In many ways, Nánníng (南宁) is a typical provincial capital with few sights of note, but many of its streets are tree-lined and shaded with a bountiful canopy of leaves, affording welcome shade. It’s also a relaxing and friendly place to recharge your batteries before leaving for, or returning from, Vietnam.
Běihǎi (北海; literally ‘North Sea’) – called baakhoi in the local baíhuà dialect – is famed among Chinese tourists for its Silver Beach, dubbed ‘number one beach on earth’ in tourism brochures (it ain't). A far more charming and unique selling point, however, is the lovely and crumbling Old Quarter, a delightful vignette of colonnaded streets and colonial-era architecture.
Riverside Sānjiāng (三江) town is a rather nondescript place in itself, but is a convenient springboard to the ethereal Dong villages and their architectural wonders in Chéngyángqiáo Scenic Area (程阳桥景区; Chéngyángqiáo Jĭngqū). The town is best treated as an arrival, overnighting and departure point, with high-speed trains to Guìlín and slower trains north into Húnán province.
Lóngjĭ Rice Terraces
This part of Guǎngxī is famous for its breathtaking vistas of terraced paddy fields cascading in swirls down into a valley. For hundreds of years, the paddy fields of Lóngjĭ Rice Terraces (龙脊梯田; Lóngjí Tītián) remained unknown to travellers, then everything changed in the 1990s when a photographer named Li Yashi (李亚石) moved here.
China's largest volcanic island, Wéizhōu Dǎo (涠洲岛; 6.5km long) makes for a relaxing day trip from Běihǎi, 124km away, if you like dormant volcanic scenery, water sports and religious architecture. You can pay for the entry ticket (¥115 per person) and buy a map (¥3) at the Běihǎi pier.
Some say Xìngpíng (兴坪) is just like Yángshuò before the latter became a honeypot, for better or worse. This 1750-year-old town has loads of history and is certainly attractive; in fact, the landscape you see when you disembark from the raft is printed on the back of China's ¥20 banknote.
Huángyáo (黄姚) is one of China’s most high-profile and picturesque villages, with many movies filmed here; The Painted Veil, starring Edward Norton, is possibly the most well known. Bucolic charm permeates the lovingly preserved 900-year-old village, though Huángyáo struggles to cope with the influx of roving tour groups and housing them all.
The very quiet 400-year-old village of Liúgōng (留公村; Liúgōng Cūn), 13km from Yángshuò, was a trading hub on the Lí River during the Ming and Qing dynasties. Traces of its former affluence are visible in the handsome buildings (of which the walls of some still blush with slogans painted during the Cultural Revolution).
Guǎngxī’s gateway to Vietnam (越南; Yuènán), Píngxiáng (凭祥) is a market town with a dusty, end-of-the-world feel. Everyone passing through is on their way to Vietnam, rather than visiting Píngxiáng specifically. In any case, there are no real sights of note and no reason to linger.