Spectacular scenery and a rich historical and cultural legacy give Guilin its distinctive charm.
With its clear green waters relecting the bamboo-covered slopes and weather-sculpted peaks of the famous limestone hills, no trip to Guilin would be complete without a boat trip along the Li River.
Famed for its limestone hills and dramatic vistas along the Li River, Guilin’s landscape has been an inspiration to Chinese poets and artists for centuries. It is also a bountiful library of stories and legends; each distinctive landmark and feature has an evocative name that is frequently the start of a longer tale, providing a window to the past.
Overlooking the river by Yu Shan Bridge in the northeast of the city, Shangri-La Hotel, Guilin is dedicated to providing the highest standards of luxury and service, and it is the perfect home-away-from-home for discovering the delights of Guilin. The guest rooms are the largest in the city and the executive river view rooms offer an outdoor terrace where you can take time out from sightseeing and simply watch the world go by.
Go with the flow
With its clear green waters relecting the bamboo-covered slopes and weather-sculpted peaks of the famous limestone hills, no trip to Guilin would be complete without a boat trip along the Li River. A cruise downstream to the small town of Yangshuo passes through some breathtaking scenery that can make even the most casual snapshot seem like a work of art.
Surrounded by hills, Yangshuo offers a glimpse of the region’s rich cultural heritage and offers the chance to stock up on souvenirs and gifts or kick back and relax in one of the town’s many restaurants and bars. There’s also the option of hiring a boat down to the small village of Xingping where you can explore the countryside on foot or bicycle.
One of the less well-known attractions around Guilin is the Ling Canal, which was built between 223 BC and 214 BC on the orders of the first emperor. Once a vital trade artery linking the Yangtze and Pearl rivers, today visitors can take a leisurely punt to Xing'an Town, which has been designated one of China’s ten most charming ancient towns.
In Guilin itself, the Li River and its tributary, the Peach Blossom River, have been linked with the city’s four lakes as part of an environmental protection programme, and visitors can now enjoy a boat tour around the city’s lakeside parks.
Up and under, round and about
Much of downtown Guilin is devoted to these lakeside parks, three of which, Banyan, Fir and Osmanthus, are named after the trees that surround them. Once part of the city’s defensive moat, today they are pleasant places to escape the hustle and bustle of the city’s charming tree-lined streets.
Other parks offer excellent views, as they are built around the knobbly hills that pop their peaks above the skyline. Look down from Solitary Beauty Peak or the pavilions in Diecai Mountain and the buildings seem to flow round the hills like a frothing tide around a rocky shore.
Many of the hills have caverns, of which two in Guilin itself, Fu Bo Hill and Bright Moon Peak, have Buddhist rock carvings and inscriptions dating back to the Tang (618-907) and Song (960-1279) dynasties.
Other grottos, such as the cave known as the 'Residence of the Immortals' in nearby Seven Star Park — so-called because the seven peaks of its two hills are supposed to resemble the Big Dipper constellation — and Reed Flute Cave are famous for their remarkable subterranean rock formations.
Those wanting an even higher viewpoint can take the chair lift up Yao Mountain for some dramatic panoramas. A twisting toboggan ride part of the way down is an added bonus.
And if Yao Mountain isn’t high enough, to the northeast of Xing’an Town lies Mao’er Mountain, the “pillar of the southern sky”, which is listed as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve for its exceptional scenic beauty. A trek up to its peak is rewarded with some stunning views.
Guilin is famous for its three treasures — Sanhua wine, which is liquor distilled from rice; chilli sauce, made with fresh chilli, garlic and fermented soybeans and fermented bean curd — all of which feature in the local cuisine, which is typified by its sweetness and delicate use of spice and chilli. Wandering the pedestrian streets on the northwest bank of the river by Jiefang Bridge, you will often hear the rapid tattoo of people chopping a mound of chilli peppers, with a cleaver in each hand.
There are good restaurants to be found throughout the city — those along the side streets by Diecai Mountain are popular with locals and visitors alike — as the regional specialities, such as Guilin rice noodles, Lipu taro and pork loaf, Yangshuo beer fish, shredded meat with osmanthus and stuffed river snails, are famous throughout China. You are also likely to come across you cha, or oil tea, a gruel made of sweetened flour that is popular among some of the ethnic groups, such as the Yao and Dong.