Set among some of Southern China’s most spectacular karst scenery, Guilin is a must visit destination for those that are captivated by the beauty of nature. The natural landscapes in this section of the country are so notable that it is featured on the back of the ¥20 note, bearing witness to its popularity not only with tourists, but with the residents of China as well.
Though Guilin was an industrial town as recently as several decades ago, the forces of the economy have pulled them away, and the ensuing popularity of this place among foreign tourists has led to it becoming one of the cleanest cities in the nation.
Combined with the peaceful Lijiang River and the abundant limestone karsts sprout up everywhere in the region, Guilin is a destination that will likely prove to be a relaxing escape from the more polluted, crowded and hectic centres located further north and east of this quiet corner of China.
Before beginning your explorations of this small city and the countryside surrounding it, make some time to learn about the area’s history by paying a visit to the Guilin Museum. Containing 20,000 artifacts from the Stone Age, through the many millennia of Chinese civilization straight up to recent times, this trove of historical relics will astound you. Exhibits that should not be missed include a hall that focuses on folk culture, as well as a collection that shows a wide variety of materials from the period of resistance against Japanese aggression in the past century or so.
As far as landmarks go, the Sun and Moon Pagoda are the most easily recognizable sights within the city limits of Guilin. Set on Banyan Lake in the midst of the city, the time to see this attraction is most certainly at night. At that point, they are both lit up brilliantly, showing off the Moon Pagoda’s seven storey glass spire that gives off a white glow, and the nine storey copper and gold Sun Pagoda, which provides the perfect contrast to its partner. Both pagodas are linked by an underwater tunnel, and the Sun pagoda has an elevator within its core, making it one of the few monuments of its kind that can be ascended in this manner.
The Guilin area is home to many ethnic tribes that have wandered the area in previous ages; for those seeking information and demonstrations of their cultural heritage, the Li River Folk Custom Centre is the perfect resource to seek out. The primary groups that are represented here are the Zhuang, Yao, Miao, and Dong, and through this centre, you will get a chance to experience their culture through their songs, dances, food and their crafts.
The most famed attraction in the Guilin area is the Longsheng Rice Terraces, a breathtaking site that is well known for the steep rice terraces that have been carved into the side of the seemingly non-arable mountainous terrain. Using the determination and ingenuity that was deep inside them, the local people over the countless generations have managed to live here and feed themselves against the odds, a fact that will give you a fresh appreciation of the human spirit when it is faced with a problem. Though it is located 100 kilometres from Guilin, the trip here is two hours each way, so plan for a full day of sightseeing when heading out to see this spectacular place.
Those seeking to witness the natural bounty of this region without straying far from town will want to start by checking out Elephant Trunk Hill, which is a limestone hill with a natural arch eroded into it. The formation appears to be the trunk of an elephant dipping into the water to get a drink, making it a worthwhile picture to take as you wander just outside the city centre.
Those who would like to see the interior of a limestone cave, but don’t fancy getting dirty or strapping a lamp to their head will want to check out the Reed Flute Cave. Boasting significantly sized stalagmite and stalactite formations lit up with various coloured spotlights, this cavern provides an easily accessible exception to the dank tight quarters that most subterranean caves have in store for any that choose to enter. Tours are moderately priced, but come with a snazzy light show at the end.
Finally, cap off your visit to Guilin with a Lijiang River Cruise. Several companies provide this service, but no matter whom you choose, this is the best way to experience the mind-blowing karst scenery that unfolds around you, as if you were in a surrealistic dream. Some groups stop at small fishing villages en route, but inquire with your tour provider to ensure that your sailing will involve this option.