Header image courtesy of Tom Rickhuss (via Unsplash)
The Peach Blossom Spring (桃花源记), a famous Chinese fable, tells of a fisherman who discovers a hidden utopia where residents live in harmony with nature, far from the chaos and instability of the outside world. Similar to this ethereal land, Guilin is an ideal destination for a calming trip, where travellers are embraced by beautiful mountains, rivers, and leisurely towns. Here are the best things to see and do in the Land of Peach Blossoms.
With its karst terrain, the city is most frequently associated with the Chinese saying “桂林山水甲天下,” translated to mean “By water, by mountains, most lovely, Guilin.” Indeed, the epithet is the perfect way to describe the breathtaking scenery of the famous Li River.
Visitors usually hop on a cruise from Guilin to Yangshuo (陽朔) to capture the full experience of the Li River, stopping at special spots like the Elephant Trunk Hill (象鼻山) and Crown Cave (冠岩) for a closer look. It is best to go on the deck for some incredibly brisk air and cool breeze as you enjoy the charming view. During the trip, you will occasionally find local villagers doing their daily routines, and—if fortunate enough—you may encounter the local wildlife, such as Chinese golden monkeys, Chinese alligators, and red-and-white flying squirrels. While it is undoubtedly great to go on a boat trip on a sunny day, the fog and mist surrounding the hills on rainy days also paint a celestial scenery of the Li River.
As “the Palace of Natural Arts,” the Reed Flute Cave is so-called due to the reeds growing at the entrance that can be used to make flutes and other small wind instruments. One can learn about its history by reading the ink inscriptions on the walls, which date back to the Tang dynasty. The cave is naturally formed by centuries of water erosion and carbonate deposition, creating a series of stalactites and stone pillars unique to Guilin.
For example, you can find the Lion Rock and Sunrise (狮岭朝霞), Crystal Palace (水晶宫), and Sky-scraping Twin (双柱擎天) here, all painted in different colours by artificial lights to further illustrate the myth and story behind these natural sculptures. Located only eight kilometres from the train station, the Reed Flute Cave can easily be reached by car.
Also known as Longji Rice Terraces (龍脊; “Dragon’s Backbone”), the famous Longsheng Rice Terraces (“Dragon’s Victory”) are located in a town about a hundred kilometres outside of Guilin. By flattening the mountain into layers, local farmers can more easily plough their lands and employ irrigation systems for their crops to prosper.
There are three ways to enter the terraces—from Ping’an Village (平安镇), Longji Ancient Zhuang Village (龍脊古壯寨), and Dazhai Village (大寨村). If you do not feel like hiking up the hills, Dazhai Village provides a cable car service for tourists. You can ride one to get a bird’s-eye view of the scale-like territory while travelling up to the highest point.
At the top, there is a local restaurant called Countryside Café, which serves bamboo rice and other traditional dishes, so re-energise yourself with some food before hiking down the hill. The best time to visit the Longsheng Rice Terraces is either in the summer or autumn when the golden field shines under the warm sunlight and amid the mountain air.
If you want to learn more about Chinese history, Shan Lake and Rong Lake are great places to explore. These historical attractions can be dated back to the Song and Ming dynasties, with bridges connecting the lakes and ancient pagodas standing on the shores.
The Big Dipper Bridge (阳桥) at Rong Lake is constructed with high-quality white jade, which looks even more stunning with light illuminating its surface at night time. During your visit, you will also see other heritage sites like the Ancient South Gate (古南门) and the Mid-lake Pavilion (湖心亭), as well as local residents engaged in dancing, singing, conversations, and doing tai chi nearby. Remember to tour along the Zhengyang Pedestrian Street (正阳步行路街) for some local restaurants, stores, and food as well.
Guilin is the Land of Peach Blossoms not only because of its natural sceneries, but also due to the leisurely life of the locals. A great way to experience their lifestyle is to visit Yangshuo, and tourists usually get there by cruise or car from Guilin.
If you have chosen the cruise, which drops you off at the Yangshuo Dock, you will find yourself arriving at West Street (西街) in a busy yet charming town. Enjoy some traditional street snacks and restaurants, such as skewers (烤串), beer fish (啤酒鱼), stuffed Li River snails (漓江蜗牛), and stinky tofu (臭豆腐) as you stroll around.
Surrounded by mountains and rivers, Yangshou is a great balance between nature and people, especially during nighttime when everyone is out for dinner and having fun by the river. Souvenirs and local products are available in every nook and corner, while some bars occasionally host live performances and shows.
Tong Lai Guan serves affordable rice noodles in a no-frills setting. Although the store looks quite old due to its 60 years of history, the food is definitely worth a visit. Go for the marinated eggs (卤蛋), glutinous rice chicken (糯米鸡), and sui mai (烧卖) with tea.
Tong Lai Guan, 4 Zhongshan Middle Road, Guilin, China | (+86) 7732825496
Chunji Roasted Goose Restaurant is perfect for simple Guangxi cuisine. Some must-try dishes include their signature roasted goose (烧鹅), sweet and sour pork (咕噜肉), and goose intestines (鹅肠). Although Chunji is on par with a hotel-style restaurant, many locals dine here as well, as the price is not expensive for its food portion.
Chunji Roasted Goose Restaurant, 2 Zhongshan Road, Guilin, China | (+86) 07732856188
Zong Zi Dai Wang always has a long queue of people snaking out its entrance, and everyone waits patiently for a taste of its signature zongzi (粽子). While it is a well-known cultural food usually enjoyed during the Dragon Boat Festival in China, it is also a famous snack for locals in Guilin. Soft braised meat and glutinous rice make for a great combination with their mixed textures, and the rich aromas of the fresh zongzi never disappoint.
Zong Zi Dai Wang, First Lane, Taiping Road, Guilin, China | (+86) 07733555869
AGan Restaurant provides a comfortable dining environment in which to enjoy a variety of snacks served with traditional tea. We would recommend ordering the rice noodle roll (肠粉) with cod or shrimp, sour radish (酸萝卜), and Lijiang beer fish (漓江啤酒鱼). AGan is located near Shan Lake and Rong Lake, so go grab a filling meal before or after your trip.
AGan Restaurant, 2/F, Guantai Hotel, Zhongshan Middle Road, Guilin, China | (+86) 07732808080
Lao Biao Ji is the right spot for you if you are looking for some late-night snacks with great vibes! It opens until 2 am every day, serving spicy barbeque skewers, duck feet pot (灌湯鴨腳煲), fried snail (炒蜗牛), traditional tofu pudding (豆腐花), and more. At this lively and unfussy place, you can order some beer or soda on the side for an even better experience.
Lao Biao Ji, 1/F, Fucheng Commercial Building, Zhongshan Road | (+86) 07738980322