Experience the city of Guilin on China tours, along with the amazing sub-tropical countryside which surrounds this very attractive city, located in the south of China.
After having perhaps enjoyed the attractions and sights of Beijing, Shanghai, and Xian on a China vacation, most visitors to this country really should continue to Guilin in the south-eastern province of Guangxi. A visit here will be a total contrast to the aforementioned cities, as Guilin is known for its outstanding natural beauty. It would not make sense, while on a visit to Guilin, to not add at least one day trip to the town of Yangshuo, reached by cruise boat. In between the two places is some of the most spectacular scenery you’ll find in China. However, I hasten to add that both Guilin and Yangshuo by themselves offer exceptional picturesque attractions. Guilin is located on the beautiful Li River and is surrounded by mountains, so that makes for a good start on China tours. Without leaving the city, some of the major attractions in Guilin include the following.
Elephant Trunk Hill
My first sight of Elephant Trunk Hill was from my hotel window which overlooked the Li River in the centre of Guilin. On the opposite bank was this hill which looks like a large elephant putting its trunk into the water, hence the name. The Chinese do have a talent for naming their beauty spots, and a lot of them are as they are simply seen through their own eyes. This is a good example. Known as the symbol for Guilin, the hill stands 55 metres/180 feet high and consists of several features. There is the Water Moon Cave, through which the river flows and which has around 70 inscriptions from the Tang and Song dynasties on the walls of the cave, purported to be praising the beauty of the hills and waters nearby. On top of the hill stands the Puxian Pagoda which dates back to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 AD). If you visit Elephant Trunk Hill, you can climb it and also go into the cave and pagoda.
Fubo Hill is another scenic spot just above the Li River. However, it is more of a rock with a peak than a hill. The Chinese also know it as “Wave Subduing Hill.” It offers some wonderful views of the city and the surrounding countryside. The slopes of the hill contain pavillions and a tea house. It reaches a height of 213 metres/700 feet. However, half of it is submerged in the river. At the bottom of the hill is the Pearl-Returning Cave whose walls contain Buddhist carvings and some examples of Chinese calligraphy, and inside the cave is the Sword-Testing Rock which is a large stone pillar which hangs from the ceiling of the cave and plunges down into the water. The Thousand Buddha Cave contains 293 statues of Buddha, together with some excellent mural paintings from the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD).
Reed Flute Cave
The Reed Flute Cave is 5 kilometres/3 miles outside of the city. Its name is derived from the abundant reeds growing outside the cave from which wooden flutes are made in China. Inside the cave are limestone formations (stalactites and stalagmites). The cave is illuminated by coloured lighting showing off this 240 metre/780 feet long phenomenon. And again, the names of some of the main formations are special – Crystal Palace, Dragon Pagoda, Virgin Forest, and Fruit Mountain.
Solitary Beauty Peak
Solitary Beauty Peak, in the centre of Guilin, is also known as “Pillar of the Southern Sky,” as it appears to shoot directly into the sky from the banks of the river. If you climb the 300 steep stairs to Solitary Beauty Pavilion, you will be rewarded with a great view of Guilin and the surrounding area. There is a natural stone chamber located on one side of the hill which is believed to have been the study used by a famous poet who lived 1500 years ago. At the foot of the peak is Jingjian Prince City which was a palace at one time. It contains 4 pavillions and 40 other buildings, all surrounded by a stone wall.
Folded Brocade Hill
Here is another example of the Chinese usage of names for places. Just outside the centre, there are rock formations which resemble folded brocade. However, the main attractions are the magnificent scenery and the stone carvings. Here you can enjoy the Diecai Pavillion, the Cloud-Catching Pavillion, named because of the views of the city and the countryside, and the Wind Cave, which features 90 Buddha images from the Tang (618-907AD) and Song (960-1279 AD) dynasties, as well as ancient stone carvings.
Located on the outskirts of the city, Yao Mountain is the highest mountain around Guilin. Depending on the season, there are different views. In the spring, the mountain is full of colourful azaleas. In summer, there is pine and bamboo to view. Autumn offers red maple leaves and chrysanthemum flowers, and in winter, light snow covers the mountain. There is a cable car which takes you to the peak of this 910 metre/2990 feet tall mountain.
Daxu Old Town
Approximately 20 kilometres/12 miles outside of Guilin is a quiet, rural town called Daxu. It is surrounded by mountains and tropical scenery. As you’ll see on China tours, its main claim to fame is its ancient and well-preserved buildings. The town is over 2000-years-old and here, time has stood still. There are ancient temples and stone streets made smooth by centuries of use. Some of the highlights are the Wanshou Bridge, also known as Longevity Bridge which dates back to the Ming Dynasty and which offers scenic views of the Li River, The Docks, which again date back to the same period, and the Daxu Traditional Market, where you can purchase handicrafts, ceramics, and other souvenirs.
About two hours by road outside of Guilin is the village of Longshen. It is the home of four different Chinese ethnic minorities who can be seen in the town with their distinctive, colourful clothing and hairstyles. One minority is the Yao, whose women are famous for having the longest hair in the world as they never cut it. Visitors on China tours can meet the ethnic minorities and have tea with them if so desired. Longshen also has some unique traditional houses made mainly from wood that are well worth seeing. Close to the town are the Longji Rice Terraces, some of the most spectacularly scenic rice terraces in China, as they cling to the slopes of the high mountains.
Li River Cruise
We now come to the one must-do excursion when in Guilin on China tours, and that is a cruise down the Li River to Yangshuo. Most cruises start from just outside the city centre, about a 40-minute journey by road, and takes 4 hours to reach the beautiful town of Yangshuo. Cruises leave first thing in the morning. There are various types of cruises ranging from very basic to luxury cruise boats, and often, lunch or snacks are included. The one thing that is constant is the scenery. I have seen much of the world but the amazing and special scenery along this stretch of the river is some of the most spectacular I have ever experienced. To describe in words is inadequate. I suggest viewing pictures of this phenomenon of nature. It is almost like sailing past a painted landscape. This type of scenery can also be found in Thailand in Phang Nga Bay near Phuket. Pinnacles of karst rock seem to rise dramatically out of the ground one after the other on the banks of the river as you glide past rice paddies and rural life. You can watch fishermen float by on bamboo rafts and see water buffalo working in the fields. Occasionally, you will come across a small riverside village. On arrival in Yangshuo, you will have time to wander around this lovely town before being brought back to Guilin by road.
If you really want to immerse yourself in the beauty of the region, I strongly suggest a day or two in Yangshuo. It is a serene small town offering not only scenery but a clean environment with very fresh air. There are a number of decent hotels and restaurants catering to visitors on China tours. Apart from just relaxing and taking in the scenery, the local countryside can be explored by bike or, if adventurous, try bamboo rafting down the river. The main thoroughfare runs from the river up to the top of a hill and is dissected by a creek in the middle. All the way along are cafes and bars plus a number of shops. Not too far from Yangshuo is the Fuli Farmers Market, which is held every 3 or 4 days. The farmers arrive in boats with their wares (vegetables, fruit and livestock). Also nearby is Moon Hill, a hill with a huge hole in the shape of a moon. You can walk up to the top and be rewarded with more spectacular views. And then there is Assembling Dragon Cave, named because the grotesque peaks outside the cave look like dragons among the clouds. Inside the cave are beautiful formations of stalactites and stalagmites lit by colourful lights, giving one the feeling of being in a fairytale land.