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Skip Guilin and go to Yangshuo or Longsheng instead

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After spending about a week in northeastern China September, and then driving through northern China October, I decided to turn my attention south, specifically to the south central autonomous area of Guangxi, and the southwestern provincial of Guizhou. Guilin was for me the biggest draw to Guangxi. Guilin’s beauty, rivers and karst formations were something I knew for a long time. Now that I have visited Guangxi, I have a different recommendation: spend your time in Yangshou or the Longsheng Longji Rice Terraces.

Why I didn’t love Guilin

This was, in part, due to uninformed expectations. Guilin was known for its beautiful karst formations and flowing rivers. It didn’t have many other attractions, and Yangshuo didn’t even have the same. Guilin, on the other hand, is a larger city with fewer attractions.

Elephant Trunk Hill is the main attraction in Guilin.Elephant Trunk Hill Guilin

Guilin’s limestone karst hills are shaped like an elephant reaching for water. It is beautiful and enjoyable to see, but it doesn’t seem worth the hype. For basically a photo op, tickets cost Y=70 or $11 USD.

However, most people enter Guangxi autonomous territory via Guilin. If you have enough time and are keen to see this famous landmark, then go for it. A nearby travel agency can help you save money on your ticket. Ours was purchased at a CTrip office located just outside of entrance #2 for Y=45. (CTrip is a major player in China’s tourism sector, similar to Expedia in the States.

Make sure you stop by the Sun-Moon Twin Pagodas after your visit. Beautiful pagodas set on a lake. It’s also free to view! Although you can pay for entry to the pagodas, we did not feel the need to.Sun Moon Twin Pagodas

Why Yangshuo is a better base for Cruising the Li River

It is possible to take a trip on the famous Li River from any city.

However, Yangshuo is closer to the most popular sights along Li River. The smaller city is also home to a greater number of beautiful outdoor scenic spots, which are less crowded than Guilin.

Yulong River bamboo rafting

If you don’t want to take my suggestion, here is a Yangshuo itinerary.

Why you must visit the Longji Rice Terraces

My favorite spot during my Guangxi trip was Longji Rice Terraces, Longsheng. It’s also known as Dragon’s Back Rice Terraces in English. They are also known as Longsheng Rice Terraces.

Although I have seen rice terraces and rice paddies in Asia, nothing compares to the Longji Rice Terraces. It would be a mistake to skip the rice terraces in Guangxi.Longsheng Rice Terraces

These 600+-year-old terraces still have a lot of use and provide food for the Yao and Zhuang villages. We are just fortunate to be able to take in their beauty. Guesthouses can be found throughout the rice terraces. Although they are quite basic, I highly recommend staying a night on the tranquil terraces.

We were extremely lucky to have arrived in Guangxi at harvest time. However, we were informed that it was too late to see Longji’s autumnal beauty.

As it turned out, 2017 harvest was delayed and we arrived in Longsheng just a few days before harvest started. Although it’s risky to schedule your visit in this manner, it’s amazing to see Longji Rice Terraces before and after harvest when they take on a completely new look.

Longji Rice Terraces after harvest

You can get there by bus from Guilin and Yangshuo. It took just 4 hours to reach the entrance from Yangshuo, which cost Y=90. It took 2 hours to get there from Guilin, which was Y=50.

Tickets for Longji Rice Terraces cost Y=95, and can be used for up to two consecutive days.

The Jinkeng Terraced Fields, and the Ping’an Terraced Fields are the main terraced areas. People of the Zhuang minority live in the first, which is more crowded and commercial because it is easier to access.

Jinkeng is, however, less well-known and retains a lot of its authenticity. You will need to spend some time, either by taking a cable car or using your legs to climb the hills. It is however less accessible. Red Yao are the locals and will gladly help you with your luggage. Typically, this is for a fee of around Y=60.Hiking Longji Rice Terraces

Jinkeng was chosen because it is less commercialized and because it has the highest point in the Longji Rice Terraces. It’s almost 4,000 feet tall and is known as West Hill Music. It was necessary for our hotel to be up there. But, it is a stunning view.

Longji Rice Terraces Jinkeng

You can hike to the Ping’an Terraced Fields from the Jinkeng Terraced Fields. There are many other views in the Jinkeng Terraced Fields. The signage is not very good so it’s a good idea to have an offline translator or a guide, if you don’t speak Chinese. Even if you know Chinese, it is almost inevitable that you will need to ask for directions. The locals are friendly and willing to help you.

Although the Longji Rice Terraces look beautiful in spring and summer, I prefer those amber grains of grain that appear in autumn (I know, it’s wheat). Winter I would skip as it was already too cold at night in October. But I’d love to return in spring or summer.Longji Rice Terraces Jinkeng village

What I realize now is that when people spoke of Guilin, they really meant Guilin-Yangshuo-Longsheng as a whole. Perhaps I wouldn’t be so disappointed in Guilin if I had known. I was also enamored with Longji Rice Terraces on this trip.

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