Guilin

 
3 Day Guilin Tour: Five-Star: Shangri-la Guilin Hotel | Deluxe: Guilin Bravo Hotel

Guilin is one of China’s best-known cities on account of its beautiful landscape of limestone mountains, likened in a Tang poem to jade hairpins. The city has been popular with sightseers for over 1,000 years, and many famous poets and painters have lived and worked here, celebrating its river and mountain scenery. In the 1980s tourists began coming here in increasing numbers, both Chinese sightseers who had been made prosperous by the economic reforms, and foreign visitors encouraged by the expansion of hotels and air services. The city was inundated with tourists, with the result that prices rose higher and higher. So why come to Guilin at all? The answer is simple—its landscape of abrupt mountains amidst verdant river plains still has the ability to refresh and enchant the senses.


Solitary Beauty Peak

 

In the city centre, the best-known peak is Solitary Beauty Peak (Duxiu Feng), which was once part of a 14th-century palace of the Emperor Hongwu’s nephew, Zhou Shouqian. The calligraphy on the peak’s rock-face dates from the Tang and Ming dynasties.

Close to Solitary Beauty Peak is Fubo Hill, named after a famous general of the Han dynasty. Halfway up the hill is a cave where the Goddess of Mercy, Guanyin, was worshipped. Fubo Hill has many fine stone inscriptions and carvings; those outside the Cave of Guanyin are attributed to the Qing painter, Li Pingshou.

Another interesting hill, this time with four peaks, is the Hill of Piled Silk (Diecai Shan). It offers sweeping views over the Li River and the city to the south. It also has many fine stone carvings, some again from the hand of Li Pingshou. The hill has several Buddhist altars, which were built between the tenth and the 13th centuries. The small group of peaks which make up West Hill (Xi Shan) was once famous for its Buddhist statuary. They are all but gone after Red Guards smashed them in the 1960s. However, when the more popular hills in the centre of town are crowded, this is a good place to wander in quietly and enjoy a view over the countryside.

 




Camel Hill

 

South of the city centre are two hills which cannot be climbed but are interesting for their resemblance to animals—Camel Hill and Elephant Trunk Hill. The latter juts out into the Li River at its junction with Peach Blossom River, and at dusk looks extraordinarily like a larger-than-life elephant drinking from the river.

Camel Hill is found on the eastern bank of the Li River, past Seven Star Park. The park, so called because of its peaks arranged as the stars of the Big Dipper, contains the attractive covered Flower Bridge. It is in the environs of the park that you find the Seven Star Hill and Cave. Underground caves are often found in limestone areas, since the rock easily erodes in water, forming vast caverns below ground level. The Seven Star Cave contains dripping stalagmites and stalactite pinnacles, all illuminated with coloured lights. Other caves worth visiting are Reed Flute Cave, White Dragon Cave (beneath South Creek Hill), and Returned Pearl Cave (beneath Fubo Hill).

 



 












Li River

 

The Li River boat trip is undoubtedly the highlight of most people’s visits to Guilin. It is not too hard to understand why, for even the most well-travelled visitor finds the quiet, pastoral landscapes along the river enchanting. Setting out downstream just beyond the city (return journeys upstream are also available), the boat passes a landscape of manicured fields shaded by leafy bamboo groves and punctuated with steep, bizarrely-shaped hills. The hills have fanciful names, which are in the Chinese tradition of making a picture when looking at landscapes—Crown Rock, Conch Hill, Jade Lotus Peak and Snow Lion Peak are examples. These karst limestone formations evolved millions of years ago, when the area was under the sea. The process of erosion of the rock over a long period created the strange shapes we see today. On the river you will see fishermen with the trained cormorants who catch fish for them.

The boat ride downstream usually stops at the village of Yangdi, but the karst scenery can be seen all the way to Yangshuo (83 kilometres from Guilin). However, dropping water levels on the Li make navigating stretches of the river increasingly problematic, so only certain sections may be possible depending on the time of year. Yangshuo is an enchanting market town that has unfortunately been increasingly overrun by tourism in recent years. The town’s smaller, more village-style atmosphere (coach tours excluding) and setting among beautiful and inspiring surroundings make it a hotspot for all forms of tourism. A great way to experience its scenery is to rent a bicycle and explore the surrounding villages and countryside at your own pace, biking through cultivated farmland that stretches out idyllically to the base of impressive peaks. Indeed, Yangshuo has become something of an adventure sport centre, with rock climbing, mountain biking, caving and river kayaking all popular among outdoor enthusiasts.