After spending a few days in Shanghai, we made our way to the beautiful area of Guilin. It’s surrounding area is without doubt one of the most amazing places I’ve ever been, and I couldn’t recommend a visit highly enough.
Between Shanghai and Guilin, we had stopped in the city of Ningbo, where my brother Sam had been studying for six months. It was interesting to see where he’d been staying, but there’s nothing to do as a tourist and it’s not worth the trip – especially when there’s so many other parts of China to see.
Getting to Guilin:
From Ningbo, we got a 24 hour sleeper train to Guilin. If these go from the smaller city of Ningbo, then they will surely leave from other similar locations. The sleeper train is definitely an experience, but wasn’t as bad as it could have been. It’s definitely worth shelling out for a bed – soft or hard – because the alternative is a hard seat in a cramped carriage for 24 hours. Take some food, and a book or something to do, and it won’t be too bad of an experience. Just don’t expect a cool, long sleep.
Where to Stay:
In Guilin, we stayed at the Guilin Riverside Hostel. Staff were helpful, prices reasonable, and the location was good (it’s down a backstreet, but there are signs).
Things to Do:
We opted to save money and go on a Chinese-speaking cruise. If you’re willing to put up with Chinese tour groups, and aren’t too bothered about what the tour guides are saying, then it’s a good idea. They’ll spend most of their time trying to sell you something, but to be honest, the scenery completely talks for itself, and I can’t imagine anything a tour guide could say to make the journey any better.
The journey itself is nothing short of spectacular. There are thousands of karst mountains that last as far as the eye can see and every turn of the river offers even better views than before. The only downside is the dozens of other cruises that accompany you down the river, but the lasting memory is not the back of a few boats – it’s the stunning scenery that wouldn’t look out of place in Jurassic Park.
Words genuinely don’t do this journey justice, so check out a selection of the many photos I took in the slideshow below:
In Guilin itself, there’s only one or two day’s worth of things to do and see. The Seven Star Park is a good visit, but costs 75RMB to enter. Inside are some impressive caves (these cost extra), the ancient Flower Bridge, and some amazing views. There’s also a well advertised zoo, although we discovered that this had been abandoned. The park offers some great views over Guilin if you’re willing to climb – we found a pagoda with stunning 360 degree views of the city (I can’t remember any exact name, but there was a sort of war memorial halfway up).
In the centre of town, the twin pagodas and surrounding lakes are impressive (below). Although we’d been to Shanghai, this area was the first time I really felt like I was in China. At night, the pagodas are lit up and it’s a great spot to grab a beer and some food.
According to the guide books, Guilin’s delicacy is ‘Beer Duck‘ (right), so we made it our mission to find it. For a supposed delicacy, it took us a while to find anyone who’d even heard of it, but we found a restaurant serving the dish close to the entrance to the Seven Star Park. In terms of taste and value for money, it was one of the best meals we had – it converted to under £6 for two of us.
If you stay in the city, most things are walkable, although buses are frequent. The station is a taxi ride away, but drivers will haggle for your business so do your research and arrange a price beforehand.
From Guilin, Yangshuo is an hour or two away. There are trains and buses, but I can’t think of a better way to make the journey than as part of the cruise down the River Li to Yangshuo. You can do this as a day-trip before getting a coach back, but if you’re planning a stay in Yangshuo, kill two birds with one stone and just take the river cruise part.
Buses and trains to Yangshuo are common and there are plenty of travel shops willing to arrange it for you. For safety, hostels also arrange travel and it’s probably more reliable than choosing a random shop.
Next, check out ‘Travel Blog #4 – Yangshuo, China‘. Also, take a look at my ‘Top 5’ Highlights blog, where I take a look at the best places we visited, stayed, ate and drank over the incredible seven weeks we spent exploring South East Asia.