Guilin’s centre is filled with leafy boulevards and reminded me somewhat of Shanghai’s French Concession area, however that’s where the comparison ends. The multitude of karst hills that rise throughout Guilin city centre is unique, creating a stunning setting. A string of lakes wraps around the city. The four lakes were originally built as a defensive moat, but today form a green band, enclosing the pedestrian malls and streets of the city centre.
We decided to tour this area by boat to really get the feel of the city, mainly because it is frustrating that China charges for every minor attraction going, so we thought we’d cover them all via the water instead. Unfortunately the boat guides only speak Chinese, but we got the gist. Robin had a couple sitting beside him who spoke limited English, but helpfully yelled (literally) the name of things out as we passed them. Shanhu Lake, has a pair of pagodas side by side, called the Sun and Moon Pagodas – best viewed at night when they glow gold and silver. We were staying quite close to town, so we were able to view the lights of the city karsts and buildings, looking quite magical.
At the point where the Li and Pearl Blossom rivers merge an arch of rock forms a shape a little like the trunk of a drinking elephant. Close one eye and squint, there you go! This is the famous Elephant trunk hill, the symbol of Guilin.
This was the city of memorable food moments. From the lady taxi driver who got us terribly lost but kept us completely amused the whole time, having a full blown conversation with me – her in Chinese, me in English and improvised signing, read eye rolling… She laughed away as if I had told her the funniest of jokes, as we tried to find the many restaurants that we were told were must visits but didn’t actually exist! Luckily taxis are super cheap, as we traversed the same suburb for 40 minutes!
This was where we had a fantastic spánish tapas, enjoyed an amazing meal of roast goose and beer fish, both traditional local delicacies. Xiao-er (goose) is a must try as the meat is incredibly tender and delicious. Where better to try this than one of the most revered restaurants in Guilin – Chun Ji Roast Goose. We experienced Stuffed Li River Snails and classic rice noodles, which of course tasted wonderful, sitting on a small plastic stool in the middle of Snack Street, people watching on a balmy 28° evening.
We also hit an all time low visiting Starbucks on our last afternoon desperate for something that was at least called coffee, even if it didn’t taste remotely like it. Despite trying some great dishes, I remained ever vigilant here, particularly once I found out that large bamboo rats were considered a delicacy!
We chanced upon an underground market called ‘little Hong Kong’ where they sell clothing and other stuff, like gadgets, hardware and a whole lot of very cheaply made junk. Not that interesting from my point of view, but kept the kids entertained for an hour or so.
Luckily for us the water in the city receded over the first couple of days, so despite regular showers, we could at least get around town and traverse the city area by river. Unfortunately the flooding further downstream was bad enough that no tourist attractions reopened, which did leave us with 48hrs extra in Guilin, than we were hoping. Guilin doesn’t lend itself to 4 days of sightseeing, as it’s primarily a stop off town for attractions further afield.