Guangxi Cuisine

Guangxi cuisine is an anomaly amongst Chinese cuisines in that it is known for borrowing elements of other styles of cuisine rather than having its own distinct flavour. It is sour, but not as sour as Hunan cuisine. It is light, but not as light as Cantonese cuisine. It is spicy, but not as spicy as Sichuan cuisine. This diversity is due to the fact that Guangxi has been heavily influenced by Cantonese culture in neighbouring Guangdong province and by the numerous resident ethnic minorities, such as the Zhuang, Yao, Dong, Miao and Bai people, to name but a few.

However, unlike many other southern Chinese styles, Guangxi is distinguished by its frequent use of noodles instead of rice. Though rice is served with every meal, as is the tradition in the south of China, many of the signature dishes in Guangxi are made using rice noodles. Guangxi signature dishes have also been heavily influenced by the Li River, which is the source of many key ingredients. From hearty river snails to fat, fleshy river fish, when you’re in Guangxi a taste of the Li River is always on the menu.

Stuffed River Snails (阳朔酿田螺)

Stuffed River Snails

These are not your average, garden-variety snails. Locals say that snails found in the Li River are so huge that they could be mistaken for ping pong balls. Though this snail dish may seem a little off putting to Western sensibilities, it is a true labour of love that tastes far better than you’d imagine. The snails are first disgorged in clean water in order to remove any of the grit from within the shell. The snails are then quickly steamed in their shells before the snail meat is removed and finely chopped along with fresh mint, garlic, chillies and a small helping of pork. This aromatic mixture is delicately spooned back into the snail shells and cooked to perfection. This dish is full of punchy, refreshing flavours, from the strong mint to the fiery chillies right through to the rich, meaty flavour of the snails. Don’t let the content put you off, stuffed river snails are a must-try in Guangxi!

Beer Fish (啤酒鱼)

Beer Fish

This signature dish comes directly from the county town of Yangshuo and is arguably the most famous dish in that region. The local flavours in this dish make it impossible to replicate anywhere else, and this adds to its rustic charm. First, a catfish weighing between 1 to 1.5 kilograms is sourced from the Li River. Many restaurants in Yangshuo will keep a hefty number of these catfish in large freshwater tanks so that the freshness of the fish is retained and diners can choose which fish they want. The fish is then gutted and cut in half but the scales are left on. It is fried in camellia oil until the scales are a crispy golden brown and the tender, white flesh is cooked through.

The cooked fish is then boiled in a mixture of water, local Liquan beer, tomatoes, chillies, ginger, and other vegetables. The locals maintain that the fish must be cooked using water from the Li River and Liquan brand beer, or else you risk losing the dish’s distinctive flavour. When this soup has reduced, the dish is ready to serve. In spite of the copious amounts of beer and chillies in the soup, the dish has a noticeably sour taste. The heat from the chillies is just enough to give the soup some punch, but it is the soup’s wonderful tanginess that complements the crispy, tender fish perfectly.

Luosifen (螺蛳粉)

luoshifen

Luosifen is a popular dish from Liuzhou that is renowned for its unusual, spicy flavour. The broth used in luosifen has been painstakingly made over a period of several hours. This broth is made by stewing river snails and pork bones with black cardamom, fennel seed, dried tangerine peel, cassia bark, cloves, white pepper, bay leaf, liquorice root, sand ginger, and star anise. This effusion of ingredients creates an aromatic mix that will both tantalise and confuse the senses. When it comes to luosifen, you’re never quite sure exactly what it tastes of but you know it tastes great.

The soup is not actually served with any of the snail meat, but instead comes with a hefty portion of pickled vegetables, tofu skin, fresh green vegetables, peanuts, and chillies. The broth is then poured over thick, hearty rice noodles and served with a choice of garnishes, including crushed chillies, garlic, soy sauce, and coriander. This dish was originally only served in small, “hole-in-the-wall” type restaurants but its growing popularity means it can now be found in many luxury restaurants across Guangxi and even in some other big cities, such as Beijing and Shanghai. If you fancy a dish that will rouse all of your senses, luosifen is the one for you!

Lipu Taro Looped Meat (荔浦芋头扣肉)

Lipu Taro Looped Meat

This dish is traditionally served as part of a banquet or on festival occasions, although now it is widely available in restaurants throughout Guangxi. Like Beer Fish, this dish has a distinct local flavour thanks to its locally sourced ingredients. Taro is a type of yam popular in China and known for its characteristically purple flesh. The taro in this dish must be sourced from Lipu County, which is about 104 kilometres south of Guilin, as it is supposedly the best in all of Guangxi. This taro is combined with pork belly, pepper, garlic, fermented bean curd, wine, honey and several other seasonings to form a dish that is rich and full of flavour.

The taro and the pork belly are first deep-fried separately in vegetable oil until they are both golden brown and the succulent fat of the pork is tantalisingly crispy. The taro and pork belly are then combined, along with the other ingredients, and cooked in a large pot or pressure cooker until the sauce is thick and the aroma is irresistible. The glazed slices of delicious pork belly and the soft, spongy flesh of the taro combine perfectly to create a truly delicious, filling dish.

 

Taste some authentic Guangxi Cuisine on our travel: Explore the culture of Ethnic minorities in Southeast Guizhou

Daxu Ancient Town

Daxu Ancient Town is like a small pearl nestled on the bank of the Li River. Although it is considered one of the Four Great Ancient Towns of Guangxi, it rarely receives visitors and has yet to be officially made into a tourist attraction. This means that, unlike other ancient towns, it is free to enter and there are hardly any crowds there to obstruct your unhindered joy of the fine architecture, flagstone streets, and locals plying their simple trade. Daxu Ancient Town is located on the east bank of the Li River, about 23 kilometres (14.3 miles) southeast of the city of Guilin. Its history dates back over 2,000 years, when Qin Shi Huang of the Qin Dynasty (221-206 B.C.) built the Lingqu Canal and connected the Xiang River from the Yangtze River system to the Li River.

Once these rivers were connected, Daxu begin to blossom as one of the leading trade and transportation hubs in the country. Daxu was one of the few ports along the river that connected Central China with South China, so it was a vital stopping point for traders transporting goods across the country. By the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1126), Daxu was one of the richest and most influential towns in Guangxi province. Its success peaked during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and this was when many of its landmark buildings, such as the ancient main road and the Longevity Bridge, were built. However, by the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1912), the development of modern railways had rendered Daxu redundant as a trade hub and its prosperity rapidly declined. Thanks to the tireless efforts of the local people, unlike the ghost towns on the Silk Road, Daxu Ancient Town has continued to survive and thrive well into the 21st century.

The Old Street, which stretches 2.5 kilometres through the town, is the greatest remnant of the town’s glorious past. It is paved with blue flagstones that have been worn smooth by centuries of footsteps, cartwheels and horse hooves. The thirteen docks that were once used during Daxu’s booming era of trade still stand and five of them are so well-maintained that they are still in use today. As you traverse the Old Street, walking along the same path that so many before you have tread, and reach the fine docks with their simple, wooden platforms, you’ll undoubtedly be transported back to a humbler time, when merchants dressed in silk finery would load their boats with spices, embroidered cloths, and shimmering jewellery, and set sail down the river to the next trade port.

Many of the buildings in Daxu were built during the Ming and Qing dynasties and have sustained the intricate, architectural touches from that time. These wood and stone buildings are decorated with beautiful carvings and the Hanhuang Temple, Gaozu Temple and Longevity Temple are the finest examples of this architectural style. All of these temples were built during the Qing Dynasty, when the town was still prospering, and they exquisitely exhibit the artistry of the architecture at that time. With so many temples in one small place, it is no wonder that Daxu seems so tranquil.

Daxu ancient town03However, the star attraction of Daxu is undoubtedly the Wanshou or Longevity Bridge. This stone arch dates all the way back to the Ming Dynasty and, though simplistic in its design, it provides a wonderful vantage point from which to admire the Li River. If you stand on Longevity Bridge and look out to the west bank, you’ll be greeted with scenes of lush greenery, winding waters, and water buffalo quietly grazing on the shores. Directly across from the bridge, you’ll be met with Millstone Hill and Snail Hill, two of the Karst formations whose names derive from their unusual shapes. Though the architecture of the Longevity Bridge may not be as magnificent as that of the Longevity Temple, the view from the bridge is unmatched.

In the 1990s, an element of mystery was added to Daxu Ancient Town when archaeologists unearthed what are now known as the Seven Star Tombs. These are seven tombs that were found arranged in the shape of the Big Dipper constellation. The size of each tomb is based on the brightness of the star it was meant to represent. It is the first recorded case of such a tomb site in China and the connection between the tombs and the Big Dipper constellation has yet to be elucidated. However, many ancient artefacts, such as pottery and bronze swords, have been excavated from the tombs. Thanks to carbon dating, these artefacts have shown that these tombs date all the way back to the period between the Warring States Period (c. 476-221 B.C.) and the Western Han Dynasty (207 B.C.-25 A.D.).

Aside from the historical importance of Daxu, this town is also a wonderful example of living history. Many of the villagers in Daxu all ply their own traditional handicrafts. The women of Daxu still brew their baijiu[1] using old barrels and a simple distillery, an archaic method for making baijiu that has all but disappeared in more urban parts of China. The locals still craft their bamboo baskets and straw sandals carefully by hand and the traditional Chinese medical clinics, of which there are about 20 in Daxu, still disseminate an aroma of medicinal herbs and traditional remedies throughout the town. Daxu is not simply an ancient town; it is a place of ancient tradition.

To truly immerse yourself in these ancient traditions, we recommend you wander through the streets during market time. This market has been a staple part of daily life in Daxu since the Ming Dynasty, although it has grown smaller over the years. Many villagers will each set up a stall, some selling handicrafts, such as paintings, ceramics or woven cloths, other selling Chinese medicines, and still others plying local delicacies such as quail’s eggs, dried fruit and homemade dumplings. The market is a spectacle of ancient Chinese culture that should not be missed. If you want to immerse yourself in the more rural life of Daxu, some of the local farmers will allow you to go fruit picking on their land. Picking strawberries near the Li River is a wonderful way to while away a few hours and harvest some delicious snacks in the process.

Daxu Ancient Town is relatively easy to get to. There are regular buses from Guilin Bus station that take about 40 minutes to reach the town.

[1] Baijiu: It literally means “white alcohol” or “white liquor” in Chinese. It is a strong, clear spirit that is usually distilled from sorghum, glutinous rice or wheat.

Yangshuo

Yangshuo is a small town tucked away in the Karst Mountains of Guangxi, yet it has become something of an anomaly in China. By ratio, Yangshuo boasts one of the largest populations of English speaking Chinese people and foreign expats in the whole country. As a matter of fact, some locals say it even rivals Beijing and Shanghai as an international hub. Nestled amongst the verdant mountains and beside the rippling waters of the Li River, Yangshuo is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places in Guangxi. It is an ideal place to start any tour of China, since the abundance of English speakers and balanced mixture of Western and Eastern influences makes it an easy introduction to the country.

The name “Yangshuo” derives from the Chinese words “yang” (阳) and “shuo” (朔). “Yang” is the well-known antagonist to “yin” in Taoist philosophy and symbolises positivity, masculinity and light. “Shuo” means “new moon” in Chinese, so the implication is that, night or day, Yangshuo is one of the brightest places on earth. Considering how modern Yangshuo has become, the town has a history that stretches back over 1,000 years. It was founded in 265 A.D., during the Jin Dynasty (265-420), and in 590, during the Sui Dynasty (581-618), the county seat was moved from Xingping to Yangshuo. It has remained the county town ever since, although it is still under the administrative control of Guilin city.

On top of the resident expat population, there is also a substantial constituency of native ethnic minorities, such as the Yao, Hui, Zhuang, and Miao people. This ethnic diversity means that the souvenirs, performances and cuisine on offer in Yangshuo are particularly varied. Stalls featuring Tibetan silver, Dong embroidered cloth, and Miao batik abound throughout the streets of Yangshuo. These little handcrafted trinkets make perfect souvenirs or mementos. There are two main tourist streets, known as West Street and Diecuilu, and they boast the majority of the souvenir stalls. Since the town is located deep within the countryside, there are also numerous fruit and vegetable farms in the vicinity. As you walk down the streets of Yangshuo, you’ll be met with a plethora of fresh fruits you may have never tried before, such as mouth-watering mangosteens, dubious smelling durian, and tantalising persimmons.

Yangshuo was first put on the map by Lonely Island in 1980 when they featured it in their travel guide. Since then, it has remained incredibly popular with foreign and domestic tourists alike. The landscape in Yangshuo has become so popular that it even featured in the movie Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith as Chewbacca’s home planet of Kashyyyk and also featured as a level in the landmark 1993 video game Doom. The image of the Li River on the 20 yuan note is also very close to Yangshuo and so, if you don’t fancy taking the long cruise from Guilin to Yangshuo, travelling directly to Yangshuo to visit the site is far quicker.

Not only is Yangshuo a perfect place to tour the Karst Mountains and the Li River, it is also a popular cycling and rock-climbing destination. As few public buses travel into the countryside, cycling is the ideal method of exploring Yangshuo County and visiting several of the tourist attractions, such as Moon Hill and Big Banyan. You can hire mountain bikes in the town centre for between 20 to 70 yuan (£2 to £7) per day depending on the condition of the bicycle. If you opt for one of the cheaper bicycles, we recommend you check the brakes and suspension before you agree to rent it.

In 1992, American rock climber Todd Skinner first popularised Yangshuo when he pioneered a number of the now established climbing routes, including the “Moonwalker” on the arch of Moon Hill. Nowadays there are plenty of tourist services in Yangshuo that focus exclusively on rock climbing and, with over 200 climbing routes in the vicinity, you’ll be spoilt for choice! Low Mountain, Twin Gates, Baby Frog, The Egg, Bamboo Grove and Wine Bottle Cliff are just a few examples of the scenic climbing spots on offer.

Thanks to the Western expats now living in Yangshuo, the town boasts a variety of Western-style restaurants, cafés and bars that you won’t find in other Chinese towns. The food on offer in most of these restaurants is of a good standard and can provide a much needed rest from Chinese food if you’ve been travelling around the country for too long. Although most places close around 2am, Yangshuo boasts some of the most exciting nightlife in Guangxi. Many hostels will have their own bars and, coupled with the established bars and nightclubs in the town, this makes for a lively and unique atmosphere in the evenings. These hostel bars provide a wonderful opportunity to meet other travellers and backpackers on your journey.

Since the town has been geared up for tourism, there are plenty of hostels and hotels in Yangshuo. Prices and standards can range greatly between them, so we recommend doing some research before you book one. In spite of its popularity with foreign tourists, Yangshuo is not the easiest place to get to. There is no airport or train station in Yangshuo, so you must travel there either by bus or by boat. A boat cruise from Guilin to Yangshuo can take upwards of 4 to 5 hours and is quite expensive, but is worth it for the spectacular views along the Li River. Otherwise, express buses run from Guilin Bus Station to Yangshuo every 10 to 20 minutes and take just under an hour. There are also buses running from Guilin Train Station to Yangshuo every 5 to 10 minutes but these take just under 2 hours.

The Longji Rice Terraces

Although rice terraces wind their way around mountains throughout China, the Longji Rice Terraces are considered to be the most magnificent of them all. They are located in Longsheng County, about 100 kilometres (62 miles) outside of Guilin, and are sometimes referred to as the Longsheng Rice Terraces. The word “longji” means “dragon’s backbone” and these rice terraces earned their unusual name because the terraced fields climbing up the mountain look like dragons’ scales whilst the summit of the mountain range resembles a dragon’s backbone. This gives you an idea as to the sheer scale of these rice terraces.

These terraced fields were all manmade and were first built during the Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368), although many of them weren’t completed until the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911). The majority of them were built over 650 years ago by the Zhuang and Yao ethnic minorities, and are still in use today. They stretch from the riverside right to the summit of the mountains, ranging from between 300 metres to 800 metres above sea level. In some cases, the terraced fields reach heights of approximately 1,100 metres above sea level. They cover a colossal area of 66 square kilometres (25 square miles), which is about three times the size of London Heathrow Airport.

The rice terraces were initially designed to make use of land that was previously thought too difficult to plough. By flattening small surfaces of the mountain, farmers were able to plough them and, via a particularly ingenious irrigation system, pump water into the ploughed fields so that rice could be grown there. This method is still widely used by farmers to this day and the Longji Rice Terraces are no exception. The rice terraces are farmed by the people of Ping’an Village, Longji Ancient Zhuang Village, and the Jinkeng cluster of Red Yao villages. This means that, no matter what season you travel to the rice terraces, you’ll be met with a unique and beautiful sight. When asked which season is the best to visit the terraces, most locals will respond by saying every season is the most beautiful.

In spring, the terraced fields are flooded with water in preparation for the planting of rice seedlings. The crystal clear pools glitter up the sides of the mountain and reflect the flawless blue skies and wandering clouds. In summer, the rice stalks have begun to grow and the mountains are awash with verdant greenery. The lush jade hues of the rice terraces as they trickle down the mountain are amplified by the warm sunlight. In autumn, the rice stalks have turned a golden-brown and are ready to be harvested. The mountains look as though they have been plated with pure gold and rival the magnificence of Beijing’s Forbidden City. In winter, the terraces are left to recover and are covered in a thin blanket of snow. These snowy ribbons running along the mountains resemble white dragons racing each other upstream.

We recommend you plan your visit to the terraces around the seasons so that you get the view you most desire. The terraces are open year round but you do have to pay to enter them. There are three main entrances to the rice terraces: one at Ping’an Village, one at Longji Ancient Zhuang Village, and one at Dazhai Village, which is part of the cluster of Jinkeng villages. From there, you will be given a small pamphlet about the rice terraces and a rudimentary map of the various hikes you can take along them. Most of the paths are well signposted, so you need only follow the maps displayed at various intervals if you happen to lose your map. If you’re still feeling unsure about the hike, you can hire a private guide or, in some cases, there will be some older local women waiting at the entrance who can speak enough English to act as your tour guide.

The hike from Ping’an to the summit takes about 2 hours but the hikes from the Jinkeng cluster of villages can take slightly longer. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even hike from Ping’an to the Jinkeng villages, which takes about 3 hours. If you plan on spending longer than a day at the rice terraces, then there are some more advanced hikes that can take several hours and will reward you with access to the less tourist oriented parts of the mountains. However, if you plan on taking simply a daytrip to the rice terraces, you need to plan carefully as the last buses to Longsheng leave around 4.30pm, so it is recommended you aim to leave the scenic area by about 3pm.

If you’re having trouble choosing which villages to visit, there’s no need to worry! We’ve dedicated a group of articles to describing the benefits and pitfalls of each of the villages that give access to the rice terraces, from the larger village of Ping’an right through to the small Red Yao village of Huangluo.

Guilin

In China, there is a popular saying which goes “the scenery in Guilin is the greatest under heaven” (桂林山水甲天下). So beautiful are the Karst Mountains around Guilin that, when the Song Dynasty poet Fan Chengda sent paintings of them back to his colleagues, they could not believe what they saw. The name “Guilin” (桂林) is comprised of two characters: “gui”, which means “osmanthus”, and “lin”, which means “forest”. “Guilin” can therefore be translated to mean the “Forest of Sweet Osmanthus” and the city is so named thanks to the prolific number of osmanthus trees that keep the streets and parks smelling so sweet. The lush Karst Mountains, blossoming osmanthus trees, and majestic Li River combine to make an ethereal paradise. It is no wonder people doubted its existence!

Guilin is a prefecture-level city in the north of Guangxi and is the third largest city in the region, after Nanning and Liuzhou respectively. The city has a population of nearly 5 million people. It is important to bear in mind that Beijing’s population is over double that of Guilin so, by Chinese standards, Guilin is a relatively small city. It is also home to 14 different ethnic minorities, including Zhuang, Yao, Miao, Dong, and Bai people, to name but a few. This thriving community of Han Chinese, non-Chinese and various ethnic minorities means that Guilin is one of the more culturally diverse cities in China. Surrounding the city, Karst Mountains loom up from 100 metres at their lowest to over to 2,100 metres at the peak of Kitten Mountain, the tallest peak in the south of China. This is the source of the Li River; a water-body so magnificent that it was deemed worthy to be printed on the 20 yuan note.

The Li River is not only a thriving tourist attraction; it was the very reason why Guilin was initially settled. In 314 B.C. a small settlement was established on the banks of the Li River. In 111 B.C., during the reign of Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty (206 B.C. – 220 A.D.), Shi’an County was established on what is considered to be the site of modern-day Guilin. Thanks to the Li River, this county town was developed into a transportation hub during the Tang (618-907) and Song (960-1279) dynasties, as the river was the only way to transport goods from Central China to South China at that time. In 1921 it became one of the main headquarters for the Northern Expeditionary Army led by Sun Yat-sen[1] but it wasn’t until 1940 that it was finally named Guilin. In 1981, the State Council listed Guilin, alongside Beijing, Hangzhou and Suzhou, as one of the four cities where the preservation of historical and culture heritage and the protection of natural scenery should be treated with paramount importance.

As you can see, on top of being an area of great natural beauty, Guilin significantly influenced the development of China, and its many attractions reflect this. Jingjiang Princes’ City, Guilin Art Museum, Guilin Museum, and the Li River Folk Custom Centre are just a few of the many places where you can learn about Guilin’s rich heritage. There are also a number of charming parks in the city, such as Black Hill Botanic Garden, Seven Star Park, and West Hill Park, where you can while away a peaceful afternoon and admire the many osmanthus trees. Aside from these wonderful local attractions, Guilin has become popular with tourists primarily because it is only a short trip away from some of the most magnificent places in Guangxi, such as Yangshuo County Town, Daxu Ancient Town, and the Longji Rice Terraces. From ancient transportation centre to modern-day tourist hub, Guilin has always been the heart of Guangxi.

[1] Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925): A Chinese revolutionary who played an instrumental role in overthrowing the Qing Dynasty, abolishing imperial rule and founding the People’s Republic of China.

Enjoy the fantastic land view in Guilin on our travel: Explore the culture of Ethnic minorities in Southeast Guizhou

Guangxi

Like its northern cousin Guizhou, Guangxi is one of the poorer regions of China. Yet, unlike Guizhou, the tourism industry in Guangxi is huge and many of the region’s cities economically depend upon tourism. Guangxi is rich in cultural heritage sites, stunning natural scenery, and adventure tourism, making it the perfect place to travel and get a taste of what southern China is like. Although it was formerly a province, in 1958 it was changed into an autonomous region and its full name is in fact Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, as the region is home to over 90% of the country’s Zhuang population.

The name “Guangxi” dates all the way back to the Song Dynasty (960–1279), although back then it was known as “Guangnan Xilu” or “Wide Northwestern Road”. During the Yuan Dynasty (1206–1368), the name was abbreviated to “Guangxi”, which simply means “Western Expanse” in Chinese and was intended to match its eastern cousin Guangdong (“Eastern Expanse”). The name can be further abbreviated to “Gui”, which derives from the former provincial capital of Guilin.

Guangxi is bordered by Yunnan to the west, Guizhou to the north, Hunan to the northeast, and Guangdong to the east and southeast. It also borders Vietnam in the southwest. The region is relatively mountainous, although not quite as mountainous as Guizhou. Guangxi is characterised by its many beautiful rivers, the most famous of which is the Li River. Since it is so far south, Guangxi has a subtropical, monsoon climate that verges on being almost tropical. In the summer the temperature can reach peaks of up to 29°C and in the winter it can drop to between 6°C and 16°C. The rainfall in Guangxi is primarily concentrated in spring and summer, with 80% of its rain falling between April and September each year. The climate in Guangxi makes it perfect for plant-life and the region supports a wealth of lush, tropical greenery throughout the year.

Although the Han Chinese are the largest ethnic group in Guangxi, the area is also home to over 14 million people of the Zhuang ethnic minority. There are also significant numbers of people from the Dong and Miao ethnic minorities and smaller populations of Yao, Hui, Yi, and Shui people. This melting pot of ethnicities, along with Guangxi’s proximity to Guangdong, has deeply impacted the region’s culture. In eastern Guangxi, much of the culture and language has been heavily influence by Cantonese culture, which made its way into Guangxi via the Xi River Valley in Guangdong. Nowadays the most noticeable effect of this ethnic diversity is the linguistic diversity of the region. In the city of Nanning alone, three different dialects of Chinese are spoken, along with various Zhuang languages and languages of other ethnic minorities.

guangxiAlthough Nanning is the capital of Guangxi, Guilin is considered to be the best place for tourism. Guilin boasts access to some of China’s most famous tourist attractions, including the Li River, the Karst Mountains and the Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces of Longsheng. However, a trip to Guangxi wouldn’t be complete without a trip to Guangxi Museum in Nanning or the Silver Beach of Beihai. With its lush forests, towering mountains, complex ethnic heritage, and powdery white beaches, Guangxi has something to suit everyone.

Join a travel with us to explore more about Guangxi ProvinceExplore the culture of Ethnic minorities in Southeast Guizhou

Elephant Trunk Hill

If you visit the city of Guilin, you will undoubtedly come across elephants. Whether they are in a business’ logo, a restaurant’s name, or on the front of a travel brochure, elephants have become a symbol of Guilin, and this is all thanks to Elephant Trunk Hill. Locals in Guilin say that if you have been to Elephant Trunk Hill then you have been to Guilin, which shows just how important this natural wonder is to the city and its people. Elephant Trunk Hill (Xiangbi Hill) is a Karst formation that has naturally formed on the western bank of the Li River just outside of Guilin city. It is so named because it looks like a thirsty elephant dipping its trunk into the river to drink. It rises over 55 metres over the waters of the Li River and measures 108 metres in length and 100 metres in width. In the past, it has been referred to by many names, such as “Li Hill”, “Yi Hill”, and “Chenshui Hill”, but it is now widely known as Elephant Trunk Hill.

Between the “trunk” and the “legs” of the elephant, there is a large hole or cave known as Shui Yue or Water Moon Cave. It is a semi-round cave that has been completely penetrated by water, with the Li River flowing directly through it. The cave is 17 metres long, 12 metres high and 9.5 metres wide, meaning visitors can easily pass through the mouth of the cave on foot. Though this stunning cave is undoubtedly a beautiful sight during the day, it becomes most magnificent at dusk and nightfall. When the sun begins to set, the surrounding rock around the Water Moon Cave casts a shadow on the water and light can only pass directly through the cave itself. The light passing through the open mouth of the cave creates a reflection on the water that looks just like a full moon, hence the name “Water Moon Cave”.

This natural phenomenon is unique to Water Moon Cave and has served to inspire Chinese poets and artists throughout the ages. If you travel into the mouth of the cave, you’ll find inscriptions on its walls applauding its beauty that date back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907). Among these inscriptions, there is even one by the poet Lu You (1125-1210), who was one of the four great poets of the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279).

There is another, smaller cave embedded into the side of Elephant Trunk Hill that is often referred to as Elephant Eye Cave. It is so-called because it goes straight through the hill and is just above the “trunk” of the elephant, making it look like the “eyes” of the elephant. This cave is about 2 metres high, 5 to 10 metres wide and 52 meters long. Visitors can climb Elephant Trunk Hill to Elephant Eye Cave and are rewarded with a panoramic view of the surrounding landscape from the cave. If you’re an avid photographer and are feeling adventurous, we strongly recommend scaling the heights of the hill to reach Elephant Eye Cave, as it provides many unique photographic opportunities.

Far off in the distance, on the elephant’s “back”, you may notice a small pagoda jutting out of the lush greenery. This is a 14 metre-high, two-storey pagoda called Puxian Pagoda, which was built during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). It is dedicated to an enlightened being or bodhisattva from the Buddhist faith known as Samantabhadra or Puxian in Chinese. Some people believe it looks like a beautiful vase on the elephant’s back, while others reckon it looks more like the hilt of a sword, and there is in fact a rather tragic legend behind the placement of this pagoda.

The legend goes that, in ancient times, the Emperor of Heaven decided he wanted to conquer Earth. The Emperor led his troops to Earth while riding on the back of a mystical elephant. However, the strain of carrying the Emperor so far proved too much for the elephant and he became seriously ill. The local farmers nursed the elephant back to health and as a gesture of his immense gratitude the elephant deserted the Emperor and stayed on Earth to helped the farmers plough their fields. On discovering the elephant’s betrayal, the Emperor flew into a murderous rage. One day, when the elephant was drinking from the Li River, the Emperor threw a sword into his back, which turned him to stone. The kind elephant, who is now the Elephant Trunk Hill, is said to still watch over the people of Guilin and welcome visitors to the city he loves so much. The pagoda was built on the site where the sword supposedly landed in the elephant’s back.

79年版伍拾圆-桂林象鼻山

Elephant Trunk Hill Park

In 1986, Elephant Trunk Hill Park was built on the banks of the river surrounding Elephant Trunk Hill. It’s location on the waterfront makes it the perfect place to relax. The park is elephant themed so dotted throughout the park you’ll find adorable stone elephant statues poking their heads out of the water or standing near the paths. The trails that wind throughout the park have been designed so that, from a bird’s eye view, they spell the Chinese character for elephant (象). Just offshore from Elephant Trunk Hill, there is a small island that visitors can access via a stone bridge, which has been delightfully carved and decorated with elephants. This island is called Love Island and, with its peaceful bamboo groves, beautiful stone statues, and ideal view of the river, it’s the perfect place to relax and enjoy some private time with that special someone.

There is also a temple of great cultural significance in the park called Yunfeng Temple, which was built during the Tang Dynasty (618-907). It is just southwest of Elephant Trunk Hill and is ranked as one of the four most famous temples in Guilin city. It had to be rebuilt in 1897 but is none-the-less magnificent. The temple has played an important political role in the area, being both the gathering place for the members of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom (1850-1864)[1] and one of the safe houses of Sun Yat-sen[2] and his followers during the Revolution of 1911. The temple is now open to the public and exhibits several wonderful historical and cultural artefacts that were found in the Guilin area.

Elephant Trunk Hill is easily accessible by road or by water. You can either take a cruise down the Li River, which will make a stop at Elephant Trunk Hill Park, or you can take one of many public buses from Guilin and get off at the Elephant Trunk Hill Park stop (象山公园站).

[1] Taiping Heavenly Kingdom: An oppositional state in China that was formed from 1851 to 1864 and controlled some parts of southern China during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912).

[2] Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925): A Chinese revolutionary who played an instrumental role in overthrowing the Qing Dynasty, abolishing imperial rule and founding the People’s Republic of China.

At Home in the Mountains

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No matter how my journey starts or what my intentions are, somehow I always end up in Yangshuo. I was first exposed to the town in 2009 at the tender age of eighteen, and back then it seemed like heaven on earth. Surrounded by those lush green mountains, those alien shapes that rose up around the Li River and suggested that perhaps, just perhaps, something otherworldly was going on in this place, one couldn’t help but feel a sense of wonder. I was in a daze, full of the liveliness of the crowds as they jostled for the chance to haggle for yak bone carvings, revel in the costumes of the Miao people, or tentatively make the jump from solid land to bamboo raft. Having only ever been to two other Chinese cities in my life, I suddenly felt as though I truly wasn’t in Kansas anymore.

yangshuo04One morning, in my naivety, I was even convinced that I could hear a panda outside my window. I rushed to the balcony, camera in hand, only to find that it was just a squealing pig. In my eighteen-year-old mind, China was just a place crammed full of stereotypes. Surely pandas should be everywhere? And weren’t there supposed to be kung-fu schools on every street corner? Where was Jackie Chan when you needed him?

It was Yangshuo that defied my expectations and finally taught me that China is just like everywhere else; its people think, feel, live, love, and try to get by just like the rest of us. There were no Shaolin monks dancing through the streets, no scholars stroking their beards and quoting Confucius, no beautiful concubines giggling coyly behind their silk fans. There were just people selling their harvest, fishing for their dinner, or bent double, up to their knees in mud, planting their rice. After three months of living and working near Yangshuo, after so many weekends spent relaxing under the shade of Big Banyan, cycling to Moon Hill, or playing pool in Buffalo Bar, I was loathed to leave. I boarded my flight to Chengdu, wondering whether I’d ever return.

But, by 2013, I was finally ready to go back. Armed with my savings, with three trusty years of Chinese language learning under my belt, a contract with a Chinese company and the ugliest yellow Chinese to English dictionary, I made my way back to Yangshuo. It was bigger, it was better, yet somehow it had remained almost completely unchanged. There were now two McDonalds and the Buffalo Bar had tragically shut up shop, but it was still the place I remembered. My heart warmed as I walked the full stretch of West Street, feeling those smooth flagstones beneath my feet and wondering whether any time had truly passed.

yangshuo02In the years that followed, Yangshuo would become my base of operations, like a home from home. This was the place where, during a monsoon, I once hid under the eaves of the Yangshuo Park gate with my friends and drank hard liquor from a plastic bag. This was where, in a bar along West Street, I had an in-depth conversation with an elderly Chinese gentleman who only ever wore silk pyjamas, who introduced me to his beloved pet, a tiny river snake, and who the next day serenaded me in the park with his erhu[1].

 

I remember shooting fireworks from the roof of a local hostel, watching a rap battle between two Chinese men who clearly still wore braces, running through the streets at night with wild abandon brandishing a barbecued fish on a stick, and watching as weeping mourners in funeral procession carried the dead through those flagstone streets. For me, and for so many others, Yangshuo was a place of comfort and adventure. No matter where I live in this great country, I’ll always have a safe haven nestled within the mountains.

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[1] Erhu: A traditional Chinese stringed instrument. It is a bowed instrument with only two strings but it can produce a wide variety of sounds. It is sometimes referred to as the “Chinese violin” or “Chinese two-stringed fiddle”.