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Monday, 01 May 2017

Ten Things to Do In Guilin

 

The fantastic Li River karst scenery of south China, a major subject of Chinese landscape painting, draws millions of visitors each year. They may come for the scenery but history buffs like me also discover plenty to intrigue them as Guilin's position as an historic highway between the central plains and the south has left a tangible Guilin is also a paradise for outdoor activities enthusiasts, with the Yulong River valley near Yangshuo a sublime spot for cycling, hiking and boating. Here are some of our Guilin highlights:

 

 

1. Boat the Li River

The Li River is iconic Guilin, synonymous with the almost surreal karst scenery it has both sculpted and fed for eons. The outer-skin of the limestone peaks has been washed away through millennia of water erosion leaving a fairytale landscape. The combined length of the Li and Gui Rivers is 437km but the most acclaimed scenery is found between Guilin and Yangshuo. Millions each year take to these winding jade waters. As the river meanders south towards Yangshuo the karst formations become more picturesque, with many having names like Camels Crossing the River and Nine Horses Picture Hill. Take a tourist barge with English speaking guides from Guilin’s Mopanshan Pier for a four-five hour journey along the most scenic stretch of the river to Yangshuo. Tickets can be bought from Guilin travel agents and hotels for RMB250-300 (US$40-50), including a free shuttle bus to the pier.

Guilin Li River 2

Guilin Li River 1

 

2. Hike Ethnic Villages in the Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces


The marvel of the once remote and mysterious Dragon’s Backbone rice terraces brings tourists by the busload to this remote quarter of Guilin. The rice terraces are a great place to learn about the traditions and cultures of China’s ethnic minorities. Before the modern world arrived, the local Yao and Zhuang minority fleeing Han Chinese encroachment, led an isolated life, but were pushed higher and higher into the hills. Forced to cultivate ever-steeper slopes, they cut the landscape into the remarkable step formations that remains to this day. The most popular hike route is along the old stone trail that connects the principal villages of the Longji Scenic Area. At the entrance to the Scenic Area there’s a place where your bus / car will stop for you to buy a mandatory RMB100 (US$16) ticket. After this there remains a considerable drive into the scenic area itself, which is home to 13 villages in total.

Longsheng Rice Terraces

 

3. Chill in Yangshuo’s China’s Backpacker Haven


The county town of Yangshuo has for years been southern China expats' favorite pastoral getaway but its idyllic scenery, mild climate, low costs and unique laid-back vibe is attracting a growing number of long-term foreign residents. The country haven, which nestles between karst peaks on the east bank of the meandering Yulong River is a paradise for outdoor activities enthusiasts, with the river valley a sublime spot for cycling, hiking and boating.

Yulong River

Ancient Graffiti

 

4. Explore Ancient River Towns


Daxu Ancient Town, one of many ancient river towns along the historic water axis of the Li River, is a real treasure for history buffs like me. Its location, just 20 kilometers southeast of Guilin, makes it well worthy of a day trip from the city. Daxu literally means Big Market and this place really does have a long mercantile history to speak of. Founded in the Qin Dynasty, 2000 years ago, Daxu came to prominence in the Ming Dynasty, though most of the surviving architecture dates back to the late Qing period. Said to be one of the four famous ancient towns in Guangxi, it was Daxu’s strategic location on the Li River that made it a natural trading hub.

Xingan Ancient Town 

 

5. Enjoy A Cycling Wonderland


With flat winding country paths snaking through scenery comprising of majestic peaks, winding rivers and ancient villages, it’s as if the bicycle was invented to explore Guilin. Cycling is by far the best way to enjoy the majesty of the region, especially Yangshuo and the Li and Yulong river valleys. Bicycle hire is near ubiquitous in Yangshuo. Most Yangshuo guesthouses offer bike rental service of some description. At the low end expect to pay around RMB20 for a rusty roadster, whereas RMB120 at the other end of the scale will get you a serious mountain bike.

 

6. Go Hiking


With thousands of limestone peaks in Guilin, there are abundant hikes up the karst hills, as well as countryside trails that take in rural life of Guilin. There are many established parks with pagodas or pavilions adorning the peak, as well as some untouched summits to scale. It is possible to engage a local guide to help navigate the fields and peaks of Guilin and price is negotiable. All trails are not necessarily clearly marked and the assistance of a local guide can assist in finding the right path.

 

5. Get Vertical


With its thousands of peaks, Guilin is a mecca for rock climbers who come from around the world to scale the crags and cliff faces. The first were mastered by German climbers in the mid-1980s. Then routes were opened up by American and Chinese climbers in the early 1990s. Now there are over 800 sports climbing routes. Guilin’s popularity is based upon the many and varied routes, the quality of the rock, the accessibility of the peaks and its low cost. Popular local routes include the aptly named Swiss Cheese, a pockmarked karst cliff excellent for lower to intermediate climbers with its thirteen different routes varying from 10 to 35 meters in height, plus another eight routes on another face.

7. Go Underground


Guilin’s karst topography not only extends to the spectacular pinnacles above ground, but also under the surface of the earth where a vast array of sinkholes, underground streams and rivers, dolines (depressions where the surface crust has collapsed), and an abundance of caves (the most in Guangxi). Thrill-seeking spelunkeans pursuing an adventure sports experience should seek the assistance of one of the rock climbing clubs. Some caves are unregulated and you need to take responsibility for your own safety and avail yourself of an experienced guide. The most popular of these caves are the Buddha Cave and the Longmen Water Cave.

 


9. Visit the Prince’s City of the Ming kings


A must for fans of Chinese history, this “inner-city” offers an overview of court life in imperial China, as well as an unrivaled view of the “outer-city”. Constructed in classic oblong formation, with four gates and a protective wall, the Jingjiang Prince’s Palace was built between 1372 and 1392. It was originally intended as the official residence of a great nephew of the first Ming dynasty emperor Zhu Yuanzhang. However, 14 Ming kings from 12 generations would come to live here. After you pass through the majestic yellow Chengyun Gate you’ll follow the prince’s path to the Chengyun Palace, which is central to the whole site. It has burned down a number of times since it was originally constructed. This faithful reconstruction now houses a museum telling the history of the Prince’s City, with limited English-language information, alas.

Princes City 

 

10. Try Authentic Guilin Rice Noodles.


Guilin Rice Noodles are the real deal, the authentic version of a dish found all across China and East Asia. The noodles with their vermicelli style texture are made from locally grown rice that is pressed and moulded into noodles. Each Guilin restaurant offers their own special gravy which clients may customize by adding in their choice of spices, chives, chili peppers, and other bits from a selection of pots around the restaurant. There are numerous places in Guilin to try this staple, but our undisputed favorite was the Guilin Rice Noodle Bar in the heart of the tourist zone on Zhengyang Pedestrian Street. Not only did they serve up an impressive range of noodles but you can also wash them down with delicious home-brewed black beer.

Giggling Tree 2   Copy

 

©Harvey Thomlinson

 

Song Dynasty Gate

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