The land of sweet osmanthus & epic karst mountains.
Most people may never have heard of Guilin. For avid travelers, especially those who’ve traveled extensively in Asia, this land of karst topography is definitely on their bucket lists. Rather than the historical landmarks in Beijing or Shanghai’s gigantic metropolis, what you’ll get in Guilin is a blossoming countryside where the epic-ness of mother nature sucks your human ego down to zero.
Situated in the southeast part of China, Guilin – the forest of sweet Osmanthus – is filled with small town folks living by the famous Li River that boasts majestic 30,000 mountains rising above water. 3-5 days is plenty of time to spend here.
By flying, you can get to Guilin Liangjiang International Airport (KWL) from major Asian airports and other Chinese domestic cities. There are airport shuttles that leave every 30 minutes, cost CNY 20 (USD $3.26) and will take you to Civil Aviation Mansion.
According to Travel China Guide, “the Guilin Railway Station (South Station) and North Railway Station (North Station) are the two main railroad passenger transport stations in the city. Every day, many trains arrive and depart, as the city is a hub of the Hunan-Guangxi Railway and Guiyang-Guilin-Guangzhou High Speed Railway. The South Station is located to the south of the city center and is more easily reachable than the North Station. The North Railway Station is situated in the northern suburbs of the city and has less convenient links with the city center. If the train you take stops at both of the stations, it’s better to get off at the South Station where handy transportation to the surrounding places is available, as well as trains connecting to China’s major cities.” The website also offers info on bus schedules.
While planning your trip to Guilin, be sure to also hit up Yangshuo, a country situated 90 minutes away by car (ask your hotel for a private taxi or minivan.) The cost is around CNY45-70 and Yangshuo Insider has more detailed info regarding bus and train transportations once you get there. In Guilin, here are some absolute highlights you definitely shouldn’t miss:
Mulong Lake Park 木龍湖公園
Zhongshan N Rd, Diecai Qu, Guilin Shi, Guangxi Zhuangzuzizhiqu, China, 541000
Mulong means “Wooden Dragon” in Mandarin, and it’s one of the main parks here where you can check out the “two river and four lakes” famous scenery. The main 45-meter tower is Mulong Tower, overlooking several centuries old walls since the Song Dynasty and the Mulong Bridge.
Fubo Hill 伏波山
Diecai, Guilin, China
So the Li River is kind of a big deal in Guilin. And Fubo Hill, which is situated very close to Mulong Lake Park, is known for the foot of its peak resting half in water and half on land. This explains its name, Fubo Shan, meaning: wave-curbing hill. The coolest part about this place is the Pearl-Returning Cave that has a good luck Buddha and the Thousand Buddha Cave, where you can see Buddha statues from the Tang Dynasty – the Golden Age of the Chinese civilization.
Peach Blossom Spring 桂林桃花源
Xiufeng, Guilin, Guangxi, China, 541000
For those who don’t know Chinese literature, The Peach Blossom Land or 桃花源, was a fable by Tao Yuanming 陶淵明 in 421 about a random discovery of an utopia where people lived in total harmony with nature, oblivious to the outside world. The park in Guilin was recently established for tourists, and I mean it’s REALLY touristy with a boat where performances and dancers drum away as you float by. Kinda like Disney’s It’s A Small World, except there are tons of karst mountains.
Ride the Li River Cruise 灕江游船
Binjiang Rd, Xiangshan Qu, Guilin Shi, Guangxi Zhuangzuzizhiqu, China, 541000
A 90 minute car drive south of the Guilin city center is Yangshuo county, which welcomes tons of tourists because of the magnificent karst mountains. WARNING: This is VERY loud and touristy. Riding the Li River Cruise comes with lots of pushes & shoves, and super loud guides shouting over speakers. Huge contrast to the zen-like vibes of the karst mountains. Definitely recommend hiring a private boat, which clearly I should have done.
Shop around in Yangshuo’s small alleys.
For such a small county, Yangshuo has lots of artisan shops where you can buy local specialties including painted fans, embroideries, and accessories made by locals that are really good with their hands. If you stroll through smaller markets, then stock up on oranges and kumquats, yum!
Devour local countryside cuisine.
Guilin’s style of cuisine is a combo of both Hunanese and Cantonese because it’s located in the Guanxi region, meaning the food here is spicy, with lots of chili and stir fry. They also like to put beer in meat dishes. My favorite was the beer duck and taro! Definitely indulge in wild plants here that are rarely eaten in other countries.
Witness cormorant fishing 看魚民利用鸕鶿 (漁鷹)
Like I always said, “traveling is the best form of education.” We may think it’s pure cruelty now, but in Guilin, travelers c