GUILIN, LONGJI AND YANGSHUO: THE PERFECT 1 WEEK ITINERARY
Everything you need to know before visiting Guilin, Longji Rice Terraces & Yangshuo
Where it is, why to go, how to get there, how we planned our trip, what to do, how many days, where to stay, and everything else you need to know
Firstly, what we mean by "Guilin" is actually the city of Guilin in the South China region of Guangxi, AND Longsheng Longji rice terraces to the north, plus Xingping and Yangshuo to the south (and secondly Guilin is pronounced Gway-leen).
But the complete guide to Guilin, Longshen, Xingping & Yangshuo doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. Anyway, it's done, you're here reading, I apologise, let's get on with it, I hope you enjoy and find useful.
Where is Guilin?
Find a map of China, look at the south-west of the country and you'll find the region that borders Vietnam; the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, an area that feels distinctly less "Han-China" and quite lot more south-east Asian.
In the north-east of the region around the city of Guilin lies one of China's most beautiful and unique locations; an area that packs in the combined scenic beauty of misty karst mountains, gleaming rice terraces, winding rivers, and mountain villages not yet transformed by the Chinese development behemoth.
Why should I go to Guilin?
The region can fairly lay claim to having some of the most unusual, memorable and iconic landscapes of China. The Chinese clearly agree and have endorsed the area by placing the karst mountain landscape around Xingping on the Y20 note.
(Yes, every single tourist holds up a Y20 note in front of the same view for the #china #insta classic. We downright refused to indulge, but only because we didn't actually have a Y20 when we ran out of cash)
Guilin itself is a great city, with a few worthwhile sights to hunt out, some pagodas to view, and plenty of good bar and restaurants, but mainly it is a great base for exploring two areas around the city. To the north are the Longji Rice terraces of Longshen and to the south is Yangshuo and the Li River. Both of these would be included in any "top 20 China highlights" (like this one we’ve already written) so the fact that they're about 2 hours apart is a coincidence that you ought to take advantage of.
How do I get to Guilin?
Guilin is well served by both an international and domestic airport, a highspeed train and a local train.
We arrived from Yunnan where we had hiked the Tiger Leaping Gorge (read here), and the train took about 8 hours.
We met a friend who came in from Hong Kong and his train took just over 2 hours.
In short, it's not difficult to get there, with plenty of speedy train connections.
You also have the option to fly into Guilin Liangjiang Airport which flies both domestically and internationally; very new, very shiny, very secure. You can check flights here on Skyscanner.
How we spent our week in Guilin, Longji and Yangshuo
We like to share how we planned and spent our time for all of our trip highlights, and Guilin was one of the best weeks we had in China.
Below you'll find a day by day guide on what we did, where we stayed & how we got there.
Day 1: Guilin
Where we stayed: Guilin Central WADA hostel
Arriving late the previous night, we had checked into out hostel and gone straight to sleep, exhausted after 8 hours of Chinese train travel (we've never felt like such celebrities).
We had a slow start enjoying 2 huge plates of banana pancakes at the Guilin Central WADA hostel. We picked it for 4 reasons; nice and central, big and cheap rooms with aircon, excellent on-site restaurant and a luggage storage. The last was most important as we planned to ditch our big bags for the week as we moved around (it was waaay too hot for lugging heavy 70L backpacks around).
We spent the morning exploring the town, walking along the river through the crowds of Tai Chi practising pensioners, popped into the Elephant Trunk Hill Park (Y55) and then walkedback through the Sun & Moon Twin pagoda cultural park on our way home. All plans of extensive exploring were abandoned due to the 35 degree heat, so we essentially cafe hopped (aircon to aircon) back to the hostel and arrived as sweaty-messes regardless.
Our friend Simon from the UK arrived from Hong Kong that afternoon, and we spent the evening exploring Zhengyang Street, a popular and buzzy area, with just a few more tourists than we'd hoped to find (not sure what we’d expected… it is China after-all). We ate in the Shangshui Food Court at a nifty hotpot restaurant where the ingredients circulated on a little conveyor belt (I thought it was great, Steph remained dubious...)
Day 2: Guilin to Longji Rice Terraces
How to get there: Guilin to Longshen: 2 hours by mini-bus. Book transport only via your hotel or hostel
Where we stayed in Longji: Wanjinglou hotel
On our second day we headed north to Longsheng to see the Longji rice terraces for 2 days. There are plenty of tours to the terraces, but as with everything we do, DIY is always our preference; it’s nearly always cheaper, more flexible, and more fun (our travels through Mongolia as an obvious exception).
It's a 2 hour journey so the idea of trying to get there, hike and back in one day was much too stressful for us. We asked our hostel to book us onto a bus (Y50 pp) and left at 8:30am. There are plenty of these little buses, so booking yourself onto one shouldn’t be too hard.
HIKING THE LONGJi RICE TERRACES
The rice terraces are split between 2 villages; Ping'an and Dazhai, and most people choose to hike the trails of just one of the villages. Seeking something more adventurous, we found a few blogs talking about a 10km trail between the two villages.
"Sounds easy enough" I said, "What could go wrong?" … Steph rolled her eyes.
We arrived in Ping'an before 12, sampled some bamboo rice for lunch (a local dish) and then headed up to "High Dragons and Five tigers" scenic area. This walk up to this viewing spot offers the first true view of just how spectacular the perfectly sculptured rice terraces are. From here it was a breezy 4km to Zhongliu, a small hamlet on the trail, and another 5km to Dazhai.
"No problem" I said "Piece of cake" … Steph said nothing.
Two hours of some very sweaty hiking later, we arrived at a small compound, and as a flock of chicken announced our arrival, a small head poked out the window.
"Dazhai??" We shouted up.
We got laughter in response, a good humoured smile, and a long explanation back. In rapid Mandarin. Excellent. A few minutes of charades ensued and we established that we were waaaay off track.
Simon and Steph were not impressed... but we resolutely soldiered on reminding ourselves at how lucky we were to be walking the "unbeaten" paths away from the tourist trail in remote and rural China. With only a 3 hour detour we arrived at our hostel at 6pm.
**We found out later that the path was actually fairly easy to follow, so don't let our escapades put you off, looking back this hike through the real-life terraces & over-grown Chinese forest was probably one of the best bits of the trip**
We stayed at Wanjinglou hotel, which is further up the slopes, but commands some impressive views of the rice terraces & hands down. the most beautiful view in the morning light. A very friendly host family and some tasty food made it a winner.
Day 3: Longji Rice Terraces to Guilin
How to get back to Guilin: Mini-bus to Longshen. Bus from. Longshen to Guilin (2.5 hours). Buy bus tickets from your hotel/hostel.
Where we stayed in Guilin: Guilin Central WADA hostel
Refuelled on Chinese breakfast (i.e. noodle soup and sweet potato) we set out on achy legs to reach the various scenic points around Dazhai. It was hot, we were tired, but the hill climbs were worth it. The typically poetic Chinese names were "Music from Paradise", "Seven Stars chasing the moon" and "Thousand layers of heaven", the last being particularly apt as gleaming layers of rice terraces covered every possible slope in slight.
We had a fried noodle lunch at a small cafe before walking to Dazhai car-park where we’d arranged a mini-bus to get us back to Guilin at 2pm (tickets bought from our hostel).
Checking back in Central WADA we had a sneaky pizza at Pizza park (no judgement please)
Day 4: Li River cruise to Xingping
How to get to Xingping: Guilin to Yangdi pier (Bus 1 hour) / Yangdi to Xingping (River cruise 2 hours)
Where we stayed in Xingping: Xingping This Old Place hostel
Chocolate waffles for breakfast this day (some of us had fruit granola), we had a slow morning to recover from the last 2 days. At 12pm we stashed our bags once again and checked out to head to Xingping; a river-side town in the heart of the karst valley.
We took a bus from the main bus terminal down to Yangdi pier. The direct buses leave at 7:30, 9:00, 10:30 and 12:30 and cost Y19.
The in-direct bus leaves from the south station and goes to Yangdi Lukou, where you need to take a connection to the pier. More difficult, but leaves every 10 minutes. At Yangdi pier you can hire a "bamboo raft" (not actually bamboo anymore), and take a fun little river cruise on a 4 person boat downriver to Xingping, weaving through stunning karst mountains. The rafts operate from 12pm -> 3pm, and apparently there is a rush at 12pm... we arrived at 2pm and enjoyed at idyllic cruise having avoided the crowds. The journey lasts about an hour and costs Y90 per person (plus Y30 for any extra seats you don’t fill, as there were three of us we had to cough up the extra).
Once we arrived at Mashan bamboo boat terminal, we avoided the hawkers and the rather scary offer to have a picture holding a cormorant (no, honestly, they’re big birds… and they looked angry!) and walked down to the bus terminal (straight ahead, ignore the taxi hawkers, turn right) where we were able to get on a free shuttle which was included in the boat ticket price. The golf-buggy shuttle takes you all the way to Xingping main town (about a 15 minute ride).
Our plan was to climb a karst mountain that afternoon to watch the sunset, but it was extremely hot by this point, so we bought some beers and sweltered whilst admiring the famous views. We didn’t leave the roof top balcony at Xingping This Old Place hostel for several hours, only stirring to head for a tasty dinner in the hostel restaurant next door.
**There are no ATMs in Xingping. If you have no cash (like us!) then the hostel restaurant is the only place that will accept card.**
Day 5: Xingping to Yangshuo
How to get to Yangzhou (from Xingping): Local bus from. Xingping bus station to Yangshuo (1 hour)
Where we staye in Yangshuo: Yangshuo Sudder Street Guesthouse
Avoiding the heat, we set off to climb Mt. Laozhai before sunrise. This spot is famous for the view over the karst landscape (remember your 20 Yuan note!). The climb took 40 minutes and fair warning… it is steep and a little slippery! There are lots of warnings not to come off the path, but at the top we found a small pagoda overlooking the town and river. The early rise was a toughie (do they ever get any easier? I don’t think I’ll ever be an early-bird) but WOW, what a sunrise, possibly one of the best scenes in China.
This Old Place Hostel provides a decent breakfast deal, so after refuelling there we set off to the bus station to get to Yangshuo which takes 1 hr and costs Y10. Another scorcher, once we arrived at our hostel and chilled in the pool all afternoon to recover from the early start and strenuous hill climbing.
We stayed at Yangshuo Sudder Street Guesthouse, which is a little out of town, and has a peaceful vibe, excellent pool setting overlooking green pastures. They offer free bike hire, have an on-site cake shop and do dorms and privates. We’d recommend staying a little further out of Yangshuo as it’s become a little built up, so this was perfect.
We needed the time to chill, because I had a surprise for the guys, I’d found another mountain we could climb to get our south China sunset! After the groans and arguments had subsided, we set off for Radio mountain at the edge of town. It’s another 45 minute climb up steep steps but another unforgettable view of uncountable karst mountain range bathed in the golden light of the setting sun.
Yangshuo is also a fun night out, so after watching the sunset we headed out for a proper Chinese meal complete with a bottle of extra strength rice wine (cripes!) and popped into a few bars at the popular West Street before finishing with some tasty icecream.
Day 6: Exploring Yangshuo
Travel free day!
Where we stayed: Yangshuo Sudder Street Guesthouse
Using our free bikes from Sudder Street hostel we set out for an all-day cycling trip. Yangshuo is famous for it’s beautiful cycling tracks through the small villages, along the river and surrounding area filled with rice paddies. We cycled down to Gongnong Bridge and cycled the Yulong river scenic area up to Jinlong Bridge. It’s a completely flat 20km stretch of some seriously impressive landscape, on quiet lanes along the lazy Yulong river. This is nicely tranquil and the villages along these routes are a pleasant insight into how both Xingping & Yangshuo probably used to be before the explosion in Tourism. They are well worth a visit. The whole trip took 6 hours, which included a dip in the river to cool off, many photo stops, and a quick barter with an old lady who was selling flower crowns to keep Steph happy.
Feeling a little fatigued, the afternoon consisted of a visit to the on-site hostel cake shop, more beers and more lounging in the hostel pool. Another visit to West street for dinner rounded things off nicely.
** If you’re not up or the cycling Yangshuo has buckets of other activities available, rock climbing, kayaking, there are more karst mountains to summit and even an underground spa, in short, a very cool place **
Day 7: Yangshuo to Guilin
How to get back to Guilin: 90 minute bus from Yangshuo to Guilin
Where we stayed in Guilin: Guilin Central WADA hostel
A lazy start after an action-packed week, we enjoyed the big breakfasts available at Sudder Street hostel and then headed down to the south bus station to go back to Guilin. The bus takes 90 minutes and costs Y35. Make sure you get on the Express bus or you’ll do a never-ending tour of the Guilin countryside like we did. Once we finally arrive back into Guilin we checked back into Guilin Central WADA hostel, picked up our bags and headed out for one last meal. A dreamy week exploring South China.
Where to stay in Guilin, Longji and Yangshuo
Guilin Central WADA hostel: Central location, on-site restaurant, luggage storage, large dorms and privates
Wanjinglou hotel, Dazhai: Very friendly staff, amazing views, dinner available, large cheap privates
Xingping This Old Place hostel: Fantastic rooftop terrace, adjoining restaurant, central, lots of information,
Yangshuo Sudder Street Guesthouse: Hostel pool, on-site cake shop, breakfasts available, quieter area, free bike hire, dorms and privates
And for something a little more fancy;
The Wing hotel, Guilin: Amazing views over the city, in a central location, large modern rooms, fitness centre, and a shared lounge.
Tea Rhythm Guest House, Yangshuo: Beautifully decorated rooms overlooking Yangshuo’s mountains, restaurant, room service, bar, garden, barbecue and terrace.
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