Say “Guilin” and watch the looks of rapture (and pride) on the faces of Chinese people. Dotted with supernaturally lovely karst topography gracing the Li River (Lí Jiāng) - these bizarre limestone upthrusts shape-shifting in dancing mists and haze - the city's beauty has been celebrated for generations by painters and poets.
Day 1: Caves as Sculpture Galleries
Firstly, Guilin is home to a 1,000-year-old Buddha cave carving – you really should visit Returned Pearl Cave on Wave-Subduing Hill to see it and other Song and Tang dynasty carvings. But the really impressive sculptor here is nature. Take a trip to Reed Flute Cave to see the spectacular natural rock formations, illumined by colored lights. Seven Star Cave and Dark Dragon Cave are similarly breathtaking.
Day 2: Climb Every Mountain
Don’t just gaze at those misty, Chinese-etching prints – get out there and engage with them! Elephant Hill will give you a sweeping view of Guilin, as will Solitary Beauty Peak. If your leg muscles are up to it, try Folded Brocade Hill with its Ming pagodas, or Pagoda Hill with its view of a chasm said to resemble the moon’s surface.
Day 3: Take Me to the River
After all that roaming of caves and peaks, it’s time to take a little more laid-back approach to the scenery. A river cruise will not only give you a magical perspective on the landscape, but will give you a glimpse of local riverside life – an instant snapshot of a period of rapid change in the region. You can spend a whole day floating to Yangshuo and travel back inland for another take on the area.