Guilin supposed to be one of the most beautiful places in China. It’s consider to be the most beautiful limestone karst area. If you’ve never been to China you’ve most probably never heard about this place. But once you start to plan your trip in China, Guilin will be offered to you as one of the top ten places to visit. Its scenery is so beautiful that you can find it also on the Chinese twenty yuan bank note. We visited Guilin in May 2017 and here is how see it…
TOP GUILIN ATTRACTIONS
Li river boat cruise
Guilin lies in Guangxi Autonomous region and as I mentioned above it is famous for its dramatic limestone karst hills landscape. The main attraction is a boat cruise from Guilin city to Yangshuo city. The boat cruise is 83 km long and took about 5 hours! It supposed to show you the most beautiful part of the karts area. Well I cannot evaluate this as we didn’t do it. I read a lot of information about the cruise before we went to Guilin and after all the reviews from other travelers we decided to avoid this ”circus”. Here are the reasons why:
There are many boats going towards Yangshuo but none of them take passengers back to Guilin. So you – and all the other tourists – can only go one direction. You have to do the whole cruise, there are no stops on the way so no chance to get off the boat and change to alternative transportation. But the main reason was that it is not a one boat at the time going to Yangshuo but a whole convoy of big diesel noisy boats. And these boats are full of Chinese tourists who are even noisier than the boat itself! So no thank you! There was possibility to hike from Guilin to Yangshuo and we really wanted to do it. I am saying ”it was”. Apparently more and more people wants to experience the landscape ‘on foot’ rather than sitting on the noisy boat. But due to increasing number of hikers that made some destructions the path was closed. So far I didn’t find any information if it was opened again.
Reed flute cave
Major attraction no.2. As we are cave lovers we couldn’t miss it. After our arrival to Guilin we went directly to hotel located in Lujia village. It is very close to the cave and you can easily walk there from here. There are many new boutique hotels in Lujia and most of them are designed in the ZEN style. The whole place tries to look like an old style village. This is lately very popular in China. Many places tempt tourist to come to the ancient villages or ancient streets but is nothing but tourist attraction that has nothing to do with real ancient places…
The cave itself is beautiful but again – you must be ready that there will be many Chinese tour groups with a tour guides using a speakers to be heard. Shouting Chinese tourists (because as I mentioned in my other articles they love to hear their echo and cave is unfortunately ideal place for it), flash lights as they take pictures etc etc. Well Reed flute cave is worth to visit but don’t expect a tranquil place. The more famous some place is the less chance to find tranquility there. But at the end we found such a place here. And I will tell you where. Just keep reading 🙂
Elephant trunk hill, Twin pagoda park, Seven star park and some others are places nearby Guilin city that can be visited. We had other plan than see these overcrowded places (except the Twin pagoda park where we had a night stroll as we stayed nearby on the last night before we left Guilin).
We headed to Yangshuo. As we refused to do the Li river cruise and we couldn’t do the hike we chose the least elegant way to get there – taxi. It took about one hour. But our first steps didn’t lead to the Yangshuo city but to the small village called Fu Li. There was the hotel we were going to stay and where we found the tranquility! Banyan tree Yangshuo hotel. I admit this is not a budget hotel and backpackers would never step inside such a place BUT it was one of our best stays in China. Location, service, environment… everything was great. If you want to learn more about the Banyan tree hotel check out the review.
I can imagine Yangshuo in ancient times as a sleepy little fishing town surrounded by wild nature and beautiful karst peaks. Nowadays unfortunately is one of the busiest places in Guangxi province. The commercial tourism changed this place drastically. The most famous street in Yangshuo is Xi Jie which means West street. West street is full of restaurants which lot of them are German. Chinese waitresses are dressed in traditional German dress that don’t suit them at all serving sausages and sauerkraut. It looks comic. Souvenirs shops and of course Starbucks and McDonald’s can’t miss…
We found the nearest motorbike rent company and went out of the town to explore the surroundings. Our first stop was the Moon hill. If you are lazy and don’t want to walk up steep steps don’t worry. The moon hill is nicely visible from the main road. We decided to walk up. But nothing is free in China so you have to buy a ticket. Then you try politely get rid off old ladies selling water and convincing you that is a long way up and you have to buy a bottle otherwise you at least die there… Ok I bought one. What I didn’t know (but could expect) that up there are their old friends selling water too. At the end the way up wasn’t that long and tiring as they described. It was a nice stop but nothing exciting.
There are plenty of attractions around Yangshuo. Every kilometer we passed signs showing some natural or man made tourist spots. We headed to the Lotus cave. I would like to say how beautiful and amazing the cave was but I won’t. Well maybe it is but I don’t know it. The cave was hidden in rural area that gave me a hope it will be a bit more remote and there won’t be so many tourists. Wrong! We passed the village and appeared on the huge parking lot full of tourist buses. We glanced at each other. The footpath leading to the cave entrance was one big herd of people! We tried to get there but we gave up. At least we bought a very nice boiled peanuts at the one of the hundred stands with food 🙂
This village is another tourist spot. Travel guides describe this place as a charming fishing village with traditional romantic old streets. Well the first we found here were crowds of tourists, streets with souvenirs shops, restaurants and cafes. But in less scale than in Yangshuo so it was still alright. I bought some very nice chili and also Gui Hua alias Osmanthus flower. Sweet fragrant tiny flowers from Osmanthus tree that are beautiful as a tea itself or added as an extra flavoring to the green tea. But we didn’t go to Xingping for shopping or to admire old streets but to start the hike to the nearby Xianggong mountain. Read more about the hiking around Xingping village
After all Guilin and Yangshuo are beautiful places but unfortunately the commercial tourism makes it one of the busiest and most crowded places in China. It is a shame. It is still worth to go there but better idea in my opinion is to avoid all these major attractions and rather find a local tour guide and organize some independent trip. When I searched for information about Guilin I had a feeling that if you miss the cruise you miss everything. But that is not true. The karst area is not only around Guilin and Yangshuo. It’s of course much bigger. It is easy to rent a motorbike in Yangshuo (it’s one the rare places in China where you can ride a motorbike without Chinese driving license and local permissions) and go to explore local villages and rural areas further from the cities.
Btw have you seene movie The painted veil with Edward Norton and Naomi Watts? It is romantic drama that was made just a few kilometers away from Yangshuo…
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