Golden Week in Guilin
By Barney Goatley  ·  2022-11-04  ·   Source: NO.45 NOVEMBER 10, 2022
Capturing the beauty of Guilin, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region (BARNEY GOATLEY)

Guilin is a small southern Chinese city in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and considered one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world with its iconic blue rivers, majestic rice terraces and rolling mountains. The place has a rich ethnic tradition that attracts millions of local and foreign tourists every year and has served as the cultural center of the region since over 1,000 years ago.

Needless to say, Guilin was at the top of my must-see list when I moved to China in 2017. I was living in Shanghai and working at a public middle school, where holidays were few and far between, so when the National Day holiday (or Golden Week) rolled around in October, I considered it the perfect opportunity to finally visit.

Living in a country with 1.4 billion people, it seemed many others had the same idea—resulting in crowds of tourists descending on the main hotspots. Nevertheless, the long queues, packed boats and busy local townships were worth it to be among the most dramatic mountains which seemed to float amongst misty clouds. 

My first port of call upon arrival was to take a boat down the Lijiang River to Yangshuo. I spent roughly four hours on this boat winding down the river, and around every corner I was in awe of the breathtaking scenery. The river is so famous for its beauty, it's even printed on the 20-yuan note. As I watched a water buffalo cool off in the water and fishermen float past on their bamboo rafts, I suddenly felt very far removed from the hustle and bustle of Shanghai.

After my boat ride, I enjoyed a hike to the Longji Rice Terraces. The scenery along the walk was fantastic, the sun reflected on the bright green fields, and I frequently stopped at the view platforms to take in the majestic panorama. Along the hike, I would see local farmers going about their everyday work, gathering crops and cooking food, and I was once again offered a glimpse into rural life in China, which painted a picture vastly different from life in Shanghai. Guilin opened my eyes to the country's diversity—I was just a two-hour flight away from Shanghai, but the landscape, food and people could not have been more unalike.

Though every place I visited was beautiful, none was more picturesque than Yangshuo, the area where my river cruise terminated. Yangshuo lies to the southeast of Guilin and it's a paradise for anyone who loves nature and the great outdoors. The mountains were the main reason I'd traveled to Guilin, so I wanted to make sure I was outside exploring as much as possible and the best way to take it all in was by bike.

I hired a bike for the day for 30 yuan ($4.7), and slowly cycled around the local villages. I decided not to follow a map and simply travel down the endless winding pathways and roads, stopping to take pictures along the route.

Being on the Lijiang River, I decided to visit a restaurant serving freshly caught fish. The steamed fish itself was light and tender, falling from the bone as I gently poked it with my chopsticks. The accompanying chilies and garlic introduced a kick of flavor. Among the many other local delicacies I sampled while in Guilin were Guilin rice noodles, Yangshuo beer fish and bamboo rice. The food was cheap and cheerful but never lacked flavor, as every single one of my meals was spicy, sour and delicious.

After a long day of exploring, I sat on my hotel balcony sipping tea and gazing out upon the beautiful scenery. It was difficult, if not impossible, to avoid crowds in a place like Guilin during the October holiday, though I found once I headed off the beaten track, I was surrounded by a sense of peace and calm set against one of nature's most sensational backdrops.

The author is a Briton living in Shanghai  

Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon 

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