The first Chinese city to promote tourism post-WWII, Guilin has long been considered one of the most beautiful cities in China. Set in the north of Guanxi, Guilin’s stunning natural surroundings and some clever PR made it the place to go throughout the latter half of the 20th Century. It was frequented by politicians and stars, and was used to showcase China’s progressive attitude and natural beauty to visiting dignitaries. Today, the patina has worn slightly from Guilin’s shiny façade. However, it still boasts some fantastic sights and is a great place to stop as you plan your trip around the province. As with any tourist-centric city, you will find plenty of English speakers and a choice of activities, but they come at a price: higher admission fees and streets teeming with touts.
Direct flights to Guilin will bring you to Guilin Liangjiang International Airport (KWL), 20 miles from the city centre.
Guilin experiences a sub-tropical monsoon climate with four distinct seasons. In winter, temperatures reach as low as 8°C, with summer highs of up to 30°C. Rainy season is in the summer, with heaviest rain in May and June. Guilin is beautiful all year around: the cool, lush green days of winter; spring, when the flowers bloom and bring the city to life; hot, humid summer days where you can seek respite from the heat on the Li River or beside stunning lakes; and autumn, when the countryside is covered with an exquisite patchwork of oranges, reds and yellows. If you are looking for cheap flights to Guilin, avoid the beginning of May, China’s national holiday, when domestic and international tourists flock to the “pride of China” for a few days’ celebrations.
Chinese cities are famous for their lakes, rivers and water features, and Guilin is no exception. The city itself has two main lakes: Róng Lake, which translates to “Banyan Lake” and is named after an ancient tree on its shore, and Shan Lake - meaning “Fir Lake”. Together, these two lakes once formed part of the city moat; today they are an oasis of calm and tranquillity. The lakes feel like the city’s life-force: many popular attractions are based around or near the lakes, and tourists and residents alike come to the lakeside to gather their thoughts, relax, and reflect on the beauty of their surroundings. In addition to its lakes, Guilin sits onone of the most attractive segments of the Li River. On a trip down the river, you will behold incredible landscape, mysterious caves, traditional villages and vast bamboo groves. You will feel as if you are floating through a picture book of the China of yesteryear – a China of tranquillity, space and unrivalled beauty. To the south of Guilin, where the rivers Li and Táohu? meet, you will find Elephant Trunk Hill, one of Guilin’s most famous landmarks. Over the years, the cliff has been worn away to resemble an elephant drinking from the banks of the river. As you sail down the river it will feel almost impossible to place yourself in a particular time, as the beauty of your surroundings suspends you in a moment that is neither of the past, present or future.
As one may expect from the first city in China to welcome tourists, Guilin boasts some stunning architecture, designed to attract visitors and showcase the opulent style of construction favoured by the Chinese for millennia. The Sun and Moon Twin Pagodas preside elegantly over the Shan Lake. The Sun Pagoda stands at 9 storeys tall and is the world’s highest bronze pagoda, while the 7-storey Moon Pagoda is made of a silver-coloured glaze. Together, the Chinese symbols of the sun and moon mean “brightness” – it is said that the towers were constructed to symbolise the bright future of Guilin. The two towers are adjoined by a glass tunnel which is built under the lake, representing the unbreakable, if not visible, connection of the solar and lunar systems. The pagodas are beautiful at any time, but they are especially breath-taking at night. Situated on the north of the RóngLake, the South Gate is the last remnant of the city wall built during the Song Dynasty. The gate leads to Guilin’s New Old Town, which is being faithfully restored to its former beauty. Most buildings have plaques (in Chinese) explaining a little about the history of the area, which help to put the architecture into context. Download a translating app on your phone before you go to help you get the most out of your trip to Guilin’s New Old Town. Take a step back in time as you meander through the ancient streets of Daxu Ancient Town, located 14 miles outside of Guilin city on the east bank of the Li River. Daxu is one of the oldest towns in the Guangxi province and contains well-preserved architecture from the Qing and Ming Dynasties. Here, you can amble through the stone streets, past delicate wooden structures, intricately carved and loving preserved for up to a thousand years.
Guilin is working hard to restore its reputation as China’s primary tourist spot and, while some of the city’s infrastructure may be a little chaotic and worn, its natural beauty is unrivalled. From the majestic waterfalls and deep ravines of Tianmen Mountain National Park, to the bizarre, snail-like stone peaks of B?ji?ozhài National Geopark, the rock formations formed over thousands of years defy logic and bear testimony to the random yet precise artistry of Mother Nature. Literally meaning “Dragon’s Backbone”, the Longji Terraced fields 60 miles south of Guilin are simply incredible to behold. The vast rice fields ripple over 25 square miles of undulating landscape, punctuated by quaint mountain villages and natural hot springs. Nature lovers will be spoilt for choice on their trip to Guilin. The myriad mountains, parklands, caves and waterways offer endless hours to explore, relax and enjoy China’s unique beauty.
Just as Guilin’s countryside is something quite special, so is its cuisine. Drawing from the Canton, Sichuan, Hunan and Fujian styles, Guilin food is inspired by the abundance of fish and rice –the region’s rice noodles are famous throughout China and its fish dishes are renowned for being the freshest and tastiest for miles. Most food is stir-fried or steamed, delicately sweet and spicy. Must-try dishes include Guilin rice noodles, cooked in a broth of pork, beef, peppers, nuts and garlic with a serving of chilli peppers on the side, which can be added to taste; Yangshuo beer fish, made with carp fresh from the Li River fried with beer, onions, peppers, garlic, soy and sugar; and chicken with field snails – a beautifully spiced stir fry of chicken, vegetables and snails from rice fields or the Li River. All tastes are catered for (as long as you like rice!) and there is no better way to wash down your traditional meal than with a bottle of Liquan Beer, brewed locally and known for its clean, refreshing flavour. On your trip to Guilin you will encounter the delicious combination of old and new, as the city strives to a brighter future yet continues to respect its natural surroundings and opulent past. You can walk, gaze, eat and drink your way around the city – the perfect place to start your Chinese adventure. Do you want to create your own adventure? Book cheap flights to Guilin with Travangelo.