Guilin in the Guangxi province of South West China is a lovely city famous for it's landscape. A perimeter dotted with individual green peaked mountains make for very picturesque views and being easily accessible by plane or train it's well worth a stop off if you are in the area. An important thing you need to know however is that Guilin can be very expensive. With touts hounding you on the street to buy everything from tea to tours and hiked up entrance fees to sightseeing attractions it can be difficult to decipher which options are the cheapest. The community has really grabbed tourism and ran with it here as far as attractions are concerned. The accommodation on the other hand is reasonable and food actually very cheap. There's not tons and tons to do, so three days are perfect but so you don't blow your budget and get to see some really cool stuff follow our budget travel guide on what to do in this beautiful city.
Day One: Explore the City and Eat Some Amazing Street Food
We'd recommend hitting the streets by foot to explore on your first day. At our hostel on Jian Gan Road we were within a 20 minute walking distance of the city centre but the buses were also easy to navigate if you are staying a little further out. Line maps at the stops mean you can just count how many until you need to get off and most hostels have maps of the city. Spend the morning strolling around Lake Shan where the Sun and Moon Twin pagodas are, you can pay to go in and up them but at £4.50 a pop we were satisfied with admiring them from the outside. There is also a very pretty rock formation called 'elephant trunk hill' in that area which you can see from the road, without having to pay an entrance fee, that's worth a walk to too.
Zhengyang Lu and Binjiang Lu have plenty of cafes and tea houses with outside seating areas so head to those for a rest afterwards. Try the 'Guilin' tea, it's only grown in this region and is very delicate and delicious. There's loads of vibrant and yummy street food stalls on and just off Zhengyang Pedestrian Street where we'd recommend going for dinner and a wander around. There's traditional meat and squid skewers at 5 for a £1 and also some of the more exotic things on offer such as BBQ frogs and oysters for reasonable prices.
Day Two: Rent Some Bikes and go to the Reed Flute Caves
You can hire city bikes in Guilin for £3 per day and there are plenty of stations to park at. Ask your hostel to help though as you won't understand the automated spoken instructions that give you a password unless you speak Chinese. Cycle up to the Reed Flute Caves, they are incredible and huge, we've never seen anything quite like it. It's about an hours ride away and the entrance fee is steep at £12 but well it worth it in our opinion.
There are additions that will be pushed such as an underwhelming 5 minute monorail ride, photo keyrings and a viewing of some tortoises. Just say no. Outside the caves rides across a pretty lake are offered on bamboo rafts, they look really fun and actually aren't bad price at around £5 for two but we didn't partake because they looked a little rickety to board with the expensive non-waterproofed electrical equipment we had with us! Then just spend the rest of the day exploring the city further afield from the centre on your bikes, there's some beautiful parks around and a ride along the Li river is bliss.
Day Three: Go See the Longji Rice Terraces
You absolutely have to visit the Longji Rice Terraces whilst you are in Guilin. They are stunning. Absolutely do not forget your camera! It's an early rise to get there on your own because it's a few hours each way and the last bus back is at 4pm but way cheaper than taking a tour (we left the hostel at 7am). There are a few villages you can go to see them, we chose Dazhai village as it was recommended to be less busy and more authentic. Many of the women still wear traditional dress with hairstyles and accessories indicating their marital status and whether they have children or not.
To get there you need to take a bus from the Qingtan bus station in Guilin to Heping Village, purchase your ticket from the counter - the fare is £2 one way and it will take around an hour and a half (buses leave every 20 minutes starting at 7am). When you get on the bus tell the ticket attendant you are going to Dazhai village and they'll indicate where to get off. From the drop in Heping village you need to cross the road and wait for one of the yellow buses to take you up to Dazhai village. The fare is £3 for a return. You will get hassled by taxi drivers offering to take you but just be firm and wait. On the way up the bus will stop at a ticket office for an attendant to board the bus so you can purchase entrance tickets. They are £10 each and you have to buy one, you can't go into the village without one. The way back is simple enough just the reverse, the bus back to Guilin will stop in Heping village on its way through. Be sure to take drinks and something to eat with you as everything is crazily expensive.
In terms of a budget for a couple staying in a private room in a hostel (it was cheaper than two beds in a mixed dorm!) we would recommend budgeting £150 for 3 three days to allow for a couple of beers here and there - this isn't including your transport in and out of Guilin. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did - do let us know! And if you have any specific questions ask away and we will do our best to help.