Recommended Stay: 5 days
|Day 1||Arrive in Guilin||Guilin|
|Day 2||Trip to Longsheng||Longsheng|
|Day 3||Trip to Guilin||Guilin|
|Day 4||Raft to Yangshou||Yangshou|
|Day 6||Depart Yangshou|
Visited: Summer 2017
There are a few outstanding highlights in this province that renders it as one of the most visited locations by both local and international tourists in China. With the advent of high-speed rail, the 12-hour train ride from Guangzhou (an international hub) to Guilin (the gateway to this province) has now been significantly reduced to 2.5 hours (Book way ahead as you’re competing with hordes of Chinese tourists). Guilin also has its own airport and rail connections all over China. The principal reasons to devote some time in this area are the stunning Longsheng Rice Terraces (known as the Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces in the west) and the staggering karst limestone formations jutting out of everywhere between Guilin & Yangshou and are best witnessed either by cycling or sailing on a bamboo raft along the Li & Yulong River.
Decades ago, Guilin was considered to be one of the most gorgeous towns in China. Due to the meteoric rise of commercialization all over the country coupled with the proliferation of locals who want to cash in on the exponential rise in tourism, Guilin has become disappointingly unattractive. However, since this is the jumping off point to the two aforementioned spectacular scenic spots in the region, I found myself spending two separate nights in this city. I stayed at the Sheraton Guilin which boasts a fabulous location facing the Li River and located practically minutes away from the popular Zhengyang Lu pedestrianized street that offers a plethora of dining options.
The hotel is also walking distance from all the tourist spots in Guilin. I utilized the “Cash & Points” option for my stay in Guilin, which set me back a measly 1500 SPG points and $30. A steal considering I also possess the SPG Business Card that affords me access to the Sheraton Lounge, which means free breakfast, appetizers, happy hour, and unlimited non-alcoholic drinks throughout my stay. I was also appointed a room facing the striking Li River with the famous karst limestone rocks poking out in the distance. Another redeeming factor of staying across the Li River promenade is to have the chance to become spectators to one of the most fascinating Chinese customs still widely practiced up to now – Tai Chi. Countless locals converge every morning by the river to show off their astonishingly well-choreographed moves, seemingly oblivious to a curious audience and snarling traffic.
Longsheng Rice Terraces (Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces)
Longsheng was interestingly given the name Dragon’s Backbone because the adjacent mountain ranges vaguely resemble the back of a dragon and the water-filled rice terraces around it create an impression of glittering dragon scales. I booked a bed in Dragon’s Den Hostel located in Tiantou village in Longsheng. From Guilin, I was instructed by the hostel to take a shuttle bus that departs from the Guilin Hongkong Hotel, which would jet me directly to Dazhai village. Tiantou, where the hostel is located, is accessible via a 40-minute uphill hike from the Dazhai parking lot. Since it was also monsoon season, the relentless rainstorms drenched me profusely. It was not particularly helpful that there were virtually no signs on how to get to Tiantou so I had gotten lost several times intensifying the 40-minute hike into a 2-hour trek through mud, puddles, and some mini-landslides. It is highly recommended that you carry a map with Chinese names as the villagers understand absolutely no English. The map is widely distributed all over Guilin.
I eventually found a local who was hiking the same way so she was gracious enough to drop me off at the front steps of my hostel. I quickly showered my exhaustion away so I could wholly appreciate the views before me. It was astounding. After a few hours nap, the storms auspiciously ceased paving the way for excellent visibility of the terraces. I delightfully hiked again to a few viewpoints. Whew. All of my hard work was worth it.
I stayed at Longshen for a night. The next morning, I hiked back down to get back to Guilin. Before departing, I had to try their local delicacy of bamboo rice for breakfast at the hostel. Since it was not raining anymore, I also had the opportunity to interact with some villagers who were donning their traditional garb.
Karst Limestone Peaks along the Li & Yulong Rivers in Yangshou & Xingping
When I first arrived at the Guilin train station, I was approached by an Uber driver, Andy, who offered to drive me to my hotel. Coincidentally, Andy also works for CITS, an agency I am familiar with because I enlisted their services previously for Trans-Siberian railway tickets. He offered me a discounted Li River cruise with one caveat – the tour would be in Chinese. The discount, almost 50% off, was substantial & difficult to resist, so I willingly signed up. Despite fears of being scammed in China, Andy was trustworthy and extremely kind to a fault. He gave me specific instructions on where I will be picked up and he calmly appeased my concerns by reassuring me that he has spoken with the tour guide on where to drop me off at Yangshou. I was so delighted I booked this tour because it did not only include a bamboo raft cruise along the Li River, it also included a boat cruise in the town of Xingping, which was handily the highlight of this entire tour. The karst formations in Xingping is the landscape portrayed at the back of the 20 yuan currency.
In Yangshou, I decided to stay away from where the action is and opted to book a hostel in the countryside. It was a meager $7 for two nights at Wada Yulong Hostel, but the “return of investment” views of the phenomenal limestone pinnacles just standing right outside the hostel were unquestionably priceless. The food items they offer on their menu were also incredibly healthy.
Below are some more pictures of the resplendent karst peaks along the Li and Yulong Rivers located between Xingping and Yangshou.
On my second full day in the idyllic outskirts of Yangshou, I embarked on a sunset bike ride along the river. It was a pleasant ride with only moderate humidity and virtually no stifling heat that we had been accustomed to the past few days. Certainly a welcome reprieve.
I’ve always dreamt of visiting this area for years and I’m glad I finally took the plunge and did it. China has truly emerged as one of my favorite countries on this planet and this region solidly cements the country’s place in my Top 10 list.
Have you ever been to Guangxi province?