Guilin is considered by many the number one scenic spot in China. Solitary water-scarred limestone mountains rise out of the green plain, their peaks hidden in swirling mists. Below, the caramel water of the River Li twist away to the sea, fed by underground streams. The scenery conveys a sense of mystery, a languid brooding silence prevails. The city, situated in the northeast corner of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, has been a favorite subject of painters and poets for centuries.
Guilin was founded under Qin Shi Huang Di in 214 B.C. as a small settlement on the Li Jiang. The town grew following the construction of a canal linking the river with another further north, giving a connection to the Yangzi. The emperor could thus send food and provisions by water from the Yangzi plains to the imperial armies in the far south. The town become the provincial capital under the Ming (1368-1644) and remained so until 1914 when the capital was moved to Nanning. Guilin became capital again in 1936. During the Sino-Japanese war it became a center of resistance to the invasion but was badly damaged during the fighting. Five years after the Communists gained power the capital was once again moved to Nanning.
There are numerous limestone hills within the boundaries of Guilin. These offer a superb view of the surrounding countryside. There are also many excursions to the hills outside the town, where you can explore the caves, see the rock carvings, and visit old temples.
One of the most spectacular trips you will make m China is the journey by boat downstream from Guilin. If you are particularly fortunate you may even see the Li Jiang fishermen using trained cormorants. The cormorants dive into the water, trap fish in their beaks, and bring them back to the fishermen’s boat. Warning; For many visitors Guilin has become a “tourist trap” with inadequate hotels poor restaurants and local hustlers. For some the Li River trip is the only worthwhile part of the visit to the city. Free-lance travelers should note that, after arriving in Guilin. It is time consuming to get bus-train-air tickets or onward reservations. Many “free-lancers” forsake a visit to Guilin altogether and go instead to Yangshuo some 50 miles to the south. The scenery is the same but the village is peaceful.