The Dragon Boat Festival is a big holiday in China celebrated near the beginning of summer, and luckily for us this meant we had 4 days to travel! We decided to spend our Dragon Boat Festival holiday in Guilin, a city we’ve had our eye on for awhile. Guilin is a beautiful city in the south of China in the Guangxi Province. It is often said “Shanshui jia tian xia” which means “Guilin’s mountain and water scenery is the best under heaven.” We spent time in the city of Guilin, and also traveled to a smaller county in Guilin called Yangshuo.

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Four days is not nearly enough time in Guilin, but we still were able to get a great taste of what the city has to offer! Here are 5 of my favorite things we did:

1. Rent a Bicycle

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You can find lots of bike rental shops up and down the main street in Yangshuo, and for just 10 RMB you can rent one for several hours. Our hostel recommended a route near the river that we should ride on. He told us the loop would take about 2 hours in total. It actually took us closer to 2 and a half, but that could be because we stopped to buy bamboo hats and take lots of pictures. It was SO beautiful and relaxing!

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2. Ride a Bamboo Raft on the Li River

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On the back of the 20 RMB note you’ll find a beautiful picture of mountains and a river – that famous site is near a little place called Xing Ping on the Li River. One of our main goals for the trip was to see this site.

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Sadly this isn’t my picture…but you get the idea

There are lots of options for taking a boat out on the Li River – you can take a boat from Guilin to Yangshuo, or do a smaller part of the river from Xing Ping to Yangshuo. We booked tickets with our hostel – for 20 RMB each we could buy a bus ticket from Yangshuo to Xing Ping and back again, and the boat ride cost us 90 RMB. The bus took 40 minutes, and once we got there they sorted us into little bamboo rafts with 3-4 people on each boat.

The boat ride lasted around 50 minutes, and even though it was drizzling during our ride, the mountain and river views were amazing.

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3. Hike a Mountain

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There are lots of mountains surrounding Yangshuo (in case you missed it from the pictures). There are trails leading up many of these mountains, and I read about one particular hike that had a fantastic view overlooking the city and wouldn’t take too long to do. On Saturday afternoon, Brittany, Drew, and I set out for the TV Tower mountain.

If I hadn’t read about this hike and asked someone about it, I’d have never found the entrance to the mountain trail. The start of the trail is down a random street and hidden behind several alleyways. Eventually it leads you to stairs – lots and lots of stairs leading up and around the mountain. I’ve never sweat so much in my life and it felt like we were in a tropical jungle, but after 40 minutes we reached the top.A little old Chinese lady lives at the top of the mountain and charges you 10 RMB to go past her gate and see the views (worth it!) and she gives you a bottle of water for it.

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4. Try the Beer Fish and Rice Noodles

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Each province in China has it’s own unique style of cooking. The Guangxi province is a mixture of the surrounding areas, taking some lightness and sweetness from the neighboring Guangdong province and a little of the spiciness from the nearby Sichuan and Hunan provinces. My student told me the Rice noodles in Guilin are very famous, so we ate them for lunch one day before catching a bus to Yangshuo. Rice noodles aren’t normally my favorite thing to eat, but this place let you add your own spices to it and we all really liked it!

Another specialty, and by far the most popular dish in Yangshuo, is the beer fish. I heard about this before we went and saw pictures of it and wasn’t quite impressed – I’m not normally a big fish eating person either. BUT. It was the best fish I’ve ever had in China. No joke.

Lastly, the Dragon Boat Festival is famous for its special food Zongzi, which is rice and other fillings like meat and beans put together in a special wrapper. Our hostel had a Zongzi making event that my student Emily tried, and we got to eat some of the Zongzi they made. It’s not my favorite Chinese food, but it’s great to experience all of the Chinese holiday traditions.

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5. Visit West Street

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Many Chinese cities have famous pedestrian streets and night markets. Beijing has Wangfujing Street, Hangzhou has Hefang Street, Shanghai has Nanjing Street, and Yangshuo has West Street. After visiting the pedestrian streets in those cities this past Spring Festival, we’ve learned that most of the streets offer similar things – souvenir shops, funky street food, bars and clubs, and lots and lots of people. Still, I love visiting these streets, watching people and seeing what’s different about it from other places in China.

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So our exact itinerary, if you’re curious, went like this: (If you don’t care you can skip this, you won’t hurt my feelings)

Thursday, June 9

  • 1:15pm: Train from Hengyang to Guilin North Train Station
  • 4:45pm: Arrive in Guilin, take bus 100 for 25 minutes to the Ming Palace Hostel

Friday, June 10

  • Take bus 99 from our hostel to the Guilin bus station and buy a ticket to Yangshuo for 25RMB
  • 12:10pm: Bus travel 1 hour and 45 minutes to Yangshuo
  • 3pm: Check into the Lazy People’s Hostel in Yangshuo
  • 4pm: Rent bicycles
  • 7:30pm: Beer fish for dinner
  • 9pm: West Street

Saturday June 11

  • 8am: Bus leaves for Xing Ping bamboo rafting
  • 8:50am: Arrive in Xing Ping and go rafting
  • 11am: Bus goes back to Yangshuo
  • 12pm: Lunch
  • 2-2:45pm: Hike up TV Mountain
  • 4:15pm: Check out of hostel
  • 5:50pm: Bus back to Guilin and check back in to Ming Palace Hostel

Sunday June 12

  • 8am: Breakfast and chill in the hostel
  • 12:15pm: Bus 100 back to the Guilin North Train Station
  • 2:00pm: Train leaves for Hengyang
  • 5:00pm: Arrive in Hengyang

My Chinese student Emily asked to join us on our trip to Guilin. I really could write a whole blog post about what traveling with a Chinese person was like, but maybe I’ll save that for another time. Some big cities in China are pretty easy to navigate without a Chinese translator, but it makes life so much easier when you have someone right there with you to ask other Chinese people questions or order food at new restaurants. It was also really funny to see how excited she got at experiencing her own country; I’m pretty she was more excited than we were, and that’s saying something.

I really want to travel back to Guilin and see more! Some other cool things you can see there: Longsheng Rice Terrace, the Sun and Moon Pagodas, and some cool caves. Maybe next time I’ll have a chance to see more!

Until the next adventure,

Rachel