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It's every bit as wonderful as scenes in ancient paintings

MANY visitors and expats yearn for that quintessential China moment, that perfect vista. It's not so easy to find these days, but a bike trip through lush rice fields and weathered limestone karst peaks in Yangshuo, might just make your day and leave you breathless.

Well-known Guilin and Yangshuo in southern China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region have vast landscapes of jutting karst peaks. The timeless, spectacular views from the Lijiang River have inspired Chinese poets and painters for centuries.

The area offers many travel options. You can relax at a rustic lodge on the Yulong River, a tributary of the Lijiang River, and get on out there to enjoy the terrain.

There's rock climbing, hiking and biking. Karst landscapes also have beautiful caves. Karst topography is landscape created by groundwater dissolving limestone and other rock.

A word of caution: Use common sense when it comes to taxi drivers who might try to take you for a detour or overcharge you. Verify the legitimate tours for the Lijiang River.

Your hotel can help with bookings or check an office of China International Travel Service Ltd.


Guilin's karst peaks are scattered about the city limits, with the greatest concentration near the Lijiang River.

The city itself, however, is crowded and developed, and not very appealing. There are a few attractions, but better scenery and atmosphere lie ahead in Yangshuo.

One of the most famous rock formations is Elephant Trunk Hill (Xiangbi Shan) on the southern side of Guilin. The 100-meter-high rock has a hole in the middle, and the whole thing looks like a curved elephant's trunk taking a drink from the Lijiang River. It can be reached by bamboo float.

Seven Stars Park (Qixing Gongyuan) covers about 2 square kilometers on the eastern bank of the Lijiang River. The park is named after the four peaks of Putuo Hill and the three peaks on Crescent Hill.

Sights to explore are Seven Star Cave (Qixing Yan) for its cavernous chambers where colorful spotlights point out strangely shaped stalactites and stalagmites, and the rock structure of Camel Hill (Luotuo Shan).


If time allows, the Dragon's Backbone Rice Terraces (Longji Titian) in Longsheng County is a range of 1,000-meter-high hills, with some covered in spectacular - and famously photographed - rice terracing.

Longsheng is a mix of Zhuang, Dong, Yao and Miao minority cultures.

About 90 kilometers north of Guilin, the rice terraces are about two hours away by bus. The region can be done as a day trip from Guilin or an overnight trip if you want to stay longer to explore the endless rice terraces.

A half-hour climb to the top offers amazing views of the hills and layered rice terraces. You can hop off the main path to walk among the terraces to get a closer look.

The 600-year-old village of Ping'an sits near the top ridge of the backbone terraces. It has some small restaurants and accommodations.

Lijiang cruise

The Lijiang River cruise tours begin near Guilin in the morning and end in Yangshuo. It takes about six hours to cover 85 kilometers and includes a buffet lunch of local fare.

You can either take the bus trip back to Guilin or settle into Yangshuo for an extended stay.

Although six hours seem long, the overall trip offers the best of the region's varied karst scenery.

The boat will leisurely weave among peaks on both sides. Simply named after their shapes, don't miss Penholder's Peak (Bijia Feng), Nine Horses Fresco Hill (Jiuma Huashan), Five Fingers Hill (Wuzhi Feng), and Dragon Head Hill (Longtou Shan).

You'll also see locals traveling on bamboo rafts and water buffalo grazing on green grasses.


Yangshuo is a charming, laid-back backpacker's paradise that's a good base for exploring the area.

West Street (Xi Jie) is a pedestrian zone lined with bars, restaurants, shops and hotels.

Outside of town are rustic lodges surrounded by karst peaks and views of the Yulong River. Peaceful, lazy bamboo raft rides are a great way to take in the scenery.

The evening offers many options besides the bars. A popular night show is "Impressions Liu Sanjie," directed by award-winning Chinese film maker Zhang Yimou.

The production features more than 600 performers on the Lijiang River wearing a variety of costumes, some of which light up for some interesting effects.

While visually stunning, the show has no English translation for its songs, but it's the overall impression that counts. Be prepared for crowds and low-back seats that can get uncomfortable.

Taking a cormorant fishing tour is a bit touristy since the real deal takes place later on at night, but it's a fascinating glimpse into an older way of life.

A boat will take you out around 7:30pm for about an hour to watch a fisherman and his tamed birds in action.

The birds - not attached to the boat - with the assistance of a spotlight will dive into the water to surface with flapping fish. The fisherman has tied a string around the bird's neck in order to keep the larger fish for himself and pulls the bird back onto the boat after a catch.

During the day, biking in Yangshuo is the best way to take in the rural beauty of the remote area. Part of the adventure is getting lost among the rice paddies and discovering small villages. For those who lack basic Mandarin skills or can't stand getting lost, it might be best to hire a guide.

Bike riders usually make a stop at Moon Hill (Yueliang Shan), a crescent-shaped arch formation. There are incredible views of the Lijiang River valley from the top.

The stairs may look intimidating, but climbing only takes about half an hour. A full-day bike trip could follow the Yulong River to see the Double Flow Crossing (Shuangliu Du), Xiangui Bridge, Rhinoceros Lake (Xinlu Hu) and Dragon Bridge (Yulong Qiao).

This is just a sampling of what Guilin and Yangshuo have to offer. It's easy to see how a week can be spent among the intriguing karst peaks and largely serene settings. It's a place that shouldn't be overlooked in exploring the many wonders of China.


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