Guilin has always been famous in China for its scenery. While rapid economic growth and a booming tourist trade have diminished some of Guilin’s charm it’s still one of China’s greener, more scenic cities. If you can handle the hectic traffic, most of Guilin’s limestone karst peaks and parks are a short bicycle ride away. There is also a wealth of restaurants – particularly of the outdoor point-and-choose variety – to experiment with, a few with English menus to boot.
Unfortunately, locals don’t shy from cashing in on Guilin’s popularity. Most tourist sights levy heavy entry fees and many travellers tell of being grossly overcharged at restaurants throughout town. Near the train and bus stations, touts appear at every turn.
Guilin prefecture was organised in 214 BC during the Qin dynasty and developed as a transport centre with the building of the Ling Canal, which linked the important Zhu Jiang and Chang Jiang systems. Under the Ming it was a provincial capital, a status it retained until 1914 when the capital was transferred to Nanning. During the 1930s and throughout WWII, Guilin was a Communist stronghold with refugees swelling its population from about 100,000 to over one million.
Most of Guilin lies on the west bank of Li Jiang. The main artery is Zhongshan Lu, which runs roughly parallel to the river on its western side. At the southern end of this street (Zhongshan Nanlu) is Guilin’s train station. Zhongshan Zhonglu is a rapidly gentrifying stretch of tourist-class hotels, shops and expensive restaurants.
Closer to the centre of town, north-east of Rong Hu and Shan Hu, is Guilin’s new Central Square (Zhongxin GuAngcMng) and the main shopping and eating district. Farther along Zhongshan Beilu is the main commercial area of the city.
Heading east on Jiefang Donglu and crossing over Liberation Bridae, will bring you to large QTxing Gongyuan, one of the town’s chief attractions.
Maps There are a couple of reliable maps of Guilin. The Tourist Map of Guilin (Y4) is a good one that includes a bit of English.
Tourist Offices Several tourist booths can help you with directions and transport and may be able to assist you in booking accommodation or offering tour information (‘$ 282 7491). Some staff speak a little English. The main booths are in front of the train station and inside the bus station. Most of the others are located at park entrances and are usually open only during summer.
CITS’s FIT department (Tel: 286 1623) at 41 Ronghu Beilu has friendly and reasonably helpful staff offering a range of tours including a half-day city tour (Y200) and a full-day Li Jiang tour (Y460). They also organise longer trips, but prefer larger groups.
The main branch of the Bank of China is on Shanhu Beilu. For changing money and travellers cheques, you can use the branches at the corner of Shanghai Lu and Zhongshan Nanlu – next to the train station – and at Zhongshan Nanlu, near Yinding Lu. Most tourist hotels also have foreign exchange services.
The main post and telephone office is on Zhongshan Beilu. There is a second post office on the north corner of the large square in front of the train station.
A 24-hour Internet cafe sits inside the xouthern entrance to the Xinhua Bookshop oil Zhongshan Zhonglu (Y4 per hour). Another Internet cafe is opposite the main post office and is open from 9am to 10pm daily 1 Y3 per hour).
Guilin’s Xinhua Bookshop, north along Zhongshan Beilu, has a foreign language section that carries a selection of English classics and photo-travel books on Guilin.
The PSB office ($ 582 9930) is on the cast side of Li Jiang, south off Longyin Lu, and is open from 8.30am to noon and 3pm to 6pm Monday to Friday. They can help with visa extensions.