Stay­ing power

Guilin’s tremen­dous to­pog­ra­phy has in re­cent years lured lux­ury ac­com­mo­da­tion that com­ple­ments its le­gacy as a back­packer des­ti­na­tion. ex­plores its hos­pi­tal­ity’s de­vel­op­ment.

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - TRAVEL | LIFE -

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

PHO­TOS BY ZHAN WEIKE / CHINA DAILY AND PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

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.

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