About Guilin and Yangshuo

Why choose Yangshuo over Guilin

What about Guilin that makes you stay there and why should you not spend too much time in Guilin city but immediately continue to Yangshuo, 65 km further south.

Two Restaurants in Guilin
Two towers in Guilin with restaurants but they belong to the
new attractions as they are no older then 20 years!

To understand the question we need to go back to the early 1980’s. It was a time when the Communist regime in Beijing had a firm grip over where travelers could go to. Many places in China were off limits. This situation continued until the late 1990’s when slowly the restrictions disappeared.

Shopping plaza  in Guilin city center
City center in Guilin… yes, it could be anywhere…

In the early days when the backpackers slowly started to explore the lesser known areas in China, Guilin was already a famous name in China. Wherever you went, everyone told you to go to Guilin. What was so fascinating about Guilin? The answer was the spectacular limestone mountains “just” south of the city.

One of the entrance gates to Jing Jiang Prince City Guilin
One of the entrance gates to Jing Jiang Prince City Guilin

I write “just” south, as 65 km in China is a small distance. In the early days of traveling in China, you could take a bus from Guilin to Yangshuo but you could not get off in between. Even renting a bicycle, an activity which is still popular, was not officially allowed although accepted.

So most travelers stayed in Guilin. And it was Guilin that got the name where you should travel too. But was there anything interesting about Guilin to make your stay worth for longer then a night once you could stay in Yangshuo?

The Guilin Yangshuo ferries in Yangshuo town center
The ferry docking in Yangshuo

Sure, Guilin has some interesting places to visit, think of the 7 Star Park, the Jing Jiang Prince City Guilin and Elephant Trunk Hill. Still, the real deal was the surrounding of Yangshuo, it was what made Guilin famous!

Slowly the river cruises started up and became as popular as they are now with over 130 boats in the high season on the river.

Yangshuo from the bridge on the road to Fuli

When I arrived in Guilin by train in the middle of the night in 1996, there were hardly cheap hotels available. So I moved the next morning to Yangshuo, which by that time had changed into a backpackers paradise. In Yangshuo, the backpackers told me, you can eat bread, have pancakes and pizza, drink coffee and enjoy people talking English.

Yangshuo, together with Dali and Lijiang was at the time, an escape from China. There were a few cheap guesthouses and hostels. West Street was hardly paved. Most shoplots here were grocery and hardware stores. A few of the later well known names as Drifters and Lisa’s had just opened their doors but most of the activity was still gathered around the beginning of West Street, with the Paradise Hotel in the center.

Photo from my first visit to Yangshuo
Photo from my first visit to Yangshuo

So it was Yangshuo, not Guilin where you should be. But what about Guilin then? How did Guilin manage to keep the name as the place to be? Simple, in the early days Guilin was heavily promoted by CITS, the Chinese Tourism board. From Guilin you could do daytrips, so you stayed in Guilin.

Times have changed. Yangshuo has overshadowed Guilin as the place to be even though Guilin is still the main entry and exit point for many travelers with an international airport and many trains and buses to many tourist destinations in China.

Xingping at the Li River where the ferry stops

This site has not changed in 25 years,
the scenery in Xingping on the ferry from Guilin to Yangshuo

Today there is little to keep you busy in Guilin. The attractions from the early days are but a shadow of the scenery in Yangshuo. Even for shopping, Yangshuo is better equipped then Guilin. Still, many travelers talk about Guilin, especially overseas Chinese and older travelers. And some international travel agencies still promote Guilin instead of Yangshuo which ads to the confusion.

Guilin has tried to re-take its place as travelers center by building nice shopping malls and good hotels. But to be honest, if you want to go shopping, you can go to any place, no need to spend time in Guilin and with the far more extensive shopping facilities in Yangshuo there’s less and less need for too.

My personal advice about Guilin

Skip it, come directly to Yangshuo and if you really want to explore Guilin city, take a bus and spend half a day in the city. Don’t waste time and money in Guilin, Yangshuo has everything Guilin can offer and much more! One afternoon is more then enough.