We'd like to share with readers here of our recent trip to Guilin area. We toured Guilin towards the last week of May. The temperature was very comfortable at the beginning but as it came to the start of June, it became really hot. We travelled with our 2 kids so this itinerary is planned with having 2 kids in mind. Also we chose to use a guide although we can speak Mandarin. The guide helped us ease our planning and logistics, even though we could have done some parts of the trip without the guide.
We were picked up from Guilin airport by our guide and went immediately to Reed Flute Cave since it was on the way to our airport. The cave was worth the entrance fee...despite the colorful lights that sometimes distracted the natural beauty of the cave. For those who would like to skip this cave or do not plan to stop at Guilin, it is okay since there are plenty of other very interesting caves in Yangshuo too. After the cave, we were dropped of at Sheraton Guilin. We stayed at the Sheraton since we are SPG members and used points for our stay. The hotel is what you would expect of a Sheraton and is very conveniently located near the lake and the busy shopping street in Guilin and is popular with tour groups. We walked around the lake near the hotel in the evening which offers some very good views of the pagodas on the Li River.
Today we spent the day touring all the Guilin sights, seven star park (which can be skipped), Jin Jiang Palace (worth it if you like Chinese history), boat ride along the Li River to see Elephant Hill, Fubo Hill and Brocade Hill. I felt the boat ride was sufficient to see the 3 hills without to visit them directly. After lunch, we went to Jin Jiang mausoleum (a bit of a disappointment because we expected a grander one) and finally taking the cable car up to visit Yao mountain. The cable car system looks a bit old and run down but it was a fun ride up and gave us pretty spectacular views of Guilin. In retrospect, it is quite true that one can entirely skip Guilin and not feel as if you missed anything. However, since we had 8 days, we didn't regret the stop...its a good appetizer for the beauty of Yangshuo. One pleasant surprise was the show "Dreamlike Li Jiang show". This show was recommended by our guide and since we had nothing better to do in the evening we went to the show. It surpassed our expectations. The best way to describe the show is a Chinese version of Cirque de Soleil. The technical skills of the performers equal or surpass any Cirque de Soleil shows I have seen. Some of the lights and effects were very good as well, its just that it lacks some of the finesse and sophistication of Cirque. Nevertheless, if you should be in Guilin, don't miss this show,
Woke up early in the morning and headed for Ping'an rice terraces, where we stayed at Countryside Inn. It was basic but decent accomodation. It took about 3 hours drive to reach Ping'an, followed by a 20 minute hike up to our hotel. Before our hike, we stopped at Yao Village to watch the long-hair show, which is highly recommended since you will understand the significance of the long hair for the women of Yao. After lunch and some rest, we took an evening walk (4pm) to the #1 and #2 scenic spots. The views were truly spectacular. Since we went in late May, the padi fields were filled with water ready for rice-planting. The hike was very easy and even with our 2 kids, it was a leisurely stroll. Even for old folks, it would not be dificult to reach the 2 scenic spots. There are also many interesting local handicrafts and produce to buy along the way. We were also quite surprised by the cool evenings and crisp mornings, probably 16C. We had dinner at a place called Mr Liao Cafe & Bar at the Longji IHA. What attracted me was the charcoal roasted chicken which has to be pre-ordered (1 hour before). The chicken and the other food we ordered was really delicious. In general, all the food we had was very good in Longji, and I would recommend everyone to try local food instead of the Western breakfast on offer. We spent the night at Longji and the sound of frogs, cricket and other insects in almost pitched darkness while stars lit up the sky is a compelling reason to stay a night at Longji.
We hiked from Ping'an down to Jin Jiang village...about a 3 hour hike down. Setting off in the morning, it was cool but it turned hot very quickly. I won't recommend doing this in Summer as it might be too hot and uncomfortable. This hike was more challenging than the day before but we had the opportunity to get up close and personal with the farmers and the padi fields. We saw how they lived, and even visited an ancient house (more than 6 generations had lived in the house) with a very welcoming grandmotherly lady. She showed us her house and how she lived. We made it down three hours later, some parts of the hike was a bit steep and you need to be fairly careful to navigate the rocky path, but we did it in a very leisurely pace. At the base of the mountain at Jin Jiang village, we set off for Sanjiang. After reaching Sanjiang, we stayed at the Dong Village Hotel, which is right next to the ChengYang Rain and Wind Bridge. Again the accomodation was very basic but decent. After a simple but delicious lunch cooked by the hotel owner's wife, we watched the Dong Village performance. We then toured several villages around Chengyang, watched how the Dong people lived and bought a number of Dong handicrafts and clothes and simple toys for the kids. We stayed the night at Sanjiang.
Set off for Yangshuo early in the morning. The drive was a good 4+ hours. We checked into our hotel - Hidden Dragon Villa (see separate hotel review). In general, we were very pleased with the hotel we stayed, the location and views were superb. The views at Yangshuo were truly spectacular and indeed we have truly saved the best for last. We did the 2 hr Yulong river bamboo rafting in the afternoon, starting from Chengyang and stopping at Gongnong bridge. The water in the Yulong River was very clean and I hope it will stay this way. The bamboo raft took us through some of the best sights of the Karst hills in Yangshuo...definately something not to be missed. The kids had a great time engaging in water fights with other people on the bamboo rafts (you will be pestered to buy these water guns at Chengyang). We had dinner at Farmers Inn, nearby the venue of the Impressions show. The beer fish and snails at this restaurant are must-tries. You will find beer fish at every restaurant in Yangshuo but this restaurant does it best (IMHO). The snails are better than the escargots I had at fine dining French restaurants, and eating them is far simpler - you just suck the critter into your mouth! At night we enjoyed the Impressions Liu SanJie show. Some parts were truly breathtaking but some parts were a bit slow and draggy. It was enjoyable overall and bring mozzie repellants...this is the one place where you definately need it.
We set aside this day for bike ride across Yangshuo. Our hotel is well located near many sights - so we cycled through small villages and farms, taking in the gorgeous sights. The kids (and us adults too) had great fun seeing many things not usually seen in the city. We went to as far as Fuli (boring...don't know why it was so highly recommended) and then went back to Yangshuo. We had lunch at the West Street at Yangshuo. Frankly, I was glad weI didn't stay at Yangshuo or near West Street...it was like any other street in the West. Its good if you cannot speak Chinese and need your fix of burgers or steak. We cycled back to our hotel, got some supplies and headed towards the Water cave for the famous mud bath and hot spring. But alas, the Water Cave was closed for some repairs so we settled for Buddha Cave. We were pleasantly surprised by the truly unique and fascinating formations in the Buddha Cave, including what really looked like the face of Buddha on the cave of the wall. The mud bath and hot spring was fun for everyone d is highly recommended. It was also a good respite from the afternoon time heat...which is getting quite unbearable for cycling. After the cave visit, it was less hot and we continued our bike ride through Moon Hill and Big Banyan Tree. After a tiring day, we rested early.
Today, we went for the Li River cruise from Yangdi to Xiping. In terms of scale, the Li River was far grander than the Yulong River. The Karst hills were a lot taller and the river far broader. However, I preferred the serene bamboo rafting to the Li River cruise, though there were some spectacular sights along the Li River. At Xiping, we took pictures of the 20 Yuan note scenery. Xiping itself is definately worth a visit...an ancient town that is well-preserved and unspoilt by modern encroachment. Again, this may not last for long. We did some shopping at Yangshuo and stopped by at Dr Lilly for a massage (apparently its quite well-known). We returned back to our hotel and then hiked around the small villages next to the hotel. Just 30 minutes hike brought us to a heart-stoppingly beautiful part of the Yulong River that is not along the main artery. The boys took a dip in the clean water amidst some of the most beautiful scenery we have seen. As the sun set, we took a number of sublime pictures around the area.
Our final day. We checked out of the hotel and headed for JiuXian - an ancient village on the way to the airport. If you like walking through ancient villages, JiuXian is one that must not be missed. We continued towards Baisha where they have a weekly market - all the farmers gather there to sell their produce. Not just farmers but all kinds of fascinating things on sale. An eye opener to see how the locals live, buy their food, consult Chinese physicians etc... mostly in stalls in the open air. Our final stop was at the Yulong Bridge, an ancient bridge with magnificent sights of the surrounding lands and a good restaurant by the river.
There you have it...a synopsis of our tour. Hope it will be useful for those coming to this unique and beautiful region.