When taking a trip to China, most first time visitors opt for big cities such as Beijing and Shanghai. In addition to these fantastic cities, we wanted to experience some Chinese countryside and decided to kick-off our trip to China with Guilin and Yangshuo. Though much smaller than the likes of Beijing and other major cities, these towns still attract many tourists due to the dramatic landscape and scenery. Thousands of pinnacles shoot from the Karst mountain range along the beautiful Li river, and there are many unique activities you can partake in while enjoying these jaw-dropping views. Here are some experiences that we enjoyed the most
1. Spend half a day at the Longsheng (Longji) rice terraces
After a 2-hour car ride from Guilin, we arrived at the Longji rice terraces and were immediately mesmerized by thousands of layers of terraces flanking the mountain range in every direction. The construction of these terraces began in late 1200’s and has continued to grow ever since. How these terraces were created hundreds of years ago without modern machinery is unimaginable.
You can walk around these terraces and stop into the historic Ping’An village along the way for delicious local food. The passion fruit from a roadside vendor and the delicious bamboo rice cooked directly on charcoal embers were some of the best street food that we have had.
We also stopped by a historic house to experience the culture and day-to-day of the locals from previous centuries.
After the Longji terraces, most tour guides will offer you a visit the Yao ladies who hold the record for longest hair in the world. They wear colorful clothes with different embroidery designs, long earrings, and special hair styles. Not to take anything away from the beauty of these women, but I recommend skipping this tourist trap!
2. Watch the dramatic sunset from a hill in Yangshuo
After a long day of walking around the Longji terraces, we were ready to end the night early. Grudgingly, we went to the top of a hill to watch the sunset and I am so happy that we didn’t miss this experience. The karst mountain range lights up at dusk beautifully from this unique location with unobstructed views for miles.
3. Afternoon biking tour and bamboo rafting along the Yulong river
The bike path starts in the Yangshuo town, heading towards more secluded and back country trail along the Yulong river. After a relaxing bike ride, we dropped off our bikes on one end of the Yulong river bridge for a quick jaunt on bamboo rafts. The experience was fun, and the raft “gondolier” was entertaining, but I would advise an early arrival since the river was crowded with too many rafts in the afternoon. Once we reached the endpoint of the river cruise, our bikes were waiting for us thanks to the shuttle service provided by the rafting company. We rode back into Yangshuo during rush hour and miraculously still have all our limbs!
4. Magnificent Impression light show (Impression Sanjie Liu)
After living in NY for several years and seeing some top-notch theater, we normally have low expectations of any shows while travelling. However, after reading rave reviews we decided to attend the show to see what the big deal was all about. We were not at all ready for the surprise! This is the best performance I have seen in my life. Period. The show and the floating stage is set on the actual Li river with the mountains illuminated in the background. The show encompasses approximately 3 acres of land and water with about 600 local performers and dancers participating in this unique show. These experienced acrobats and rafters almost make it look like they are walking and dancing on water. The choreography with perfect lighting and sound effects takes the show to a whole new level. It is no surprise that the show is directed by the very talented Zhang Yimou, who directed the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
5. Experience a magical sunrise from the Xinggong mountain
I came upon this picture of Xinggong mountain and adjoining Li river which initially inspired me to visit Guilin.
Photo Credit: code-couleur.fr
Photo Credit: Marketing-Chine
We woke up very early to get to the mountain before sunrise, due to an hour-long, pre-dawn car ride. After waiting 45 minutes for the sunrise, we were a bit disappointed to see that the weather didn’t cooperate with us and the mountains were shrouded in fog. It did clear up a few times and the views were great for those brief moments, which made me wonder how dramatic the scenery would have been on a clear day. We still don’t regret going to the mountain, and in-fact would highly recommend this sunrise visit. (Arrive early, claim your spot, and sharpen your elbows. Other pushy tourists will slam their tripod down directly in front of you, if you let them!)
6. Li river Cruise
Hop on to a small boat on the Li river and you get the best views of the Karst mountains as you float down the Li river from Xingping to Yangdi. It felt like a mix between Phuket, Thailand and Halong Bay, Vietnam. You will see farmers reaping rice paddies, water buffaloes taking a dip in the river and beautiful views of rock structures and hills at every bend.
7. Exploring the Moonhill and water cave
The mazelike and colorful Moonhill and water caves come highly recommended. The caves also have good photo opportunities and are creatively lit with colored filters. Depending on the time of the day, the caves might feel crowded so I recommend going during off-peak hours. I would stick with paying for access to one cave, since they were all pretty similar.
When to go
Although you could go to Guilin and Yangshuo all year round, the best time to visit is from April to October. November to March can be cold and damp and May can be rainy, too. We visited during October and loved the perfect 70 degree weather!
How to get there
We travelled to China from Hong Kong. A short bus ride took us across the border into Shenzhen, and we then flew from Shenzhen to Guilin. This short, hour long flight was quite inexpensive (less than $80). Another option would be to fly into Beijing or Shanghai and then take a high-speed train to Guilin. In Guilin, you can hire a driver or a tour guide to take you around which is quite inexpensive instead of taking the local buses.
Exploring Guilin and Yangshuo gave us a glimpse into old-world China. The number of unique locations that we visited and varied activities that we could experience in a short time frame made the trip beyond memorable. We saw a lot of construction and expansion during our visit and I wouldn’t wait too long to visit these lesser known, albeit breathtaking towns.
Feel free to pin this post
Leave a comment if you have any specific questions or let us know your thoughts on Guilin and Yangshuo.