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The Chinese consider Guilin to be the major scenic spot in their country. The reason will become abundantly clear when you take your scheduled cruise on the Li River. The city was founded in B.C. 214 and in time, became the provincial capital under the Ming (1368-1644). Today, the city is undergoing massive construction. It appears that over half of it is being torn down or being dug up. Perhaps, by the time of your visit, you'll see the results.
Fuboshan: This is the dominant hill on the banks of the Li River, in the heart of Guilin. It was named after a Han general who passed through on a military campaign. On the hill, there used to be a temple dedicated to him, but all that remains now is a huge bell, and a large cooking pot. In the hill, is a famous cave, which contains Buddha carvings. At another place, you can see the Thousand Buddha Cliff with about 300 carvings of Buddha. There are steps up to the top... not a strenuous climb... for outstanding views of the city. Along the way are rest stops and a pavilion about 1/2 way to the top. At the base of the hill are a park and a parking area for buses. There are excellent views of the river from here. Incidentally, in that parking area, one will find the usual vendors and also, something unusual for China... Beggars, who all seem to have some deformity. Tourists are told to ignore, because begging is to be discouraged in China.
Reed Flute Cave: This cave is located about 5 miles northwest of Guilin. The visit takes about 30 minutes. Reed Flute Cave has been known for over a thousand years and the name comes from the reeds growing around the mouth of the cave. Inside, the stalactites and stalagmites are attractively lit with colored lights, and your guide will "help" you see all kinds of real and mythical creatures in the formations. The largest grotto inside is called The Crystal Palace... with a small lake with formations on the side that look exactly like the skyline of New York City. After visiting the cave, your group will walk up to a lookout point for views over the city. Expect to find vendors all along your walk.
Elephant Hill: This famous formation is visible from many parts of Guilin. It will be pointed out to you frequently as "Elephant Trunk Hill"... and by the 3rd or 4th time you see it, maybe you'll understand that it does look somewhat like an elephant whose trunk dips into the Li River.
Li River Cruise: This cruise will be one of your finest excursions in China. The trip usually commences about 8 or 9 AM, and it is necessary to take your tour bus to the beginning of the cruise... taking about 1 hour. Upon arrival at the "loading area" you'll understand how popular this cruise is. The dock area will be packed with boats, but it's well organized and your guide will direct you to the right boat, where you can take a seat at tables, or wander around and watch as the boats begin to depart. Sometimes the water is so low, that the larger ships must be towed, but that doesn't detract from the cruise. Once your boat departs you'll see limestone mountains and many strange formations, which rise, out of the green plains. It all conveys a sense of mystery as all these strange formations were once underwater. Throughout your journey you will be surrounded by scenery of indescribable beauty. There's no other place on earth that looks like the formations along the banks of the Li River. However, don't get so absorbed with the beauty of the formations that you neglect to see the activity on the river and along its banks. You'll see numerous small bamboo-pole boats... farmers harvesting the "seaweed" from the floor of the river... children playing and swimming, with some coming dangerously close to the boat... water buffalo on the shore and in the water, grazing from the floor of the river...and the fishermen who use trained cormorants who dive into the water, trap fish in their beaks, and bring them back to the fisherman's boat. To prevent the birds from eating the fish, they have a string tied around their neck. The cruise will end downstream at the colorful market town of Yangdi. Upon departing, you'll find a swarm of vendors and the bargaining is frantic. Your bus will be waiting nearby, and the drive back to Guilin takes about two hours.
Note: The cruise will include a lunch on board. On all the ships, the kitchen is in the back of the boat... open to the river. Watch them prepare the food, and you'll see that all dishes are washed in the river, and that river water is used in the preparation of your food. It is recommended that you do not eat the food, but do not embarrass the chinese by letting them serve your table unless you plan to eat. Tell them, in advance, some reason why you do not wish to have food. Many people plan ahead for this cruise and bring snacks or food from the hotel. Of course, the beer and orange drink served will be okay.
Back in Guilin: Because one comes to Guilin mainly for the cruise, you'll probably find the pacing here more relaxed than in other cities in China. If you're lucky enough to have a hotel with a river view, you'll enjoy resting in front on the window and watching life on the river... and some of the most beautiful sunsets in the world.