One of China’s most treasured beauties, Guilin looks every bit as pretty as it does in the postcards.
A four-hour car journey from the hotel winds through terraced rice fields, offering a taste of bucolic rural life, with the intricate patterns formed on the hillside believed to resemble the scales of a dragon’s back.
It’s a good thing that the pace of life in Guilin is mellow, as you’ll need plenty of time to soak in its idyllic natural beauty. Having heard of its stunning scenery, my expectations were expectedly high, yet were still exceeded. One of China’s best-loved destinations is also ideally located within easy reach of the Guangxi Province’s iconic wonders, which are a few hours away by boat or car.
An excellent base from which to explore the region is Shangri-La Hotel, Guilin. It features the largest rooms in town, starting at 42 square metres, and is the only hotel with indoor and outdoor swimming pools. Prep for a day of adventure ahead by sampling local delicacies, such as fish braised in liquan beer and rice noodles served with pickles and fried beans, at the elegant Shang Palace the night before. There’s nothing like the Oriental Wellness at The Spa combining Asian massage styles of tuina, shiatsu and meridian stretching techniques to ensure a good night’s rest.
Plenty of attractions are as near as 10 minutes from the hotel and among the most breathtaking is the Reed Flute Cave, a natural limestone cave famous for reeds that grow outside which can be made into flutes. A kaleidoscope of lights enhance the visually arresting stalactites, stalagmites and rock formations. More than just stunning to admire, over 70 inscriptions dating as far back as the Tang Dynasty were discovered within, adding to its mystic appeal.
Your trip would be incomplete without experiencing the Li River Cruise from Guilin to Yangshou, a four-hour meander past gorgeous karst peaks, water buffalo cooling themselves and workers in the rice paddies. Highlights of the bucolic journey include the Nine Horse Fresco and the famed 20-Yuan Bill Hill – the gorgeous mountain depicted in the city’s currency.
Upon arriving in Yangshou, you’ll be greeted with even more awe-inspiring beauty. Take a ride in a two-seater bamboo raft down Yulong River, an unforgettable experience of floating lazily downstream, admiring the sublime hills reflected sombrely in the stream and relishing each moment of tranquillity. Aside from a few forced photo opportunities, this was by far the highlight of the trip.
Even the more touristy sites have their own unique charm. Although Yangshou West Street is filled with shops selling crafts, antiques and souvenirs, plenty of quiet cafés dot the river – for those who prefer to simply watch the world go by. Almost every cuisine imaginable is represented here and we were surprised by the authenticity of Indian restaurant Kali Mirch, whose paneer curries and dosas were delectable.
In the evening, the Impression of Third Sister Liu show by Zhang Yimou is a must – a moving display of gorgeous lighting and dramatic choreography using the magnificent mountains as backdrop. Based on the famous 1960s movie, Liu Sanjie, the performance portrays life in the Zhuang minority group and a beautiful girl with an equally angelic voice. Even if you can’t understand the song lyrics, the captivating mise-en-scène promises to be etched in memory.
Long and Winding Road
For a change of pace from river exploration, plan a day trip to the striking Longji Rice Terraces. A four-hour car journey from the hotel winds through terraced rice fields, offering a taste of bucolic rural life, with the intricate patterns formed on the hillside believed to resemble the scales of a dragon’s back. While the area is beautiful year round, the end of May is particularly stunning because the fields are filled with water in the early stages of rice growing.
On your way to the top of the mountain, stop at the Huangluo Village, home to the Yao ethnic minority who are famed for having the longest hair in the world – an average length of 1.7 metres, with exceptionally long locks exceeding 2.1 metres. While all the women wear their hair up, the specific style of the bun indicates marital and motherhood status.
Finish with a hike to the Ping’An summit, stopping at the Nine Dragons and Five Tigers and Seven Stars with Moon viewpoints that boast unrivalled panoramas of the charming rural villages and descending terraces. Peering out at the undulating rice fields from a quaint log cabin over a refreshing mango pudding will feel on top of the world. After an arduous climb, it’s a most fitting reward.