They are everywhere, the peaks that made Guilin famous. Geologically they are pure limestone that has been eroded into strange, fascinating formations over millions of years. Artistically they have inspired painters for centuries to depict them as strange stone figures, wreathed in mist and embossed with pine trees. For tourists, they are irresistible, almost hypnotic. You have to photograph them, explore their neighborhood, and if possible, climb to their summits.
The most distinctive one looks like an elephant drinking from the river Li that flows through Guilin. Legend has it that the Emperor of the Heavens left the creature here to die so it turned into stone. Now it is a favorite tourist spot where you can take a bamboo raft through the arch under his chin. You can also climb to the top of his head which is crowned with a pagoda, however Fubo hill, just north of town gives one of the best views of the area. Fubo hill is also famous for the Returned Pearl Cave at its base. Here there are 300 Buddhist carvings from the Tang Dynasty.
The river is a perfect compliment to the peaks. In the evening you can watch cormorant fishing, which consists of fisherman on long bamboo rafts with big diving birds on long leads, with rigs around their necks to prevent them from swallowing their catch. Almost every tourist takes a day long excursion on the river to the Yangshou, some 50 miles downstream from Guilin. The voyage is leisurely with time for lunch and for picture taking.
The peaks press up against the river banks in awesome procession. Tiny sampans ferry people from shore to shore, barges pass by with their wares, and children and oxen both splash in shallows and swim along the river.
The small town at the end of the Li River boat cruise in a junior version of Guilin. It enjoys the same extraordinary scenery but it is a much smaller and less developed town. You will have time to explore the town and venture amongst the various shops. After your visit to Yangshuo you will return to Guilin by bus.
For the Chinese name Kunming evokes the pleasures of perpetual Spring in a city that spreads itself comfortably on the dry, sunny 6500 foot high plateau of Central Yunam province. For Westerners however, the name is better associated with the Flying Tigers and the daring pilots who flew “over the hump” from Bengal to help the Chinese during the Second World War.
Kunming has plenty of other claims to fame. It was a major stop on the Southern Silk Road, where caravans prepared to cross the mountains into India. Later it was a Mongol stronghold and one of the last places to succumb to the Ming emperor’s armies. Today it is a trading center for China to Vietnam, Thailand, and Laos. It is also a tourist hub for Yunan, a province that boasts the country’s most diverse population of colorful minority people and such natural wonders of Dali, Xisuangbanna, and the Stone Forest. The heart of the city is Green Lake, where residents come to relax, go boating, practice shadow boxing, and to listen to music. The city has numerous parks, some with restored Tang Dynasty architecture, others with lotus pools and some with half moon bridges. Various temples can be found throughout the city and in the parks.
No visit to Kunming would be complete without a visit to the Stone Forest. Located 79 miles southeast of Kunming, it consists of 200 acres of limestone pillars twisted and bent into fantastic shapes by nature. Paths wind through the narrow stone corridors, around reflecting rock pools, past caves and up natural staircases to cliff balconies, from where you can appreciate this incredible forest.