Guilin’s tremendous topography has in recent years lured luxury accommodation that complements its legacy as a backpacker destination. explores its hospitality’s development.
Guilin has long been a bastion of backpackers — and still is. But the city in the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region’s progressively elevated position on the global tourism map is driving an accommodation diversification that embraces upscale travelers.
The city’s scenic Yangshuo county arguably hosts the most boutiques opened by foreigners.
And global luxury brands are proliferating.
That’s perhaps partly because the area was among the first to open to international travelers. And its contorted karts chisel stupendous scenery that literally sculpts its international allure in stone.
Over 10 million visitors arrived in Yangshuo last year. Tourism accounts for 65 percent of its GDP, the United Nations World Tourism Organization reports.
Its accommodation explosion is said to have started when an American man and his Indian wife opened the first homestay along the Lijiang River’s banks in the 1990s.
They leased and converted farmhouses into the Shendi Yangshuo Mountain Retreat.
The couple likely had little inkling they were sparking a craze that’d blaze for decades.
The boutique hotel’s diners enjoy riverside a la carte meals while watching flotillas of bamboo rafts ply the waterway with armadas of ducks.
The river reflects the massive rock dollops that spike Yangshou’s terrain, mirroring the landscape in a rippling inverse. Dragonflies buzz and butterflies flutter through the air, also projecting reflections that wobble atop the water.
Over the following years, more foreigners rented and renovated abandoned hamlets.
Dutchman Herbert Bloembergen opened Outside Inn outside of town before selling it to open a restaurant in downtown Guilin.
A South African entrepreneur also converted farmsteads into the Secret Garden in another village. And so on. In recent years, international luxury brands like Banyan Tree have paved inroads into this outpost that previously appealed mostly to granola types and adventure travelers. (They still abound.)
Banyan claims to have become the area’s first luxury hotel when it opened in 2014.
Visitors are greeted with the strike of a gong and the performance of a local song.
The brand’s Yangshuo branch is encircled by karst clusters that are demarcated by the Li River, making its feng shui superlative.
Rooms average about 2,000 yuan ($290) a night and are around 500 yuan toward the low end.
Guests engage such local traditions as voyaging on bamboo rafts, viewing cormorant-fishing shows and painting fans.
Brick-and-wood buildings are constructed according to traditional aesthetics, with eves that swoop toward the skies. It’s a place where rustic meets refined. Filling a different segment — think fake palm trees — Club Med also moved in, claiming to be China’s first all-inclusive.
The floral forgeries aren’t part of the resort’s nearly 19-hectare Guilin Yuzi Paradise sculpture park, which is scattered with over 100 statues.
Monster in Paradise is a demonic stack of stones meant to portray the child-devouring Chinese ghoul Nianshou, who stomps into settlements during the Spring Festival.
A New Story for the Reading of Eden stands as an apple sliced in half. It aspires to creatively reinterpret the biblical tale of temptation.
Dots features flowers blooming out of the palm of a humungous hand.
Public restrooms are shaped like caves, replete with stalactites that dribble from the ceilings and clusters of crystals that sparkle near the sinks.
Club Med provides classes in tai chi, archery, golf, yoga, zumba and hip-hop dancing.
It offers a Circus School with daytime outdoor trapeze lessons for guests older than 4, plus professional performances indoors at night.
It also hosts a wine tasting school and rock-climbing courses — perhaps best not taken in that order.
Guests pay 1,600 yuan per person per night.
They dine at its Mongolian barbecue, Chinese restaurant or noodle bar.
Half the staff hails from 22 countries, while the rest are local.
Downtown Guilin’s Shangri-La offers more conventional luxury, with a helicopter that takes off from a fountain, a pet- ting zoo and an organic garden.
The grounds adjacent to the Lijiang River house emus, peacocks and chickens. Piglets share pens with rabbits. They nap in tiny pink and red houses.
Guests can tend the hotel’s organic garden, which grows a cornucopia of foodstuffs — chilies, ginger, taro, tomatoes, lettuce, figs, guavas, papayas, pumpkins and more. The list itself is a mouthful.
A different and new experience is offered by Yangshuo’s recently opened campground and recreational vehicle park.
The destination, run by a Shandong province native who prefers to be known as The Beard, covers 20 hectares, including a kilometer of riverside property.
The Beard hopes to transform one karst peak with a cave bored into its waist into a “hotel” for rock-climbers.
It shows how diverse Yangshou’s accommodation options have become over the past few decades — and points to how dynamic they may become in the years to come.
Contact the writer at erik_nilsson@ chinadaily.com.cn
The city of Guilin in the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region draws millions of tourists from home and abroad every year as one of the world’s most beautiful places, with rivers, karst landscapes and idyllic sceneries. Tourism development over the past few decades has produced a diversification of accommodation options.