Guangxi Province, 500km (310 miles) NW of Hong Kong, 1,675km (1,039 miles) SW of Beijing
One of the most-visited Chinese cities, Guilin (pop. 630,000), located in the northeastern part of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, has long been famous for its limestone karst hills. Formed more than 200 million years ago when the oceans receded from this area, the towers sprout from a patchwork of paddy fields and flowing streams, creating a dreamy, seductive landscape that leaves few souls unstirred. Time and space meet here to produce a masterpiece of nature's handiwork. Though there are a few hills in the city that can be explored, and the Li River cruise from Guilin to Yangshuo remains one of top river journeys in the world, Guilin is also being used as a base to visit the Yao, Miao, and Dong minority villages to the northwest. Unfortunately, the cost of Guilin's overwhelming popularity is a degree of unrelenting exploitation and extortion audacious even by Chinese standards; foreigners especially are overcharged for everything.
With summer's heat and humidity and winter's low rainfall affecting water levels in the Li River, April, May, September, and October are the best months for cruising. April to August also marks the rainy season, however, so be prepared with rain gear. Avoid the first weeks of May and October, when China celebrates national holidays, the Li River becomes even more congested with tourist boats than usual, and the price of everything doubles at the very least. July can become unbearably hot, and this is the last place on earth that you want to be holed up in your hotel room, clinging to the air conditioner.