Three reasons why Guilin should be on your radar

Snugly set among emerald-carpeted landscapes in China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and beloved by visitors for centuries, it’s time for you to discover this enthralling city for yourself…

Team Wanderlust
22 March 2023
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For an unexpected adventure, go to Guilin. Located in southwest China, you’ll discover a city penned in by tranquil lakes and a mountain-rich landscape to hike or wander aimlessly. The abundant nature will caress your soul. Bearing a sense of history housed within intricate antiquated architecture and a modern thriving art scene, Guilin also has an underrated culinary prowess that centres on the evergreen osmanthus trees which bloom all over the city, which are infused into drinks, desserts and more. So entrenched are the sweet-scented blooms that the city’s name ‘Guilin’ translates to ‘forest of sweet osmanthus’ and here are three reasons why Guilin should be next on your travel wishlist…

1. It’s a city of thriving culture

Guilin at sunset (Huang Yijun)

While a modern-day city, you can easily scratch beneath the surface of Guilin to uncover the dynamic dynasties that once ruled. It’s thought human activity has been present here as early as 30,000 years ago, but the city was transformed into a crucial gateway into Guangxi following the construction of the Lingqu Canal in 214BC during the Qin dynasty (221-206BC). In fact, Guilin’s location, with the Yangtze River to the north and the Pearl River Delta to the south, means it’s easy to reach southern and central China. But its geography has also allowed a richly diverse cultural heritage to flourish over its millennia of history, like the culture of the princes of the Ming dynasty, best witnessed at the Jingjiang Princes’ Palace and Mausoleum. It’s not only the largest archaeological site from the Ming Dynasty in the Lingnan region, but also the earliest built and most intact of its kind. In fact, this is where the famous phrase “Guilin’s scenery is the best under heaven” was first discovered, engraved in Duxiu Mountain. Jingjiang’s tombs are home to the 11th-generation Jingjiang prince and his wives, concubines, generals and other relatives. Collectively, they’re known as the 11 tombs of Guilin.

Jingjiang Princes’ Palace

Guihai Tablets Forest

There are plenty of historical imprints from other ancient towns and villages to discover here, too. Make the most of the history by visiting Daxu market town, where architectural relics are aplenty as you walk on old flagstone paved paths, over its ancient stone bridge, past iconic wooden, black-tiled rooftop houses and stalls selling crafts.

Guilin’s locals also always been keen to translate their 2,000 years of history into theatrical performances. This culminates in the annual Guilin Arts Festival (usually held in late October) showcases Chinese culture through theatre and modern art, focusing on Guilin classics and contemporary interactive performing arts activities. It’s a unique celebration, using the handsome scenery which surrounds Guilin as a natural stage, and welcomed performers from all across the world at the 2022 event. The 2022 festival also saw the organising committee join forces with renowned domestic drama schools to jointly launch the Global Young Chinese Elites Project of Theatre Directors. A number of outstanding productions, as created by the programme, will premiere at the 2023 Guilin Art Festival, with some exceptional works promoted at renowned international art platforms, like the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

The 2022 Guilin Art Festival

Away from the stage, you can get involved in Guilin culture yourself by nurturing your creative side through practising typical local techniques, including making a Guilin bamboo circular fan, traditional lacquerware and spying local stone inscriptions.

Bamboo circular fans

Traditional lacquerware from Guilin

2. It’s a city of authentic eats

Gongcheng oil tea

There’s no doubt Guilin is a city foodies will appreciate, either on a guided food tour, cooking class or through self-exploration. Surrounded by an abundance of sweet-scented osmanthus trees, it’s no surprise Guilin boasts a wide array of osmanthus-flavoured delicacies. While autumn is the peak season for these fragrant blooms, osmanthus rice cakes and other treats are available year-round. The three ingredients in rice cakes – osmanthus, glutinous rice flour and sugar – are traditionally lightly steamed over a high heat until ready to eat; the taste is subtly floral and the texture melt-worthy. Osmanthus wine is a must-try, too, with the flowers combined with high-quality glutinous rice wine and fermented until gold-tinged, with a smooth and mellifluous taste. it’s a firm favourite among ladies, being locally known as ‘women’s happiness wine’.

Guilin rice noodles

Guilin locals love to eat rice noodles, which are readily eaten at all times of the day. The soft, fragrant and delicious Guilin rice noodles are deeply rooted in the local way of life and a must-try dish for visitors to the city. The making of Guilin rice noodles is exquisite, with the rice ground into a slurry, packed and filtered, before being kneaded into round or flat shapes after being cooked and pressed. The preparation of the accompanying broth is just as delicate, where pork, beef bones, monk fruit and various seasonings are simmered together to create a rich aroma. Each restaurant in the city uses different ingredients and implements its own methods, so the taste of rice noodles can vary depending on where you dine. The dish has a history dating back to the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC), where it’s said soldiers in battle, from the noodle-eating north, were dismayed at the lack of noodles in the south. They set about creating their own using local ground rice, combined with healing herbs, and the soldiers’ noodle broth has become the number one staple in Guilin.

Guilin is also somewhere where ethnic minorities gather and here you can taste one of their delicacies – Gongcheng oil tea. A distinctive drink, it derives from the ethnic people living in the mountains, who made it as a drink to keep warm in winter after long days in the rice fields. The green-grey coloured tea is a medley of tea leaves, chili, garlic, salt and ginger, fried with oil, pounded, mixed with hot water and strained through a sieve.

3. It’s a city in the palm of rivers and mountains

Lijiang River at sunset (Wang Zhanfei)

It’s hard to ignore the abundant natural beauty all around Guilin. Most revered for its famous karst scenery, mountains pierce a sea of clouds above and rise out of misty rivers beneath, with only a few fishermen to keep them company. The picture created is what comes to mind when you think of typical Chinese ink landscape paintings. There are plenty of ways to enjoy the nature, from hiking, cycling, walking in the Seven-Star Park, a 40-hectare rich bounty of flora and fauna and even a naturally shaped ‘Camel Hill’, or rafting along the ethereal Lijiang River. Due to the rugged topography, rock climbing is a popular pursuit, particularly in Yangshuo, where you’ll have your pick of over 900 climbing locations to rope up. You’ll find more than just panoramic views while climbing the Lijiang River Scenic Zone, with over 1,000 ancient stone carvings hiding among the rocky scenery, discoveries which only add to Guilin’s mystical setting. For a closer peek at the mountains, Reed Flute Cave is one of the most visited in China for its unique yet accessible structure. Another renowned cavern is the Seven Star Cave, spanning more than 1.5km long. Naturally created over one million years ago when it was an underground river channel, repositioned by the movement of the earth, it came to the surface as a cave. Its surreal stalactites and stalagmites have been visited ever since the reign of the Sui dynasty (581 to 618).

Feeling inspired?

For more information about this charming corner of China, visit the official social media channels below.

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