Guilin a city sitting between hills

The area around Guilin is the type of landform that you often see on posters and pamphlets promoting China – those tall karst monolith hills which abut a pristine river, and are usually photographed near dawn or dusk to give the impression of otherworldliness.

The land around Guilin is just like that.  It is extraordinarily picturesque and, mostly, serene.  The pictures don’t lie; at its best the scenery surrounding Guilin is just hauntingly beautiful.

Guilin is in Guangxi Province in Southern China that has long been renowned for its exquisite scenery, all because of a quirk in nature.   The area around Guilin was once beneath a sea, and the seabed was made of limestone.  This karst limestone is porous, and can be worn away by water, so as the seas receded the waters and the rain began to cut into the soft rock, eating most of the rock away leaving huge monoliths that are riddled with caves, and it is these tall, solitary hills which make the Guilin area quite unique.  The landscape is so stunningly gorgeous it inspired a popular Chinese saying “Guilin’s scenery is best among all under Heaven”.

The city of Guilin is medium sized, by Chinese standards, and tourism is its biggest industry.  Guilin has been catering to tourists needs for many centuries, and it was one of the first places opened up to foreigners in the late 1970s, when the country began to open its borders to foreigners once again following the Cultural Revolution.

It is situated on the Li River, and is quite a meandering, but attractive, city because it is built around its river and several lakes, and it skirts many of the large hilly formations, so that Guilin seems to be smaller than it actually is.  There are several of these hills, including Fubo Hill and Solitary Beauty Peak that you can climb to see excellent views of the city.  These hills are very steep, but there are plenty of rest places at various levels during the climbs, which each give a different perspective of the city.    

One of the most unusual rock formations within the city confines is at Elephant Trunk Hill, which is located in a park on the banks of the Li River and which, in my experience, is best viewed from across the river.  Sometimes the Chinese give picturesque names to rocks, and you sometimes struggle to make a comparison between the rock and the animal it is named after, but Elephant Trunk Hill does indeed look as if it’s an elephant drinking from the Li River.

Just on the outskirts of the city is the Reed Flute Cave, and it really is quite impressive given its large chambers, but the cave does get very crowded at times, and involves a manageable climb to get to it.

Because it has been hosting tourists for much longer than most other Chinese cities, Guilin has plenty of tourist infrastructures, and there are markets and shopping centres, restaurants, of all sorts (try the snake restaurant for a memorable experience) and a good range of accommodation that does suit any budget.

There are plenty of airlines which fly from various cities in Asia direct to Guilin, and dozens of domestic flights are available, meaning the Guilin can both be reached by many places in China, and you can get to most places from there.  Most of the flights are to other prominent tourist destinations in China so travel between here and Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Kunming, Shanghai, Xian and Beijing is relatively easy.  Beijing has two major railway stations; one which is in the centre of the city, and another which is on the northern outskirts.  There are some quite spectacular train journeys from Guilin, to Nanning and Kunming, which are worth doing if you have the time.

There are also express buses from Guilin to a number of cities.

Most people who go to Guilin want to do the Li River cruise, which is quite spectacular.  The level of the Li River is dependent on the seasons, and has more water in it during and after the wet seasons.  Usually the boats ply between Guilin and the smaller, but more picturesque, town of Yangshuo.  Sometimes you can sail direct from Guilin to Yangshuo, but often you need to go by road to the town of Xingping to do a shorter version of the cruise, but one which still sails past the most spectacular parts of the entire journey.

Some people do say that Guilin is over commercialised and not really worth seeing, but I disagree.  If you intention to visit China is for sightseeing, then Guilin and its surroundings is, in my opinion, a must.  There are many beautiful parts of China, but the land around Guilin really is picture postcard pretty – it’s the sort of place you remember long after you’ve left.

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