The sweet smell of osmanthus trees fills the air and flowers flourish everywhere but nice as Guilin appears, it functions primarily as a gateway to the surrounding scenery. Tourists pour into this southern city and following on their heels are clever opportunists who seem to hype every possible angle; Sell you a room? Sell you a tour? Sell you a meal?...and so on.
(More photos about Guilin please click here)
Located in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and bordering Yunnan Province to the west, Hunan Province to the northeast and Vietnam to the south, Guilin's central location and nearby scenery makes it one of China's most-visited regions. And so, the tourists - and those who profit from them - are in ample supply here.
But all is forgiven the moment you begin to explore that scenery. Most noticeable are the giant, apartment building-size "karsts," or limestone outcroppings, which punctuate the views like a skyline. Geological uplifting has brought ancient seabeds (composed of alkaline limestone - remants of fossilized sea life) to the surface. Rain (acidic, in nature) has washed down and worn away much of the limestone, leaving an almost surreal landscape in its place - a special region very much revered and cherished by the Chinese.
Below ground, the effect is no less surreal. Over the centuries, percolating ground water has carved underground caves and caverns and formed waterfalls and streams. Sinkholes are yet another naturally-occuring feature of the region - one that's understandably worrisome to many local residents. Taken together - the karsts and the caverns - the effect amounts to some of earth's most un-earthly scenery.
Guilin's nearby attractions include:
Karsts: Scientists have no trouble explaining the origination of these strange-looking limestone cones and cylinders, or the equally-bizarre below-ground cave and cavern counterparts. But their beauty is no less impressive. For centuries Chinese poets and artists have depicted the sometimes eerie, mist-shrouded karsts.
Li River Cruise: The best way to view the variety of karsts (they come in all sizes of cones, cylinders, mounds and crags!) is by a cruise along the Li River. One karst is called "Elephant Trunk Hill," resembling a giant elephant whose bent trunk dips into the water for a drink. Another is called "Dragon Head Hill," and yet another is named "Five Fingers Hill." A number of karsts soar hundreds of feet - straight up - from the riverbank. Some tours - including yours - end in Yangshou, about 50 miles downstream from Guilin. It's quite a journey!
Longji Titian: As noted in our tour description, "The climate here is perfect for rice-growing; the terrain isn't." That didn't stop the local farmers; over some 700 years of toil and sweat, they transformed the hills and mountains into terraced, intensely-cultivated rice fields. What they created was also breathtaking - a rare meeting of function and scenic interest. The high hills of Longji Titian ("Dragon Backbone Terraces") are located about 60 miles northwest from Guilin.
Ping An: Nestled within the heart of the Longi Titian is the ethnic Zhuang village of Ping An. Charming as it may look with it's somewhat jumbled, terraced homes (everything is "terraced" in this hilly region!), Ping An is a hard-working community. For the idle visitor, however, the photo-ops are not to be missed! (letstravelchina.com)