Guilin was once the capital of Guangxi, lending the province the nickname “Gui.” While it is no longer the capital, it is arguably still the most important city in the region and the first that comes to mind when one thinks of Guangxi. The verdant city, whose name means “Forest of Sweet Osmanthus,” is situated on the banks of the Li River, which connects the city to the also-popular town of Yangshuo. While most Chinese cities look roughly the same, with skyscrapers and convenience stores as far as the eye can see, Guilin is a bit different. Sure, it has a built-up urban area, but its presence among the mountains gives one the impression of being out in nature. There are also plenty of natural sites within the city proper, like 180-million-year-old, artificially lit Reed Flute Cave.
While Nanning, the capital of Guangxi, is known as the “Green City,” it’s got nothing on Guilin. Sure, it has an abundance of almond trees and a large amount of biodiversity, but it is farther from the autonomous region’s top destinations. It is, however, located a short 160km from the Vietnam border, and it is possible to use the city as a jumping off point for a tour of Southeast Asia.
Other Travel Destinations
If you go only to one place in Guangxi, make it Yangshuo. This adorable town near Guilin is a tourist hotspot but still has a rural feel to it, at least for now. Getting there still requires a bus ride over pothole-covered dirt roads, but as of 2016, the county was beginning to pave the roads. The town is located near both the Li and Yulong Rivers, giving travelers a choice of scenery for their bamboo raft tour. Along the rivers are also a number of ancient towns, which can be easily explored in a few hours’ time. After touring Yangshuo and the surrounding area’s top sites, Culture Trip recommends renting a bicycle and riding around the mountains and farmland. This is an unbeatable experience and certainly won’t hurt your chances of getting envy-inducing photos.
Longsheng County, 100km from Guilin, is home to the world-famous Longji Rice Terraces. This is iconic China at its finest, and you would be remiss if you passed it up. The terraces have four unique looks, corresponding with the four seasons. In summer, the terraces are flooded with water, producing bright green baby plants and imagery like you see in the picture below. In fall, the rice is mature and ready to be harvested, making the whole plant appear yellow. In winter, the frost comes and creates a subtropical white wonderland. And in the spring, the fields live up to their nickname “Dragon’s Backbone,” when the wet fields resemble dragon’s scales.
Ban Gioc – Detian Falls
Ban Gioc-Detian Falls are a set of two waterfalls that straddle the China-Vietnam border. At present, the falls remain under the radar of Western tourists, but they are seen as a national treasure by both Chinese and Vietnamese travelers, who come from Hanoi and Nanning to see the fourth largest cross-border falls in the world.
Guangxi cuisine is unique among Chinese cuisines in that it doesn’t have much of an identity. Due to the province’s many ethnic influences, the cuisine borrows flavors from all over: a little sour like Hunanese cuisine, a little spicy like Sichuanese cuisine, light like Cantonese cuisine, and full of noodles, despite being a major rice-growing center for the country. Famous dishes include Guilin noodle soup, stir-fried eggplant in chili sauce, stuffed river snails, and beer fish.