As perhaps the Chinese city that’s more reliant on tourism than any other, Guilin is not quite a typical Chinese experience. It’s earned its touristified element for a reason, though, and in Guilin’s case that’s an abundance of nearby attractions and the sheer beauty of the city center, which is resplendent with sporadic sheer rock faces and striking buildings, making for an almost surreal, fairytale vibe.
The list of attractions is extensive, with caves, parks, those stunning hills and an intense selection of river cruises on offer, with plenty to see inside the city and still more within a quick drive outside. White water rafting is an increasingly popular option for those who prefer to go further afield, as are the stunning Longji Terraced Fields, a photographer’s dream, with ancient terraces stretching across the entire landscape and dating back hundreds of years. For those who prefer to stay in the city, the Li River Cruise takes in a perfect view of all the hilly outcrops, while the Guilin is also home to one of the largest aquariums in all of China.
In amongst all those Guilin rocks, you’ll find the Reed Flute Cave (full of odd shapes formed from years of running water), Elephant Trunk Hill (another strange formation beautifully located at a major river confluence) and the incredible, 3km long ‘water cave’, half a meter deep and once a hiding place form the invading Japanese armies. The most remarkable thing, though, is the scenery itself, which is bordering on alien in its oddity, and worth the trip alone.
When you leave Guilin, you’ll have plenty of local and distant options (you can even buy a direct train and bus combo through to Vietnam), but you probably won’t be in any hurry to get out. This is a genuinely enticing Chinese tourist draw, comparable to Beijing and even Tibet in terms of ‘must see’ status, and full of quirks, exciting local cuisine and bizarre sightseeing. If you’re traveling in China, you’d be mad not to come.