The Best Things to Do in Guilin

Things to do in Guilin

We are in our penultimate location in China. We’re in Guilin, the land of the bamboo boat trips on the River Li, the Reed Flute Cave, and beautiful karst mountains all around. We spent several days here exploring the area and taking in Guilin’s attractions. And here’s our guide to the best things to do in Guilin.


We have three more days left on our visa and then we need to be out. We’ll be exiting the same way that we came in, by walking across the border, but this time from Shenzhen into Hong Kong, first though we get to spend time in Guilin and explore our last Chinese city (and countryside) for a while.

It seems rather fitting that on our first entrance to China, we headed for and spent time exploring Rice fields (that was the Yuanyang Rice Terraces, which you can read about here) and that’s one of the attractions we’ll be visiting from Guilin, another rice terrace that’s world famous.

The 5 Best Things to do in Guilin

We’ve arrived in Guilin for our last few days in China. And we’re determined to make the most of it. We’re using Guilin as a base and planning to visit another famous rice terrace, we’re going to take a very famous trip down the River Li. And there are a few other things here in Guilin that the city is famous for. So let’s get on.

1. Take a Bamboo Boat Cruise on the River Li

This is likely the most famous thing to do in Guilin.

My first thought as the train came into Guilin was that it was like Halong Bay on land and that thought intensified as we arrived at the Li River.

Picturesque River Li Guilin

We were taking a Bamboo Boat from Yangdi Pier, about 30 minutes from Guilin to the village of Xingping, and then heading down to Yangshuo.

PVC Bamboo Boat on the River Li

While the trip is marketed as a Bamboo boat the boat is actually made of PVC pipes that are supposed to look like Bamboo, except most of them are blue. Apart from those that have the flaking paint job. They’re PVC because it’s more durable and the river runs quite fast, the boats run quite fast too, when, like our driver, they’re clearly of the mindset that the sooner they get there, the sooner they’ll get rid of these bloody tourists.

River Li Guilin River Boat

We’re in China, so we weren’t surprised that it was busy. This is a popular trip to take. There is a veritable armada of little PVC bamboo boats, each taking four passengers on a distinctly uncomfortable bamboo seat for the one hour and 20-minute trip down the Li River.

Bamboo Boats on the River Li Guilin

We race down, literally. Bumping other crafts, the driver yells backward and forward with others. We stop for a photo stop, decline the official photo and we’re off again.

Bamboo Boats on the River Li

It’s very very pretty, the scenery is stunning, the other boats become less of a nuisance mid-trip and we relax and take in the majestic views all around us. There is the obligatory gauntlet of vendors to run at the other end in order to find your way to the little electric golf cart that takes us to the bus. At the end of the boat trip, there’s the chance to take the same photo that is shown on the back of the 20 Yuan note, which of course we do, like everyone else.

20 Yuan Note and River Li

2. Eat Beer Fish in Yangshuo

We lunch in Yangshuo, 30 minutes away, taking the advice of our tour guide and having the local specialty, Beer Fish, a local carp that is cooked, scales, and all in beer. It’s a bargain apparently at 35 Yuan, and one is enough for two people, it really is very tasty, although the leftover bones would feed a small pack of dogs.

Beer Fish in Yangshuo

We passed through Yangshuo very quickly, but it’s a superb place to spend more time – check out this guide on what to do in Yangshuo.

3. Visit the Dragon River near Guilin

We decide to tack on a further trip, this time on a real bamboo boat, on the Yulong, or Dragon River, so we hop back on the bus for another 30 minutes.

Real Bamboo Boat Dragon River Guilin

We start with a display of cormorant fishing, where with no ceremony whatsoever the cormorant, string tied around his neck is chucked in the river and pops up literally seconds later with a fish that he’s trying to swallow.

Fishing with Cormorants on the Dragon River

Two more fish later, which are squeezed out of his throat by the fisherman and we’re on our way down the river. Peaceful it may be, because of the lack of engines, this is all bamboo pole and paddle power, but again there’s a heck of a lot of boats!

This is one of the most unique places to visit in China. Want to see some of the others?

It’s also a popular spot for wedding photos, although the girls are all wearing the same dress by the looks of it and in one case the dude is rocking a pink shirt and cargo pants outfit that will make his mother cry.

Wedding Photo Spot Guilin

There are two weirs that we go down, described by the guide as waterfalls, as we go over the first of which, we’re told to tuck our camera away because it’s dangerous and we have to hold the arms of the chair we’re on. Turns out it’s only dangerous to the revenue-generating operation of the local folks. 20 Yuan will buy you the photo, the next waterfall is clearly not as dangerous as we’re allowed to photograph anything.

Bamboo Raft on the Dragon River

It’s a very different experience to our last Chinese boat, the Yangtze River Cruise

It’s not long before we’re turned around and heading back up, We navigate the “waterfalls” with a small lift that we’re hoisted up through, and we land upstream heavily getting very wet. This part isn’t dangerous apparently as there is no warning to put your camera away. Take this as your warning. You and your stuff will get wet on both of the waterfalls. I think you get wetter if you didn’t buy the 20 yuan photo, but I could be sarcastically mistaken.

Waterfall lift on the Dragon River

We’re returned to the river bank and our final stop here is in the car park to feed the Water Buffalo. Turns out those water buffalo that we met in Vietnam, the ones that we backtracked through a riverside walk to avoid, well they’re gentle apparently. All you need is a handful of leafy greens and you’ll have them eating out of your hand. Literally.

Water Buffalo near Guilin

Touristy? Yes, very. Also expensive – a total of 320 Yuan for the two trips, and we’ll blow another 220 Yuan each going to see the Longsheng Rice Terraces now but we’ve adopted a what the hell, two more days in China attitude and these are the last few things on our list.

5. Visit the Longsheng Ricefields aka Longji Rice Terraces

So Longsheng is where we’re heading today. Now all we have to do is survive the bus journey, which is proving interesting, most of the bus seats are broken, they recline at will and if the bus ever had any shock absorbers, they are long shocked out of existence, and the rice terraces three-hour drive seems like a very very long way.

The seats have sagged into that delicious old sofa type of comfort. We’re sat right over the axle, which is knackered which means that every bump just plain hurts. I mean we hurt on behalf of the bus. Badly. But strangely the time passes quickly and on our arrival at the entrance gate, we transfer to a smaller bus and take a “Bus to Shangri-La” like experience up the 9 kilometers to the ACTUAL entrance gate to the rice terraces area.

Longsheng Rice Terraces

This is our third rice terraces area – we started in Sapa, in Northern-most Vietnam, and headed to XinJie and Beautiful Yuanyang and now we’re here, completing the trifecta. The terraces are vast and stunning. We thought that the rice would be further along, after all, back when we were in Yuanyang nearly a month ago, the rice was just a few weeks away from harvesting, but here, it looks like it’s a long time off.

Dragons Back Bone Rice Terraces

The landscape is very different here, there are lots of trees for instance. The walkways are specifically designed for tourists and we’re not just following the track that the farmers take, like we did in Yuanyang. The views from the top are magnificent, but somehow, it feels like it’s more for tourists than for rice now. Even the lunch stop that we have halfway up the terraces is somewhat of a conveyor belt, good though it is. There are vendors galore. We taste honeycomb but fail to purchase as the taste was more than enough, and once again, it’s swelteringly hot so we’re glad for any shade and rest.

5. Eat Guilin’s Famous Rice Noodles

The three hours back to Guilin pass quickly, and it’s fitting as we prepare for our last night in China, that we head out looking for noodles, as that’s how we started in the country. This time we spent the huge sum of 9 Yuan (GBP 0.90) on a bowl each of Guilin’s famous rice noodles before we leave.

Guilin Rice Noodles

Travel Tips for Exploring China

Final Words on 5 Top Things to Do in Guilin

It was a glorious way to spend our final few days in China. Exploring the rice fields, eating great local food and taking trips on the famous rivers near Guilin. But we had to head off. Our time in China finished with our longest hard sleeper train – 13 hours will see us arriving in Shenzhen around 11 am, ready to start on the next phase of this adventure.

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