Guilin Prefecture-level City — or simply Guilin — is a very large administrative area in Guangxi that encompasses several counties, including Yangshuo, and districts. Most of the tourism activities are concentrated in the city centre known as Xiufeng Residential District (秀峰区). When travelling in Guilin, most references to "Guilin City" actually refers to Xiufeng District.
Where I Stayed
I lodged at Guilin This Old Place International Youth Hostel, a really fun and friendly hostel in Xiufeng District. It's easily accessible to almost all major sights in the city.
Sight-Seeing Spots in Guilin City
Guilin is dominated by many mountains and two major rivers, such that almost anywhere can be a "tourist attraction". A mountain, a hill or a lake can be a "scenic area" of its own. And that means pay to see each of them.
There is no need to visit each and every sites, especially in Guilin City. Tour agencies will usually promote "main-essence" packages for "3 hills, 2 caves and 1 river" (三山、两洞、一条江). Three hills refer to Elephant Trunk Hill (象鼻山), Wave-Subduing Hill (伏泼山) and Folded Brocade Hill (叠彩山). Two caves refer to Reed Flute Cave (芦笛岩) and Seven Stars Cave (七星岩) in Seven Stars Park. And one river is Li River (漓江).
From this list of 6 recommended attractions, I went for only those that I was interested in.
I had travelled down Li River in a bamboo raft to Xingping, Yangshuo, and back. Most of the major sights were along the river and at Xingping. Take a look from Story #1 onward.
I was not really interested in limestone caves, especially those colourful lightings that were usually installed in such caves. Another aspect required for appreciating the natural "arts" in limestone caves is "imagination" — to imagine what those stalactites and stalagmites might resemble. I admit I am not very imaginative. Furthermore, I was in Gold Water Cave (金水岩), a smaller limestone cave, in Yangshuo.
So, I dropped both Reed Flute Cave (芦笛岩) and Seven Stars Cave (七星岩) from my itinerary.
It was not necessary to go for all the 3 hills although each of them provided different view angles over the city of Guilin and also the Li River. I am not crazy over city views — but I will spend days over beautiful landscapes.
Elephant Trunk Hill (Xiangbishan, 象鼻山) is just a small hill with an arch above the river, which makes the hill looks like an elephant drinking water with its trunk. And it was fenced up with trees planted along the fence to prevent non-ticket holders from taking pictures. It was not worth the CNY 60 (now CNY 75) to go in just to see that hill — a search for a photo on the Internet will save you CNY 75.
Anyway, I skipped it but managed a peek between the trees.
Between Wave-Subduing Hill and Folded Brocade Hill, I opted for the latter because it had 4 peaks for checking out the scenery and the highest among the 3 hills. Wave-Subduing Hill (Fubo Hill, 伏泼山) is single-hill of 62 metres above water but had a cave with Buddhist carvings. My objective was the scenery.
Folded Brocade Hill, Diecai Hill (叠彩山)
Folded Brocade Hill was only 70 metres above Li River so it was easy to climb but it has 4 peaks. I managed to ascend two of the peaks before giving up because the path would go down and up for each peaks.
In all Chinese paintings about Guilin, we usually see mountains in a sea of white clouds. In reality, Guilin is composed of mountains in a sea of buildings — this is why I hate reality.
From the top of the first hill, I was able to take in the whole view of Mulong Lake Scenic Area (木龙湖景区) below and city views afar.
And the second hill I was going to ascend is to the right of the photo (below). But, I had to descend all the way down before going up again.
On the second hill, this stone tablet says "Ascend to the top of Folded Brocade Hill, you will live to 130 years old" (登上叠彩山，活到一百三). Why 130? I guess it's because "三" (san) rhymes with "山" (shan).
And checking out the scenery of Li River below.
And that's about all for the recommended sights in Guilin city. Don't go just yet, strolling along the lakes are free.
Rongshanhu Scenic Area (榕杉湖景区)
Rongshanhu Scenic Area comprised of both Rong Lake (榕湖) and Shan Lake (杉湖) where visitors can take a stroll around the lakes and check out the scenery.
In Shan Lake, there is a Sun & Moon Pagodas Cultural Park (Riyue Shuangta, 日月双塔文化公园) but a fee is required to enter the premise and the towers. Be informed that it is a Buddhist cultural park. One of the pagodas housed a Buddhist temple on the highest level. Taking photos of the two towers across the lake was better than going into the park.
It was misty in autumn, when I was there, so the scenery during daytime was not fantastic. But at night, the views were more vibrant. The mist was also less obvious in the dark night.
From Rong Lake, I followed Gui Lake (桂湖) till Mulong Lake where I took a night photo. There were also several bridges across the lake that were replicas of Golden Gate Bridge of San Francisco, Arc de Triomphe of Paris and others.
And some "fishermen" doing night fishing with cormorants. But, they seemed to be putting up shows only when tour boats were near. Standing by the river bank, I got to watch the "shows" for free.
And the above are the better spots that I visited in Guilin City. Like I mentioned earlier, the major attractions of Guilin are along the Li River, not in the city. And, the rice terraces that I visited next were even grander.
Visit the Zhuang & Yao villages in Longji Rice Terraces