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Guilin: Paradise on Earth

Mention that you’re planning a trip to Guilin to Chinese friends and their eyes stare nostalgically into the distance. ‘I’ve always wanted to see Guilin’ they say, with mystical reverence, a hint of wistfulness in their voices.

What exactly is it about Guilin, in southern China, that enchants so many Chinese people? I’m about to embark on my second trip there, exactly a year after my first, so I feel I have some small inkling of the attraction.

For a start, there’s the unsurpassed natural landscape, a jade green panorama of vertiginously steep limestone hills, to which cling deep and dense foliage, and between them a broad ribbon of rice fields, lotus ponds, and emerald rivers. The air hangs heavy and humid, dense with cicadas, frogs and crickets, and the smell of fresh, lush nature is everywhere. The people, short and deeply tanned, seem to be perpetually relaxed and in search of a good time.

In addition to my own observations I’ve been asking every Chinese person I know why they love Guilin:

‘I can feel total freedom there’

‘I love to ride my bicycle, and raft down the river, and just have a fun time with my friends.’

‘Did you know that in Yangshuo (near Guilin) there are more foreigners than Chinese people? It’s so cosmopolitan. That’s why I go there for two weeks every year.’

‘It’s my heart’s desire to see Guilin. I heard it is the most beautiful place in all China!’

Everyone has their own reasons, but I’ve come to accept that Guilin, and its backpacker friendly neighbor, Yangshuo, represent the kind of freedom so many young Chinese crave – freedom from work, freedom from family pressures, freedom from study. Guilin and Yangshuo are completely geared for fun and relaxation with bamboo rafting, bike riding, caving and rock-climbing among the many activities on offer. This, combined with a sub-tropical climate, lush surroundings, and scores of foreigners mean that a Chinese tourist can really come here and let their hair down. It’s a potent combination.

I’m spending all of this week in and around Guilin, and I’ll (try!) and post every day to show you just what an incredibly lovely place it is.  I’ll be visiting the fabled Dragon’s Backbone rice terraces (Longji titian) northwest of Guilin, the Yao villages of Dazhai and Tiantou, the hip hangout of Yangshuo, and the tiny market villages along the Li and Yulong Rivers.
Fancy a trip to southern China’s most beautiful places? Come along!

  • christa @ mental foodie

    My family went to visit there a long time ago… maybe 25 years ago now? So this definitely brings back memories!

  • Fiona

    Wow! I bet you would see some amazing changes! I'd love to hear about them….

  • Melissa

    I have been reading your blog for a while now, but finally decided to comment! My two nieces (and soon a nephew) are from China and I'm not exactly sure how I ran across your blog, but I just love it!

    Beautiful photos and I love all the food information!

    thank you!


  • Becky

    I went to Yangshou for about 4 days 2 winters ago. I didn't know i was suppose to be cosmopolitan because of all the foreigners! ha ha. (Actually, there really weren't that many foreigners there at all. Places like Kunming and Dali have way more.)

    When we were there we took a cooking class, which was pretty awesome. Are you planning on doing that? I can imagine you will!

  • Fiona

    Hi Melissa, Thank you so much for leaving a comment! I love to hear from every one of you, it really gives me a thrill (no, really, it does!) Comment often!

    I wonder what part of China your nieces and nephew are from?

    Cheers, Fiona

    To Becky – I think the foreign visitors are a bit thin on the ground here in winter, but today it seems like every second face is non-Chinese. It's quite surprising!

  • Kim

    You inspired me to visit Guilin on my next vacation (I'm from Canada btw) I can't wait to see your upcoming posts 🙂


  • Fiona

    Wow Kim! You are going to love this week's posts! I think Guilin and surrounds is one of China's most gorgeous travel destinations.