Guilin yangshuo, pearls, li river, featured image

Guilin and Yangshuo – the Pearls of the Li River

Walking around Guangzhou South Station (广州南站) is like exploring an airport – it is gigantic and
there are so many security checks.

Guangzhou South Station, Nan, China
Guangzhou South Station.

Guilin – the Karst Magnificence

We are headed towards Guilin (桂林) and the nearby Yangshuo (阳朔) which are located in Guangxi (广西) Zhuang Autonomous Region. Guilin owes its name – “Forest of Sweet Osmanthus” – to the large number of fragrant Sweet Osmanthus trees located there. Both Guilin and Yangshuo, situated along the Li River or Lí Jiāng (漓江), are very well known for their karst topography and are one of the most famous tourist destinations in China.

From Guangzhou Nan, we hop on a bullet train or CRH which will take us to Guilin (450 km for around 2 hours – good job, CRH!). Before going there, I had heard of Guilin, but I always imagined it as a small touristic town. It turns out that Guilin boasts a population of more than a million people and is not as beautiful as I envisaged it would be.

In addition, when we arrive there at around nine in the evening, it is raining which does not add too much to its beauty. We struggle to find the hostel we are supposed to spend the night in. In the end, in a dark street and after a set of stairs, we find ourselves inside. I have not taken photos inside as it was not the cosiest place on Earth, but at least there are showers and heating inside the room – who needs more, right?

We wake up early the next morning and head to the station where we will take a bus to Yangshuo where the breath-taking river sights and karst mountains highlight the popular cruise on the Li River.

Yangshuo – the Prettiest Guangxi Village, Packed with Surprises

The weather is not super promising, but at least it is not raining as it was in Guilin. To add up to the sensation, the hostel is much friendlier and cleaner. Simon and I are in a room with 10 more Chinese on top of the hostel from where a great view of the valley, where Yangshuo is located, unfolds.

Yangshuo as seen from the hostel, rainy day
Yangshuo village as seen from the hostel
Yangshuo as seen from the hostel, guilin, guangxi
Yangshuo’s amazing karst scenery.

Without wasting too much time, we head for lunch. Beef with tomatoes, fried fish in beer, and spiced century eggs (皮蛋) are some of the local delicacies we order. As we are in China, they are, of course, accompanied by abundant amounts of steamed rice (米饭).

Yangshuo, Guilin meal, China
Beef and tomatoes in the plate on the left, rice topped with “beered” fish in the bowl, and preserved eggs on the right. You either love or hate the eggs. I love them! What about you?

After the hearty lunch, it is time for some karst-seeing and photos near a small waterfall that empties itself into the Li River.

Waterfall, Yangshuo, Guilin, China, guangxi
The serene waterfall, Yangshuo.
Karst, Yangshuo, guilin, guangxi, China
The not-so-serene Svet.
Li Jiang, Yangshuo, guangxi, China
Yangshuo ambience.

After a lengthy photo-shoot, we decide it is high time we took the boat river trip and explore the magnificent beauty of Yangshuo’s scenery. On the way, we pass through a nice tourist market with fans in different sizes and in mesmerisingly beautiful colourings.

Reaching the “port”, our Chinese friends start bargaining and we end up paying ¥300 for 5 peeps, which is quite the deal as we are separated on two private bamboo rafts. The whole trip is around an hour with one stopover at a place which is excellent for taking photos.

Li River Cruise, Yangshuo, China
The beginning of the Li River cruise.
Happy-3-Friends Selfie, Yangshuo, China
A happy-3-friends (Sino-German-Bulgarian) selfie on the bamboo raft with a personal “driver”.
Happy Svet, Li River, Yangshuo, China
Happy Svet cruising
Me, Li River, Yangshuo, China, karst formations
Svet at the stopover with the magnificent karst scenery
Svet with two of the Chinese girls, Yangshuo, China
Svet with two beautiful Chinese girls.
The three Chinese girls, Yangshuo, China
Our beautiful trio-guides – Maggie, Lala, Flora.

In 10 minutes, we board the raft again to cruise us deep into the Li River’s canyon where the water is emerald.

Emerald blue Li RIver, Yangshuo, China
The emerald colour of the Li River.
Svet, Emerald Li River, Yangshuo, China
Emerald-orange Svet on the Li Jiang

And here’s a video which I took with my phone:


After admiring the magnificent panorama for a couple of minutes, the “driver” turns around and takes us back to where the tour started. In the evening, while exploring the village, we stumble upon a very interesting stand with T-shirts with famous faces on them. Take a look – they are quite funny.

Funny celebrity T-shirts, Yangshuo, guangxi, China
Funny T-shirts with celebrity faces on them.

Along the Drop-dead Gorgeous Li Jiang

On the next day, we take a bus from Yangshuo to Xingping. It is well-known as the main image on the reverse side of the new ¥20 note and depicts a fisherman riding his bamboo raft down the Li Jiang meandering along the drop-dead gorgeous karst formations. It is a little foggy but quite warm as you may see from the photo below.

Svet, Xingping, 20 yuan note, Guilin, Yangshuo, China
Svet proudly wearing an “Institute Confucius” T-shirt in front of the mountains on the 20 yuan note,

In the afternoon, we are back to Yangshuo where we enter into a small Chinese restaurant where we treat ourselves to more local delicacies. One of them is pictured below. Can you guess what the dish is without opening the photo and without checking the hint in Google?

Doggie Meat, Yangshuo, China
Hint: 狗肉

On our last day, Simon and I head to the nearby mountain where the TV tower of Yangshuo is located. Due to thick fog atop, no photos have been taken, but on the way down I manage to capture a nice panorama of the village.

Village of Yangshuo, guangxi, China, Panorama
Panorama from the mountains near Yangshuo.

We hurry to check out of the hostel, take the bus to Guilin, and then another bus to its train station where we hop on the high-speed train and return to Guangzhou.

Bullet Train, Guangzhou, Guilin, Yangshuo, China
Inside the bullet train from Guilin to Guangzhou.
Descending the High Speed Train, Guangzhou, Guilin, Yangshuo, China
The CRH from the outside.

Useful Tips for Travelling to Guilin and Yangshuo Like a Badass

  • Since July 28th, 2014, Guilin applies a 72-Hour Visa-Free Policy in order to facilitate passport holders of more than 50 countries and regions to enjoy a visa-free trip up to 72 hours when taking an international transfer via Liangjiang Airport. Details about it can be found here: 72-Hour Visa-Free Transit.
  • Guilin’s weather is defined by a subtropical monsoon climate which is characterised by high humidity and four distinct seasons. According to this guide: “It can still be cold in spring in Guilin. But when the sun comes out, it is the best time to cruise the Li River. The scenery along the river is pretty fabulous with warm sunshine and a breeze.” I cannot agree more. We were there in the beginning of March and at night you had to wear a light jacket, but with a nice sunshine during the day, the cruise was excellent. Probably summer reveals an even more beautiful picture of the karst valleys, but be prepared for a lot of sweating.
  • Bargain, bargain and bargain. China is a lovely place for bargaining and if you are good at it, you can leave the place with many “trophies” at excellent prices. I am not going to teach you Chinese now, just only a useful expression – tài-guì-le (太贵了) – that’s too expensive!

Good luck and enjoy nature at its best!


Guilin, Yangshuo, Li Jiang, Guangxi, Pearl River, Pinterest Image

42 comments on “Guilin and Yangshuo – the Pearls of the Li River

  1. Roaming Renegades (@Travel_Explore1)

    Wow, stunning place to explore and very useful post too. We are hoping ourselves to visit this region!

  2. Heather Cole

    I’ve always wanted to go ogle the karst there (I’m a geographer!), although it always does appear to be enshrouded in mist in people’s photos. Think I’ll be skipping on the t-shirts though 🙂

    • Svet

      I guess the mist could be attributed to the high levels of humidity. You are not going to bargain for these wonderful T-shirts? Really?! 😀

  3. Carol Colborn

    Great write-up! We have not scheduled our China trip, but when we do, this looks like a good thing to include, especially since there is a high-speed train!

    • Svet

      Thanks, Carol! This is an excellent place to visit due to its location and the high-speed train service! Just take some sunscreen and be prepared to sweat should you be there in the summer 🙂

  4. Carly

    Thats handy to know about the 72 hours without having to get a visa, although China is a place I’ve love to spend a lot of time exploring – and eating I love Chinese food.

    • Svet

      Yes, 72 hours is not bad, but it is far from enough. I even believe that spending your whole life in China will not be enough to explore it all. So many places to visit, so much culture, and different kinds of Chinese food. It is very different from the one we have in the West, but all the more delicious 🙂

  5. Sophie

    Looks like you had a great time! I’ve just returned from living in China for three years and absolutely adored Yangshuo – it’s such a cool place!

  6. Nancy

    Those mountains are incredible, never seen anything like it before! I would have thought there would only be small villages there so it was a surprise to read how large the city actually is. Sounds like a trip you won’t soon forget.

    • Svet

      They are indeed spectacular. Guilin is the city and it is large, but the photos are from Yangshuo which is kind of a village. I guess the popularity of the place is more attributed to the big city because the karst mountains start from there (also the river Li runs meanders from Guilin to Yangshuo). You are right, I will not forget it anytime soon (if ever)

  7. The.Restless.Worker

    What a cool place to explore! Looks like a great trip

  8. Rah Ul

    Maybe try not to be upload pictures with you in them. Kind of blocks the view 😉 Good post, though. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Elaine J. Masters

    Great glimpse into that part of China and I love the misty photos. Looks like a fun and delicious trip.

  10. Natasha

    Good to know about the 72 hour visa rule, and also that you can bargain. Haven’t been to China yet, so thanks for sharing!

  11. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

    The Li River boat cruise looks like a great way to see the landscape, not to mention a lot of fun. The no visa needed for visits under 72 hours makes this a great way to add a quick stop an itinerary throughout the region.

    • Svet

      Yeah, it was an amazing trip! Before I wrote the article, I was not aware of the 72-hour no-visa thing, so I was very pleasantly surprised and decided to include it for a friendly advice to fellow travellers.

  12. SLioy

    One of my favorite places in the country – glad you enjoyed it!

  13. Expat and the City

    I’m heading to China in the summertime and I’m happy to have read your post. I’m starting to plan already and I hope to see some beautiful scenery while I’m there!

    • Svet

      Oh, I am envious of you then! Do include Guilin and Yangshuo – one of the best places in China. Also, Yunnan.. And definitely the rice terraces near LongJi.

  14. Bernard Tan

    Awesome! I love to visit China, just came back from nanjing tulou!

  15. Votel Travels

    Great subject matter, great topic, great blog. Looked like you had a great time. Look forward to reading more

  16. That Girl

    Wow! the mountains look amazing, somewhat like the cliffs in Krabi. I liked the waterfall too, time to put this in my trip radar 🙂

    • Svet

      Yes, these karst formations are one of the most beautiful natural phenomena I have ever seen. The waterfall adds to the sensation too! Definitely consider visiting it!

  17. theFreedomSoul

    Beautiful postcards from China.It seems you had lot of fun in Guilin and Yangshuo.

  18. lilytravella

    The bullet train and food were definitely my favourite parts of my trip here! Your boat trip looked so good though.

    • Svet

      Yes, both were superb! You did not do the bamboo boat ride? Oh, you missed a lot! 🙂 When were you in Guilin?

  19. Claire

    This is very useful for my Chinese trip in the summer! Thanks for an informative post 🙂

    • Svet

      You are very welcome, Claire! I regret not having a better camera to capture the beauties of this amazing karst place.

  20. weegypsygirl

    I would love to visit this part of China one day. Looks like such a contrast to the big cities like Beijing and Shanghai!

    • Svet

      It really is a contrast and a whiff of fresh and clean air. Check out the Longji terraces and Yunnan province as a whole – the Tiger Leaping Mountain, for instance.

  21. Andreja Jernejčič

    China was never on my list, but after reading so many informative posts, I may just give it a try!

    • Svet

      It should be on your list, Andreja. Its nature, cities, food, culture, history – everything is flabbergasting!

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