You might not have heard of Guilin, but you definitely have seen pictures from it. Does the image of a river with a fisherman with a bird surrounded by dramatic karst hills ring a bell? Yup, that’s the place 🙂 This image is also on the 20 ¥ note.
The Li River is one of the most photographed landscapes of Guilin. But it is not the only thing to see there.
I was a little bit unlucky with the weather as it was raining the whole time I was there. Netherless I loved the city and can tell you that two days there is way too little.
But let’s get down to the business and see what to do there 🙂
Reed Flute Cave
I had several caves on my China-to-do list but did not manage to fit them into my schedule ;( So when I got to Guilin, I decided that I have to visit at least one.
The Reed Flute Cave is also known as “the Palace of Natural Arts.” Its name comes from a reed that grows around the cave, which was used to make flutes.
Limestone cave is illuminated by multicolor lights. It looks surreal and marvelous! It was discovered during II World War, but traces are going back to Tang dynasty (618-907). Each rock formation has some epic name: Crystal Palace, Dragon Pagoda, etc… You know, Chinese 🙂
The temperature inside the cave is ~17C, even during summer, so make sure you take something warm with you.
To get there either take a bus (30 minutes) or a taxi (7 minutes). Again, being a tourist = being ripped off, but at least this taxi driver went with me to get tickets and helped me out with everything 🙂 Plus I was too lazy to go by bus 🙂
It cost 90 ¥ to enter the cave. There is a possibility to get a guide that explains some history and what you should see in the rocks, but I didn’t find it necessary. I would rather use my imagination 🙂
I have spent there ~2 hours, walking around and taking pictures. It was spectacular and I had a blast there! . However to make good pictures you would need a tripod and longer exposure as it is dark there.
Go around the city and river bank during the night
The city is beautifully illuminated. I fell in love with it! Check out Sun and Moon Pagodas, take a night river cruise. From all the cities I’ve been to, that was the one that looked the best!
Elephant Trunk Hill
It is a landmark of Guilin. The hill looks like a giant elephant drinking water from the Li River. I watched the hill from the boat. I asked the taxi driver to take me to the hill, and she just took my hand and got me on the boat 🙂
Elephant Trunk Hill is easily accessible by road or by water. You can either take a cruise down the Li River, which will make a stop at Elephant Trunk Hill Park -as I did, or you can choose one of many public buses from Guilin and get off at the Elephant Trunk Hill Park stop (象山公园站).
According to the legend, The Emperor of Heaven wanted to conquer Earth. The elephant that transported him fell ill because of the immense strain from carrying him. The local farmers found the elephant and nourished it back to health. As a gestured of gratitude, the elephant betrayed the Emperor and helped the people with their work. This angered the Emperor of Heaven, who stabbed the elephant with a sword while it was drinking at the river’s edge and turned it to stone.
Between the “trunk” and the “legs” of the elephant, there is a large hole or cave known as Shui Yue (Water Moon Cave). During the sunset, the rock casts a reflection on the water that looks like a full moon, hence the name.
There is another cave called Elephant Eye Cave located just above the “trunk.” It is possible to hike there and see the surrounding landscape.
On the elephant’s “back” there is two-story pagoda called Puxian Pagoda, which looks like a hilt of the sword from the Emperor of Heaven.
Surrounding the Elephant Trunk Hill is the park. It is elephant themed with many tiny elephants all around. The trails have been designed so that, from a bird’s eye view, they spell the Chinese character for elephant (象).
Li River Cruise
I was told that the river cruise is a must do. I had to skip it as I only had two days in Guilin, plus the weather was horrible, so I would not be able to see anything either way.
There are a lot of companies that offer the cruise. My hotel offered it as a day trip for 400¥ (including boat ticket, bus fee, lunch on the boat, English speaking tour guide).
The tour starts in Guilin all the way to Yangshuo. The boat journey takes around 4-5h, but from looking at the pictures on the web, I can say the landscape looks breathtaking. The place is so spectacular that it’s printed on the back of the 20¥ note – that’s saying something!
Li River Bamboo Raft tour
If 5 hours on a boat is a little bit too much, you might want to try some rafting. Though from what I have read online, many people were not particularly happy with doing this on Li River in Yangshuo as it was packed with tourists and expensive. Plus bamboo rafts are no longer available there, they got replaced instead by PVC pipe rafts.
They recommended that if you’re craving an authentic rafting experience, to float down the nearby Yulong river on a traditional bamboo raft. In contrast to the noisy motorized boats on the Li River, these are actual bamboo rafts pushed along by a long pole.
Most people recommend staying in Yangshuo (~1 hour away from Guilin) instead of Guilin. This region is insanely beautiful, and Yangshuo gives easier access to the stunning nature and jaw-dropping landscapes.
Yangshuo lies at the confluence of the Li and Yulong rivers, which form part of a waterway system that connects the Yangtze with the Pearl River Delta.
Here you can see how fishermen use cormorants to fish while being surrounded by breathtaking scenery.
River Night Show
The ‘Impression of Liu Sanjie’ is an outdoor night show beside the Li River. It is said to be the largest natural theater in the world!!! It is staged actually on the river. The karst peaks and the river are the background for almost 600 actors and the large-scaled lights system.
Most hotels and inns in Yangshuo can sell the tickets.
I regret only spending two days there. I have not tried so many things! Next time I would definitely stay longer and try all the things I have missed. But I think that is the problem with the whole of China. It is a way too beautiful for just a quick one-time visit.