Nestled in one of China’s most productive and scenic river valleys, Gui Lin is a major tourist destination behind the Great Wall and the Terracotta Warriors of Xi’an. The city’s name which means forest of sweet Osmanthus trees because of the natural abundance of the sweet-smelling trees. In Charleston I have a high hedge of Osmanthus, also known as Sweet Olive and the intoxicating fragrance is hard to ignore in the early Fall. Guilin is known for its diversity of people and has attracted different tribes of people since at least 314 B.C.
The location along the wide and green Li River is dominated by the chalky limestone karst mountains on either side of the river and the home to many of China’s most scenic and largest caves. The water route takes you through small river villages, waterfalls, and rock formations named for the images they seem to portray like Snail Hill, Gold Hill, Elephant Trunk Hill and Painted Hill of Nine Horses. When President Bill Clinton visited the river in the 1990’s, he couldn’t see any of the horses in the mountain, which locals decried as a sign that the President lacked creativity. Most of the passengers, especially students claimed to see at least 7 of the 9 horses in the mountain.
Last week, our entire secondary school visited both Guilin and nearby Yang Shuo on a four day end-of-the-year trip. A highlight was to spend four hours floating down the Li River as well as another two hour night tour of the “Four Lakes and Two Rivers” in town. The waterways are all connected by a series of locks and canals and works quite seamlessly as tourists motor around the entire city by boat. Among the sites we saw were the famed Sun and Moon Pagodas, several live performances, and a beautiful white marble bridge described as being constructed during the Ming Dynasty.