This post may contain affiliate links. If you click on one and purchase something, I may receive an affiliate commission — at no extra cost to you.
After spending roughly a week in northeastern China in September and then roadtripping through northwestern China in October, I turned my sights south, specifically to the south central autonomous region of Guangxi and the southwestern province of Guizhou. For me, the largest draw for Guangxi was initially Guilin. I had long heard of the beauty of Guilin, its rivers, and its karst formations. But having visited, I now have a different recommendation for Guangxi: skip Guilin and spend your time in Yangshou and the Longsheng Longji Rice Terraces.
Why I Didn’t Love Guilin
I suppose in some ways this was an issue of uninformed expectations. I knew Guilin had flowing rivers and gorgeous karst formations. I just didn’t realize that it didn’t have much else, nor that Yangshuo had the same plus more. In addition, Guilin is a much bigger city, with few attractions in city proper.
The main point of interest within the city of Guilin is Elephant Trunk Hill.
Shaped like an elephant extending its trunk into the water for a drink, the limestone karst hill is a symbol of Guilin. While beautiful and fun to see – it certainly looks more like its name than many other stone and cave formations I’ve seen in my travels – I’m not so sure it’s worth the hype. Tickets are ¥70, or roughly $11 USD, for basically a photo op.
That said, most people do enter the Guangxi autonomous region via Guilin, so if you have a couple of hours to spare and want to see the famous landmark, go for it. You can save some money by buying your ticket from a nearby travel agency. We got ours for ¥45 from a CTrip office just outside entrance #2. (CTrip is one of the bigger players in China’s travel sector, much like Expedia in the States.)
After your visit, make sure to swing by the Sun and Moon Twin Pagodas. Gorgeous pagodas on a lake, and it’s free to look! You can also pay to enter the pagodas if you’d like, but we didn’t feel the urge to do so.
Why Yangshuo is a Better Base for Cruising the Li River
The famous Li River flows from Guilin to Yangshuo, thus making it possible to embark on a trip on the river from either city.
The most famous sights along the Li River are closer to Yangshuo, however. Plus, the smaller city has a wider variety of other beautiful outdoors scenic spots to hit up, and it’s not as congested as Guilin.
Here’s a suggested Yangshuo itinerary should you take my suggestion and go there instead.
Why You Must Go to the Longji Rice Terraces
Perhaps my favorite place during my trip to Guangxi was the Longji Rice Terraces in Longsheng. (In English it’s called Dragon’s Back Rice Terraces. They’re also known as Longsheng Rice Terraces.)
I’ve seen rice paddies and terraces elsewhere in Asia, but nothing compared with the beauty of the Longji Rice Terraces. To go to Guangxi and skip these rice terraces would be a loss.
These 600+ year-old terraces are still very much in use and feed the local Yao and Zhuang communities; we’re just lucky we get to enjoy their beauty. Guesthouses are available throughout the various rice terraces, and while accommodations are very basic, I would absolutely recommend spending a night in the peaceful terraces, surrounded by nothing but rice.
We were incredibly lucky as we had arrived in Guangxi on harvest day and were told we were too late to see Longji in its autumnal beauty.
But as it turned out, the 2017 harvest had been delayed, and when we arrived in Longsheng a couple of days later, it was the last day before harvest began. It’s quite risky to time your visit this way, but it is incredible to see the Longji Rice Terraces both before harvest and after, when it takes on a decidedly new character.
To get there, you can take buses from Guilin or Yangshuo. (From Yangshuo it was ¥90 and just under 4 hours to get to the entrance area. From Guilin it was ¥50 and about 2 hours.)
Tickets to the Longji Rice Terraces are ¥95 and are valid for two consecutive days.
The two main terraced areas are the Ping’an Terraced Fields and the Jinkeng Terraced Fields. The former is home to folks of the Zhuang minority and is more crowded and more commercial as it’s more accessible.
Jinkeng, on the other hand, is less visited and retains more authenticity. It’s slightly less accessible, however, and requires a bit time and either a cable car ride or a sturdy set of legs to take you up the hills. The Red Yao live here, and should you need a hand with your luggage, their women are happy to be your porter, typically for a fee of ¥60 or so.
We chose Jinkeng as it’s less commercial and because it’s home to the highest point of the Longji Rice Terraces. The viewpoint is called West Hill Music, and it’s nearly 4,000 feet high. We had to go up there as our hotel was up there, but you should anyways as it’s the absolutely most gorgeous viewpoint.
There are multiple other viewpoints in the Jinkeng Terraced Fields, and you can also hike from there to the Ping’an Terraced Fields. Signage isn’t wonderful though, so I’d suggest having either an offline translator or a guide if you don’t speak any Chinese. You’ll almost necessarily have to ask for directions at some point, even if you can read Chinese. Don’t be afraid to ask for help though, the locals are plenty friendly.
The Longji Rice Terraces are supposed to be gorgeous in the spring and summer as well, though I’m partial to those autumnal amber waves of grain (I know, I know, this is rice, not wheat). Winter, I’d skip, as it was already cold enough at night in October, but I’d absolutely return and visit again in the spring or summer.
What I realize now is that when people spoke of Guilin, they really meant Guilin-Yangshuo-Longsheng as a whole. Had I known, perhaps I wouldn’t have been so disappointed with Guilin proper. But then again, this trip made me fall in love with the Longji Rice Terraces.
Pin it to share it!
20 thoughts on “Skip Guilin, Go to Yangshuo and Longsheng Instead”
I love seeing rice terraces (although I am more used to Japan rather than china.) This all looks so, so lovely!
Thank you so much for sharing. I would love to explore the Chinese countryside, so it is great to start vicariously!
Sorry, somehow your comment ended up in the spam folder!
I haven’t been to Japan yet but I hear there are some awesome rice terraces there as well!
Oh no! I’m glad you rescued me from spamland! 😉
This is so accurate! I was just there last feb, i couldnt wait to get out of guilin and did not want to leave yangshuo!
Glad I’m not the only one who felt this way!
How often do buses leave from Yangshuo/Guilin and is it possible to depart from Longsheng in the same evening to Guilin?
Hi there, I don’t have the time table for it, but I remember 2-3 morning options and 2-3 afternoon one from both Guilin and yangshuo to Longsheng. And yes it is possible to go from longsheng to Guilin in the evening, but if you’re planning on going from Longsheng in the a.m., seeing the rice terraces, and then going back to Guilin the same day…. that might be a really, really long day. Certainly doable though, many ppl do. You’ll just have limited time at the terraces.
Awesome tips from this blog. Planning a 2 day Yangshuo trip following your itinerary then bus to Longsheng.
My question is, did you take the public bus to the rice terraces.? What hotel did you stay at? My current reservation is at PingAn village, was hoping to visit Dazhai village the same day and come back to PingAn. Are you aware of public transportation to and from Dazhai? Thanks!
So glad it’s useful for you!
I did take a bus from Yangshuo to Longsheng though I don’t remember exactly if it was a public bus or if it was a private company. In this case, we booked the ticket via our hotel. This is the hotel in Jinkeng/Dazhai (sorry the link was wrong earlier) https://www.booking.com/hotel/cn/long-sheng-long-ji-da-zhai-jing-guan-lou.html?aid=1550129&no_rooms=1&group_adults=1 I believe you can hire a car to tax you from one village to the next, but I don’t know of any regular buses. Most people who visit both tend to start at one and hike to the other.
Yangshuo and Longsheng are gorgeous, I’m excited for you!
Hi Rowena, loved reading this and definitely keen to follow your itinerary ? just wondered if you know the best dates in October for seeing the rice fields? There’s a lot of information out there and I’m confused!
Thanks so much,
Hi Courtney! So glad it’s helpful for you! Early October is definitely the best bet. Last year harvest started on October 19, but we were told that’s because farmers were asked to delay the harvest for a few days. I think the first 10 days of October is more or less a safe bet to make sure you see it before the harvest (unless they choose to move up harvest for some reason).
Hope that fits your schedule!
Such an informative blog!
I am planning a visit in late November. Do you know if there is a direct bus from Guilin to Jinkeng Terraced Fields. Most of the information i found online is only to the base of Longji base or Ping’An base. I was hoping to take the cable car up and trek down at Jinkeng Terraced Fields
Hi there! The bus I took stopped first in Jinkeng and then continued onto Ping’An. From what I gathered during my time, many of the buses do the same. Are you hoping to book ahead of time? Do you speak Mandarin? Def easier to book there with your hotel or via a local travel agency
are these the very same direct bus you can take for 50rmb from Guilin to Jinkeng?
I would assume so!
Hi, how do you go Longji Rice Terraces from Yangshuo Town (west lake)? which bus station do you go? I plan stay a night at Pingan Village.
Hi there, we asked our hotel to book the bus they were associated with and we were picked up at a designated location on the main street closest to the hotel. I’d ask around when you arrive. There are multiple buses each day so you should be able to find a seat on a bus fairly easily.
[…] or Guilin, you’ve got to spend some time in Yangshuo. (For me, it’s second only to the Longji Rice Terraces.) Here’s a two-day itinerary on what to do in Yangshuo to get you started so you can explore […]
I am going to guilin and yangshuo in coming Dec 2019 how many days should I spend there? Where is the best places that I cannot miss?
I would say 4-5 days at a minimum. Check out this post on Yangshuo for suggestions for that city. https://anomadontheloose.com/what-to-do-yangshuo-in-2-days/
It’ll be a bit cold in Longsheng during this time of year but I’m told the rice terraces can be gorgeous when it snows. It’ll be a question of how OK you are with the weather. When we went in Oct., it was already pretty chilly in the evenings and early mornings.
Enjoy your trip!