Bamboo raft on Li River, Guilin, Yangshou, China

Getty Images/RooM RF


Guangxi's second-largest city, Guilin (桂林, Guìlín) has the hallmarks of most Chinese megalopolises, but it feels much more relaxed given its spectacular setting among the jagged-peak limestone karsts that surround it. It was China's first city to develop tourism after 1949, and for decades, children's textbooks proclaimed 'Guilin's landscape is the best under heaven' (桂林山水甲天下). It was the darling of Chinese politicians, the star city proudly presented to visiting dignitaries. Today Guilin's natural endowments still amaze, yet, thanks to imperfect urban planning, there is a pervasive feeling that the city is past its prime.


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