to catch the bus. So we followed her through the streets coated in mud and floodwater to the bus terminal and feeling very lucky and relieved - we caught the bus out of Yangshuo and back to Guilin!
So extremely relieved that we had made it out, we spent the next 3 days cooped up in a hostel in Guilin (while it continued to pour) killing time before we flew out to Borneo for the next leg of our trip. Looking back, this experience was definitely my craziest and scariest travel experience. Scary because we were stranded in a small town in a foreign country with no idea what was happening and with no way to contact anyone at home.
You're probably thinking that we were silly not to have recognised the situation we were about to get ourselves into but there were no warnings. See, no one spoke English well enough to communicate with us and even the workers in the hostel we were staying at had no idea what was going on - there seemed to be no presence of authorities or the media like there would normally be during a natural disaster in Australia. So we had absolutely no clue that the town was about to experience the worst flooding in 65 years.
You can read about all my other adventures in China right here on my blog!