Guilin, the capital of Guangxi Province, is a popular destination for Western and Chinese tourists alike. The main attractions are the spectacular karsts that tower over city buildings. Unfortunately, the payoff for hiking up them isn’t too spectacular — karsts aside, Guilin is just another huge Chinese city. Other attractions include the garishly-illuminated Reed Flute Cave and a park where President Clinton once gave a speech. If you’re looking for a more nature-centric experience, take a Li River Cruise to Yangshuo.
Places to see
Solitary Beauty Peak (独秀峰)
This 152-meter peak towers over the surrounding city buildings. A climb to the top gives you a panoramic view of the city of Guilin and countless other karsts. Of course, it is no longer so solitary — the popularity of Guilin among tourists means the peak itself is now crowded with food stalls and photographers.
The campus of Guangxi Normal University surrounds the peak itself. On your way to the peak or on your way out, you might want to check out the art gallery displaying student work. When we visited, it was also possible to take a mock “imperial examination” and have yourself ceremonially inducted into the imperial civil service.
Entrance to Solitary Beauty Peak (Duxiu Feng, 独秀峰) costs 15 RMB. You can take bus 1 or 2 to the park entrance, or just walk north from Central Square along Zhengyang Lu.
Reed Flute Cave (芦笛岩)
Garish neon lights aside, Reed Flute Cave boasts some pretty spectacular rock formations. As usual in China, many of the stalactites and stalagmites are named after the animals or folk tales they “resemble.” Sometimes it’s a little hard to see the relationship, but it makes for a fun game to play during the Chinese-language parts of the tour. (Explanations are given in Chinese first and then repeated in English.)
Reed Flute Cave (Ludi Yan, 芦笛岩) charges a 60 RMB entrance fee. Take buses 3 or 58 to the cave.
Li River Cruises
A cruise along the Li River is a great way to see the karsts in a more natural environment. The four-and-a-half hour boat trip from Guilin to Yangshuo takes you past innumerable karsts, including those represented on the back of the 20 RMB bill. For those staying on in Yangshuo, it’s a pleasant (though pricey) alternative to the bus ride.
A cruise with an English-language guide will cost approximately 450 RMB. This includes the bus ride from your hotel to the pier and a family-style lunch on the boat. If you are not staying on in Yangshuo, it also includes a bus trip back from the pier to your hotel.
Most hotels, including the Lijiang Waterfall Hotel, will be able to book the cruise for you. You can also go through the CITS office, located at 11 Binjiang Lu in Guilin.
Restaurants abound in downtown Guilin, many catering to the tourist crowd with English menus, inflated prices and even dinner-hour “ethnic dance” performances. You can find them all along the pedestrian street (Zhengyang Lu) east of Central Square. Yiren Lu (依仁路) has its share of restaurants as well.
Look for a cafeteria-style restaurant on Yiren Lu near the northeast corner of Central Square — it’s a good place to try the local specialty, Guilin mifen. These rice noodles come garnished with a bit of meat, pickles, scallions and peanuts. Yum! (And the price is right. A meal’s worth of noodles will cost around 5 RMB.)
I visited Guilin with my family, so the budget was a bit more generous than usual. The city has plenty of youth hostels and budget to mid-range hotels — check out listings and reviews at hostelworld.com.
Lijiang Waterfall Hotel (漓江大瀑布饭店)
This is a luxury hotel, and you get what you pay for. It has excellent facilities, including a pool and a gym (!). Our only complaint about our non-river-view rooms was the temperature — in January, the rooms were extremely overheated and there was no way to control the thermostat.
The hotel is particularly proud of the “world’s largest man-made waterfall,” which cascades over the back of the hotel at 8:30 p.m. every evening. Basically, this consists of dumping a tremendous amount of water off the roof of the hotel for 15 minutes. It’s hilarious. Even if you’re not staying at the hotel, it’s worth visiting Central Square to see the waterfall in action.
The Lijiang Waterfall Hotel is located downtown at 1 Shanhu Beilu (杉湖北路一号). Official room rates begin at around 200 USD, but if you book online, you can find double rooms for 100 USD or less.
Guilin is accessible by direct train from many major cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, Xi’an and Kunming. The train station is located southwest of downtown, so you will likely need to take a bus or taxi to your hotel.
Most of the city sites are within walking distance of downtown. A free tourist bus (number 58) also links many of the major attractions, including the more-distant Reed Flute Cave.