Guilin: China’s Fantasy Land

With its lakeside parks, karst limestone mountains and caves, this area of China takes on a fairy-tale air.

As my husband and I were scouring Web site and innumerable China guidebooks, we came across pictures of an area of China that looked almost fake. It was if Disney’s Imagineers had created it. The pictures were of Guilin (pronounced gwee-lin). I was immediately awed by its fairy-tale beauty.

The city lies on the west side of the beautiful Li River and in September of every year it’s enveloped in the scent of more than 1,000 sweet osmanthus trees. In fact, the trees are Guilin’s namesake as the name in Chinese means “forest of sweet osmanthus.” Surrounding the city are China’s famous karst limestone formations, now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. So, even though we only had a few days of our itinerary to spare, we knew we had to make the trek to Guilin.

A City of Natural Beauty

Unlike its monstrous concrete cousins, Guilin has taken great pains to preserve and even enhance its natural beauty. Much of the center of Guilin is devoted to its two lakeside parks, Fir Lake and Banyan Lake. Banyan Lake boasts serene landscapes, a mirror lake, and an ancient banyan tree forest—which includes one tree that is reportedly 800 years old. Fir Lake also offers quiet landscapes, but its true beauty is found at night, when the twin pagodas gracing its center are colorfully lit.

In addition to its two central parks, there is the Elephant Trunk Hill Park. This riverside park winds its way through the downtown area culminating in the famous Elephant Trunk Hill, the symbol of Guilin. The hill, one of the many rock formations throughout the area, resembles an elephant drinking from the water with its trunk. It’s accessible by boat and also has a small pagoda, which is open to visitors. The park itself is beautifully landscaped with arched bridges, lovely plantings and an elephant theme throughout. The entrance is 25 RMB/$3.66 USD, a bargain.

Caves and Misty Mountain Tops

Moving out of the city center takes you to what Guilin is famous for: its karst limestone mountains with peaks numbering in the thousands. Because of its subtropical climate, the mountains are wrapped in a rich green covering of bamboo trees and are often enveloped in an almost unnatural, eerie fog. Once outside of Guilin’s city gates, the quiet rural landscape makes you feel as though you’ve gone back in time thousands of years to a place unknown to modern man.

Each peak is reported to have its own cave, the best known being the Reed Flute Cave. With its towering ceilings, unusual formations and elaborate light show, the cave is especially popular with children. In fact, my 4-year-old daughter thought it was the best part of our visit to Guilin.

Time permitting, visitors to Guilin may also want to make the trek to the terraced rice fields of Longji village, 67 miles from Guilin. Stepping their way up the mountainside, the fields create an amazing landscape that is unmatched anywhere else in the world.

Simply China

Though we were able to spend only a few days in Guilin before continuing on our journey through China, it was most certainly the highlight. Of all the cities I visited in China, this was the one that I felt I could really relax and enjoy my family. While the larger cities blew me away with their skyscrapers, museums and history, Guilin reminded me to enjoy the simple beauty of life, and it’s sure to do the same for anyone else who has a chance to visit. 

Destinations: Guilin, China

Themes: Family Travel, Outdoor Adventures

Activities: Parks and Playgrounds, Sightseeing, Caving

User Comments

I love guilin, because it is my hometown!! Thanks, guys!

! dear, the air in the US is just as rotten as the china air u are dissing. dont jump on the hype of westerners hitting china for pollution when they all have polluted air. all industrialized countries (yes, including, and for the most part, the US) are in fact to blame for the world's air pollution. that is a fact well-stated in the kyoto protocol.

Cool! That looks cool! Makes me want to visit soon...

Wow! The caves sound so cool. Amazing photos! Beth

Awesome! Guilin does look like a fairy tale. I would love to visit one day. Not so sure about Beijing though. I need some quality air!