Visiting Guilin, China
Ever since the Tang Dynasty, Guilin has been celebrated as one of the most beautiful places in China. Heavily tourist driven, nonetheless, Guilin’s stunning natural beauty, historical attractions and its popular cruises makes it a place well worth its spot on China’s Top Ten destinations.
Guilin still keeps to its medieval layout, with the two lakes Rong Hu and Shan Yu creating a moat around the inner city walls. The remaining section of the old city walls, Gu Nanmen, the graceful arched stone bridges, the tree-lined lakes and the beautiful twin pagodas overlooking Han Shu, all add the beauty and lustre of Guilin.
Elephant Trunk Hill
Before you head off for your cruise down the Li River, there are some sites which should not be missed. Start with Elephant Trunk Hill, named after the imperial baggage elephant who became sick. According to local legends, instead of returning to the emperor’s army after being cared for by the local people, the elephant turned to stone. This cliff face actually does resemble an elephant drinking from the river. The spot makes for a good point to have your photo taken and there is also a quaint little pagoda at the top which is worth a visit.
Jinjiang Princes’ Palace
During the Ming Dynasty, the rulers lived at Jinjiang Prince’s Palace. It predates the Forbidden City by 34 years but it resembles it completely, albeit on a much smaller scale. Today, five meter walls dating from the Qing Dynasty still surround the palace, as the original Ming walls were destroyed at the end of the dynasty. There are a few older features here, including a stone slab with depictions of clouds on it (but no dragons) – this indicates that a prince lived here, not an emperor.
Seven Star Park
Seven Star Park is another highlight in Guilin. A far-reaching limestone formation, it resembles the Great Bear constellation in the night-time sky. There is also a large cavern in the park and is also the home of several wild monkeys. The entrance of the limestone caves are intricately carved with various inscriptions, some dating back to the Tang Dynasty, and a small subterranean waterfall makes it a beautifully haunting place to visit.
Cruising the Li River
Guilin is famous for Westerners for one thing – the unforgettable chance to cruise down the Li River. It is an 85km journey through some of the most spectacular scenery found in southern China. The softly flowing green water, the weirdly wonderful shapes carved into the cliff-faces, the traditional fisherman on the river, farmers working in the fields in traditional hats and garb, ancient villages … this is the stuff which fascinates tourists and they get what they want.
The cruise down the Li River is often thought of the highlight to any trip in China. A trip from Guilin to Yangzhuo generally takes about six hours and will costs anywhere between Y250 – 500 (around £25 – 50 per person). There are shorter trips, around 90 minutes, which will cost you less money but still take you through the most interesting parts. Tours can be arranged from the CITS or the hotel which you are staying in.