Top 10 List – Guilin, Guangxi, China

A serene look at the Karst formation/mountains and the Li River near Guilin, China

I still can’t really believe I went to China, but I’m back and thought it high time to post my top ten list from Guilin. So, here it is, I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed my travels.

Here are the top 10 things I’ve learned about Guilin, Guangxi, China:
10. The village inside the park – there are many parks in Guilin, really beautiful parks, including one that had an entire village contained inside of it. We got to visit the park and speak with some of the locals. Extra special thanks to my guides form the CLI school who were able to translate so well for me and really helped me converse with the locals here as it was quite a treat. The parks in Guilin are a treasure not to be missed should you happen to visit the city or surrounding areas, definitely check them out, as they are a must see.

9. The whiskey is fermented in bottles and called baijiu. In China, they ferment baijiu in caves, storing it in jugs (sometimes hand painted jugs.) I actually celebrated my birthday in one of these caves, we had birthday cake, longevity noodles, and baijiu to celebrate. This was a remarkable experience and I highly recommend you try eating and drinking in a cave restaurant if you are lucky enough to visit Guilin. The process of making the baijiu was fascinating as well. We got to tour the area where the jugs are stored and go far back into the cave as part of our visit. It’s quite the underground treat and I mean that literally, as it’s all underground once you go inside the caves.

8. The rice terraces – just outside the city of Guilin is a rice terrace landscape which we were lucky enough to visit. The terraces themselves are 650 years old. That’s a lot of rice over the years! They receive their name, Longji (Longsheng) or “dragon’s backbone” because they resemble a dragon’s spine when you reach the top and look down upon them. The top is many flights of stairs up (more than 50) so bring your walking shoes but the village up there is so wonderful you’ll soon forget the hike and enjoy the views and the fresh mountain air. We also had some great food up in the little village by the rice terraces. If you go, opt for getting some rice in bamboo poles. They stuff the bamboo long poles with rice and beat them over an open fire to cook the rice. Sounds a bit odd but it was delicious-some of the best rice we had in China and that’s really saying a lot as our food was exceptionally good across the board. The village up near the rice terraces is a wonderful visit as well, it’s charming and I recommend spending some time enjoying the little shops and artisan markets if you can.

7. The landscape – Guilin is a tourist city and not just for folks visiting from the United States and Europe. Children in China learn in school studies that “Guilin’s landscape is the best under Heaven,” so a lot of people travel from across China to visit Guilin. The karst limestone formations are dramatic and the river cuts through the city to make for some wonderfully dramatic landscapes. If you do decide to visit Guilin, don’t forget to enjoy the view.

6. Buddhist temples – the temples, the temples, the temples, what can I say about the temples? Whether large and public like the temple situated inside Seven Star Park or small and hidden, like the temple tucked away in the medicine market, the Buddhist temples left an impression on me. From visiting temples with offerings hidden inside caves to the grand ornate style of the public temples, complete with monks preparing for evening services, the Buddhist temples are glorious houses of worship that should be visited as part of any trip to Guilin. Do check them out if you go, you won’t be sorry.

5. Seven Star Park – the big park in Guilin houses a giant temple, a zoo, lots of stuff inside, including a large lake where President Clinton once gave a talk on the environment. It’s like a city in there. There were lots of people playing mahjong and cards and lots of visitors but the park is so large it’s also possible to enjoy a quiet moment to yourself, just to take it all in. If you go into almost any park in Guilin, you will find people playing cards, talking, playing mahjong, and enjoying the park like a local. The parks really are treasures and the people really do use them which is a wonderful experience to enjoy. Seven Star Park is one of the largest of these parks and a great place to visit.

4. The tea – I learned a lot from Kevin, our botanist, actually tea expert extraordinaire from the Guilin Tea Research Institute, including attending an authentic tea ceremony and learning loads about tea. I actually got to stand in a field of tea plants and pick a tea leaf from one. I learned how they make tea how they grow tea, how they produce tea, how they celebrate tea, basically all things tea which was a remarkable experience to enjoy. I’m a real tea drinker and it was wonderful to get so up close and personal with the tea experience. This was a bucket list item for me for sure and I’d highly recommend you enjoy a visit if you are so inclined when visiting Guilin.

3. The food – this was a bit of a surprise for me, as, for some reason, I thought the food in China would not be that enjoyable. The food was so good. Lots of vegetarian and rice, yes, but also tons of flavor, spices, wonderfully different types of local dishes and so enjoyable. Each meal was like a new and surprising treat to savor. Lots of passion fruit and pomelos (large grapefruit like fruit), wonderful lotus dishes, fantastic fish, every meal seemed better than the last. The people of Guilin typically do not have sweets with one notable exception-they tend to eat something sweet, almost always a fruit, at the end of a meal as a dessert like finish. I have started practicing this at home now as it’s healthy and quite the treat as well. I managed fine with the chopsticks, actually enjoyed working with them, and really loved the food in Guilin. I really can’t rave enough about the food. It was fantastic! Now, I have to admit, I’d go back just for the food it really was that good. Healthy, tasty, and good food on this trip, that’s for sure.

2. The medicine market – Guilin has a “hidden city” as I dubbed it, or a medicine market inside the city center. This was a fabulous place with lots of merchants selling everything you can imagine and even some things you probably never could imagine, not even in your wildest dreams. Some booths had me guessing, animal, vegetable, or mineral? This hidden city was like a different world and it was so fantastic to be able to just walk around, enjoying all the market had to offer. It’s these type of off the beaten path places I really enjoy the most, as they are frequented by locals and really help give you a sense of what a place is actually like, rather than what you might find in a guide book.

1. The people – from the hotel owners to the shop owners to the people working in the airports, restaurants, and tourist sites, the Chinese people really are very welcoming and gracious people. The people really do make a place and the people of Guilin are the salt of the earth. I can’t speak highly enough about the folks from CLI, they were wonderful hosts, helping us make the most of our travels and really showing us the heart of the city. The local people are engaging, friendly, and charming. If you get a chance to visit Guilin, I hope you get to spend some time with some of the locals, as they really help make the city the gem it has become.

Some runners up:

  • The restaurant scene and nightlife is really great in Guilin. Lots of different restaurants to enjoy and lots of shopping and events into the evening hours. You will never get bored in Guilin and you will enjoy the food more than you think possible. 
  • The glass bridge and two pagodas area was a wonderful visit. It’s part of the more tourist area in the city but it’s still worthy of a visit. The pagodas at night are stunningly beautiful and the glass bridge is lovely. 
  • Chinese visas can be difficult to obtain so you will want to get one as soon as you book your trip. Once obtained, they are good for ten years, so you might want to plan for multiple trips to China.
  • I really learned on this trip how much we rely upon nonverbal communication. I did try to learn a few phrases in Mandarin-I can still say “hello” and “thank you” for example, but I found I was able to communicate with some of the locals even with my severely limited vocabulary. The people in Guilin are open and engaging which makes this a bit easier. 
  • Pinyin is your friend. The Romanization of the Chinese language has made it easier (much easier) to travel, talk, and converse in Guilin. Not having the hurdle of the alphabet really helps if you don’t speak the language like a local. While I was fortunate to have the good folks at CLI helping me learn the language a bit and providing guides, I would not let a lack of understanding of Mandarin stop you from visiting Guilin. It really is a fabulous city, I highly enjoyed my visit, and recommend you go and enjoy it for yourself if you ever have the opportunity. 

Bottom line…would I go back? You would not even have to ask me twice, in fact, I’d be packing my suitcase at the mere mention of another trip to Guilin. Ni hao, baby, ni hao (hello! And, congrats, as you now speak about half as much Mandarin as I do.)

Until next time…

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