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CHINA’S GUILIN IS THE “MOST SCENIC PLACE UNDER HEAVEN

10-06-2013 | Mike Smith

For countless centuries, Chinese artists and poets have revered Guilin for its breathtaking natural beauty and tranquillity. “The most scenic place under heaven” is how it has been described, worthy of brush to canvas, pen to paper.

For countless centuries, Chinese artists and poets have revered Guilin for its breathtaking natural beauty and tranquillity.

“The most scenic place under heaven” is how it has been described, worthy of brush to canvas, pen to paper.

Through their works over the dynasties, these creative people have been able to share their love with art lovers from other corners of the world.

Today, Guilin, in the north-east of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in the People’s Republic’s south, is a major attraction by a growing number of Australian travellers on group tours wanting see firsthand why so many artists and writers had been attracted to the region.

The name Guilin means “Forest of Sweet Osmanthus”, the focal point being the number of these fragrant trees lining the city streets. But it’s the lush scenery and its overwhelming scattering of jutting limestone karsts which is the major drawcard, especially when thin layers of mist form a veil across the faces of the peaks. A leisurely way to marvel over these steep naturally created craggy peaks and limestone caves up close is on a cruise along the meandering Li River, on the outskirts of Guilin.

The half-day leisurely cruise – included in Helen Wong’s Tours’ premium luxury 14-day China Highlights and 17-day Supreme China programs, priced from $6070 and $7400 respectively from Australia – also showcases the everyday lives of local fishermen on their simple bamboo rafts, the trained cormorants their valued fishing assistants.

By reading through the books tracing the region’s geological history, you will find that Guilin was a gulf several hundred million years ago. As salty seawater dissolved to erode the limestone layers, strange shapes of hills began to form under the water. The movement of the Earth’s crust saw the giving away of sea for land. But it wasn’t until another 70 million years had passed that this countryside of peaks and limestone caves developed – with assistance wind, rain and the flow of rivers.

Guilin is one of a number of prime China centres featured in Helen Wong’s Tours comprehensive China 2013-2014 brochure for groups and independent travellers.

Beyond the main cities of bustling Shanghai and capital Beijing – both major drawcards in their own right – is Xian, home of the famous life-sized Terracotta Army of Emperor Qin Shi Huang unearthed in the mid 1970s after remaining buried for 2000 years. The mighty Yangtze River, in particular the leisurely Victoria Cruises’ luxury cruise through the breathtaking Three Gorges, is another must.

During the Tang Dynasty between 768 and 824, great poet Han Yu was so deeply touched by his cruise down Guilin’s Li River he wrote: “the river winds like a green silk ribbon, while the hills are like jade hairpins".

That colourful description remains etched in the memories of so many Chinese privileged to have read his inspirational works. MIKE SMITH

Details: Helen Wong’s Tours, phone 1300 788328, www.helenwongstours.com