I'm slowly considering vague possible iteneraries for the first part of my trip (for later parts, I think I'll wing it/be more reliant upon tour groups as I'm more concerned about Vietnam than China. Based on some basic Mandarin skills + having traveled a bit before in China, I'm pretty comfortable doing it solo. Generally there's a very low rate of violent crime + trains and buses tend to run pretty reliably, so I don't worry the same way I would elsewhere.)
Anyway, some thoughts for Guilin are:
1. Visit the Longji rice terraces, spend the night there, check out the various minority cultures + hike around there.
Pros: AMAZING engineering feats (seriously one of the best ever), will likely get to see some rice harvested (November is towards the end of the season).
Cons: Will miss out on the Li river stuff + may mostly see bare earth if the rice is entirely harvested. (I'm kind of showing up at an awkward time. If it was 2 weeks earier, I'm fairly sure there'd be rice, but maybe not this late? The terraces would still be cool but less so, I suspect, if they're just bare earth.)
Probably good if: I can verify that the rice is still really gorgeous. Also if I'm not feeling like going on a super grand adventure into the middle of nowhere.
2. Take the Li river cruise to Yangsho. Head off to Xingping. Stay over night and hike a bit the next day (probably to the fishing village, which sounds so out in the middle of nowhere that I can feel like I've had my fill of getting out into the ass end of nowhere. I'd probably see lots of rice farming, although admittedly not rice farming on amazing terraces.)
Pros: The cruise would be relaxing and goes through some amazing river and karst scenery.
Cons: A 4-5 hour cruise is a pretty big time commitment, esp. if it's not English speaking. (Which would force me to sort of chill while staring idly out the window. Admittedly at beautiful scenery, but still...) It's also kind of expensive. I also lose my ability to control my time as the cruise will begin/end when pre-determined. (Also, will miss the rice terraces. :( )
Probably good if: I'm feeling tired and want something a bit more canned for part of my day, but something less canned later on. Also, if I'm feeling like dealing with a literal boatload of Chinese tourists. :)
3. Take the earliest bus I can get on (probably the 6:00 am one...) to Yangsho. Get my butt over to Xingping. Drop off my stuff and do the Li river hike (around 5 hours). The next morning, get even more into the middle of nowhere by going out to the fishing village before returning sore but very well hiked.
Pros: I would not be stuck doing what anyone else wants me to do at ALL. Totally non-canned, totally solo, totally free.
Cons: Probably really exhausting. I'm going to have to get my hike on. Also, will see less of the Li river than I would on the cruise, although supposedly the Yangdi to Xingping portions (which I'd be hiking) are the most beautiful.
4. Go to BOTH! Take the earliest bus I can to Longji, get there around 10 am, hike around until 3 or so, take the bus back, sleep in Guilin. Then the next day, take the earliest bus I can to Yangdi (get in around 10 am), hike to Xingping (so around 4 pm), take the bus back to Guilin.
Pros: I get to see EVERYTHING. Oh yeah. Also, I can leave the heaviest stuff at the hostel in Guilin so not bring it everywhere with me. (Instead I can just take a little daypack + my valuables, food, and water.)
Cons: Freaking exhausting. But maybe we have a winner? ^_^
(Yangdi to Xingping)http://www.everytrail.com/view_trip.php?trip_id=659310
(Xingping to Fishing Village)http://www.baikehotel.com/hiking.html
Hmmm. Decisions. I'm wishing I had more than 2 days...
EDIT: I could always reduce my trip in Vietnam to 3 days (one day exploring Hanoi, admittedly I'll be tired/grouchy - then two days in Halong Bay.) Then I could do 2 days in Yangshuo + one day in Longji. I'm not sure if this would be much fun, though...I think it's around 3-4 hours to Longji then back again, so realistically, if I did that, I'd only get maybe 3 hours in the rice terraces. They are *gorgeous* in the autumn, though...http://www.nikdaum.com/news/2008/12/guilin-longji.html
EDIT: Another possibility might be to miss Nanning all together and instead fly from Guilin to Hanoi. The length of time is about the same (ugh...), the cost is similar, but because layovers, I might be able to explore a *different* city and could sleep somewhere with a shower that evening. Hmmm...
EDIT: And ANOTHER idea. Bare with the crazy here...
11/15 (Thurs) - Arrive and explore HK
11/6 (Fri) - get into Guilin (train), explore, etc.
11/7 (Sat) - Go off to Longji rice terraces and hike!
11/8 (Sun) - Bus down to Yangshou or ride ferry, depending on mood. Bus to Xing Ping. If did not ferry, hike the Li river. (If did take it, meh. Wander around Xing Ping.) Stay overnight. (Alternately, stay over night in Longji, which seems popular too.)
11/9 (Mon) - Hike to fishing village or other thing early in the morning. (If prefer Reed Flute cave, go back early and do that instead...) Ensure are back in Guilin by 6:30 pm at latest. Take 8:30 train to Guangzhou. Arrive 11:15 pm (Or possibly go earlier. It looks like there's a lot to be said about leaving more like 7:10, which would mean being back by 6:00 at latest, which seems super doable. Prob. want to do whatever I do on day 2 in this timeslot, so I'm bored and heading back by mid-afternoon.) Then take train (if take 7:10 train...) to air port and sleep in hotel there.
11/10 (Tues) - Fly to Hanoi from Guangzhou, hike around city
11/11-11/12 (Wed-Thurs) Halong Bay
11/13 - Whatever in Vietnam
11/14 (Sat) - Fly to Hong Kong
Most expensive (by around $200 between lodging + flight). Maybe not most exhausting, though, as I'll get to sleep in a bed in Guangzhou and, if I sleep in the airport, should be in around midnight then don't have to wake up until 7 am. ^_^ I'd get less time in Hanoi, but I'd probably be more awake (flight lands at 10:45 am, so would still get some time...) Essentially, would be trading a fair amount of money for exhaustion + another day in Longji or Yangshuo.