The mysterious karst peaks of Guìlín and Yángshuò may lure most travellers to this province, but more and more, it’s Guǎngxī’s mosaic of nationalities that makes people linger.
While the limestone scenery, dotted with rice terraces, covered bridges and drum towers makes for a bewitching combination of sights and is one of the most photographed parts of China, those who head off to Guìzhōu or Guǎngdōng before dipping their toes further into the province are missing out on a great deal.
The less touristed south has China’s best mainland beaches, the rock paintings on Left River (Zuǒ Jiāng), a border crossing with Vietnam and the binational Detian Waterfall. It’s also where you’ll hear Zhuang or Vietnamese spoken in the streets and see these languages sharing street signs with Chinese characters.
Nearly 75% of Guǎngxī is non-Han. Today the Zhuang are China’s largest minority, with well over 15 million people concentrated in Guǎngxī. The Zhuang are virtually indistinguishable from the Han Chinese, and the province is often referred to as the Guǎngxī Zhuang Autonomous Region. The province is also home to smaller numbers of Dong, Maonan, Mulao, Jing (Vietnamese Gin) and Yi peoples.
Guǎngxī roughly translates as ‘vast, boundless west’, and for centuries its remoteness and challenging topography kept it poverty-stricken (a residual problem out of the main cities). Its area of 236, 000 sq km ranks it ninth in size nationally; and with nearly 46 million habitants, it’s the 11th most populated province in the country.