As we travelled through China we heard more and more about Guilin China, that this place was a must do, an adventure lovers paradise and the most friendly of all the Eastern China regions. Being adrenaline junkies, outdoor enthusiasts and generally having a passion for mountains we knew we had to make the time to head over this way. From Zhangjiajie it involved staying overnight in Changsha…but we didn’t care! What we found here lived up to and exceeded our imagination of a karst landscape surrounded by rice paddies! But where do you stay to get the most of this region, it’s all a bit confusing! However for backpacking in China this is an area you just can’t miss!
Where is Guilin and what does it have to offer?
Guilin China is a city in the Guangxi province of China in the very south of the country, this region borders Vietnam and as such offers much milder winters and hot, humid summers. Generally speaking the weather down here is pleasant due to its location, mountainous landscape and flat river plains.
Guilin China itself was one of the first developed in China for tourism and as such it can feel a little busy, however the benefit of this comes in the shape of a well developed infrastructure in order to explore the region and also a higher instance of English being spoken… and after a month our first taste of Western food in the shape of a Pizza Hut… we’re not proud but honestly we had gone long enough on noodles and fried rice and had almost forgotten what cheese tasted like!!
Guilin China is a nice city to explore and has some beautiful and interesting features. The Elephant rock and Solitary Beauty Peak are certainly crowd pleasers and bring the Chinese tourists in their hoards. However we didn’t feel paying to visit these was worth it seeing as we were due to head out into the nearby villages and towns were we felt there were more beautiful and also cheaper adventures to be had. However all is not lost in Guilin, the twin lakes in the centre of town offer a lovely peaceful place to wander and take in the wonderful city around you. Pagodas reflecting in the Koi filled waters offer a break from busy China!
Should I just head on out to Yangshuo, what is there to see there?
Yangshuo is a one time quiet village that has, in a similar way to Guilin China, been slightly over taken by tourism. However you can see why so many local tourists flock to this stunning place, set right on the river and in the midst of the famous karst peaks it almost feels like paradise. If you avoid the busy “West Street” and stick to the smaller throughways and tracks then you can still find a wonderful rural retreat.
The rice paddies that surround the town and the chugging “smokers” that run up and down the roads all day still dominate this small town. Food is still dominated by cheap local eateries and rural life is still very much evident in the everyday lives of these poor but happy people.
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Here you will find endless opportunities for adventure, climbing on the peaks, hiking, bamboo rafting, abseiling, cycling and white water rafting. Yangshuo can feel like a tourist town if you let it, but wander the wooden shack lined streets, take a bike out and cycle through the outlying villages where corn dries on the side of the road and locals still till the fields by hand, weave in and out of the karst peaks and you will surely fall in love with this place as we have!
What about Xingping? Is this quieter village worth the extra time and effort?
Many describe Xingping as the Yangshuo of 15 years ago…before the tourists got word! Who knows, in many ways the smaller nature of the village makes the looming tourist trade feel even more concentrated, and yet the pace here just seems to be toned down a notch or two. The village itself is centred around a cross roads dating back to the ming Dynasty, like a miniature Pingyao it takes you back in time to a China that can often feel lost.
Here there is definitely more of a backpacker vibe, the ancient streets home to cosy cafes (not often seen in China), next to tiny houses where locals have lived and worked for generations, still using their houses to make a whole range of weird and strange contraptions! For backpacking in China this is one of top destinations.
In Xingping you feel right in the centre of the mountain range, the shops and noise all doesn’t distract like it does in Yangshuo. Here you are literally at the foot of several mountains and right on the river, the fields and farms lap up to the village and it feels much more authentic. The harbour area is awash with locals taking the short ferry trips over to the markets with all kinds of produce and you really do get more of a sense of traditional life here.
In Xingping you can often see the farmers taking their water buffalo up and down the fields, old women carrying huge baskets over each shoulder on just a piece of wood and even the Cormorant Fisherman on their bamboo rafts on the river as the peaks and burning orange sun reflects around them. A truly magical place. Taking the short hike up the Laozhai mountain that the village is built around will also leave you speechless and open up the true majesty of this region and why it should be on your backpacking in China itinerary.
Our tips for visiting this stunning region with heaps to do!
Head to Guilin China first, it is easiest to get here from everywhere in the country and is also a beautiful and laid back city to visit (by Chinese standards!) However we only recommend one or two nights here. Then head to the main bus station and take the hour long bus over to Yangshuo! The city is nice but for backpacking in China it really doesn’t have the same scene.
Our advice would be to spend the majority of your time in this region in Yangshuo and to stay out of the centre and at the “Sudder Street guesthouse/ hostel”… probably one of the best you will ever experience and a highlight of backpacking in China! It has views over the amazing local landscape, privates, dorms with curtains and even a pool! By spending most of your time here you can get out and take part in the activities of the region such as climbing and cycling conveniently. There are also much more shops, restaurants (both local and more westernised) and places to explore on a day to day basis. It serves as a great base from which to explore the Guilin China region.
Head on over to Xingping for another couple of days, this way you can stay here instead of having to take the bus too and from Yangshuo. You can take advantage of the mountains here with amazing hikes, bamboo rafts and cycling trails as well as the more relaxed vibe. “This Old Place” hostel offers a warm and friendly place to stay right in the centre of town where you are guaranteed to meet like minded travellers from all over the world! For backpacking in China this is one of the ultimate destinations and really does have that hippy vibe!
For moving on from the area Xingping is also a convenient location as “Yangshuo” high speed train station is actually located a 15 minute bus ride from Xingping bus station. This station offers trains to Guilin and also further afield places such as Guangshou, from each of these cities you can connect to anywhere in China.
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