I’ve been dying to go on this trip since I first arrived in Hong Kong in 2011. But it had never come to fruition until this year, although the trip was much shorter than I was hoping it to be. If I were to do this again, I would give it at least 3-4 full days in Yangshuo. I would skip Guilin altogether (although the reed flute caves were spectacular), and focus on hiking and cycling in Yangshuo, plus do the rice terraces.
So to cut the long story short, I will share with you the fruits of my research: the cheapest and easiest way to get to Guilin/Yangshuo from Hong Kong via Guangzhou.
At first I was rejoicing when the high-speed trains between Shenzhen and Guilin opened (2013/2014). What used to be a painful overnight journey became a 3.5 hour bullet train ride. But then I despaired because the fast trains from Shenzhen to Guilin always seemed to be fully booked. (see next section).
And then I had this lightbulb moment of checking high-speed connections between Guangzhou and Guilin – and lo and behold, regular bullet train schedules (sometimes even twice every hour!) for cheaps! They go for as low as 137.5RMB one way. Some trains going as fast as 2-and-something hours in between cities. That’s mostly 200-300kph, even more. Incredible.
Where to buy tickets online: Ctrip.com, nice and easy.
But lest you make annoyingly time-wasting mistakes, don’t forget the following:
- The Guangzhou South Railway Station (nan zhan in Putonghua), is super far from the Guangzhou East Railway Station, where you arrive from Hong Kong. Give it two hours transfer time (around 80RMB via taxi. The queue can take ages.).
- Have your booking voucher, passports, and RMB/yuan notes ready. You have to queue up at the Ticketing booth which can take FOREVER to claim your train tickets. They can pull up your reservation using your passport numbers.
- Stay in Yangshuo, not Guilin. There’s more to do and see there, plus a better traveller scene concentrated on West Street.
Hong Kong to Guilin/Yangshuo via Shenzhen(new 3-4 hour bullet train)
Via Hong Kong, you can also take the MTR to the Shenzhen border (Lok Ma Chau Station), cross, and then transfer to Shenzhen North station. I would give this 2 hours as well. Good luck finding tickets; they sell out fast.
A few more tips before I let you go:
- If you’re going for the Li River Cruise, be selective with your provider. Get an English speaking cruise as much as you can via Ctrip or www.lirivercruise.net. Otherwise it will be nonsensical Putonghua blasted into your ear via megaphone plus a bloodbath at the buffet table.
- Can’t stress this enough. Don’t book the cruise with your hotel, book through an English website.
- Do the bamboo rafting down the Li River if you can. It’s more enjoyable than the commercialised ship.
- It was so difficult to find decent food anywhere. We ended up succumbing and eating at Shang Palace at Shangri-La Guilin. They have an affordable dim sum lunch buffet and delicious Peking Duck for dinner. (Obviously, I’m a spoilt a** b****!)
Points of Interest (that I wish I had seen):
- Lipu Silver Cave, Yangshuo. I heard it’s better than the Reed Flute Caves which we explored, which I thought were already pretty awesome. How amazing would it be to have a cave rave?!
- Dragonback Terraced Fields, Long Sheng County
- Bajiao Mountain Village
- Water System in Guilin – I have no idea why the name is like that but this refers to these two famous pagodas:
- Fubo Hill Park’s Sword-Testing Stone, Guilin
Would I go back?
Good question. There are so many things I didn’t get to see in Yangshuo and Guilin, but I’m not sure I would make the return trip. Although the scenery is undeniably beautiful, I wasn’t able to appreciate the beauty because of the irritating Chinese tour elements. The place would have been lovely but the atmosphere and people just lacked in charm and grace. I escaped the big city because I want to be immersed in nature and peace, and unfortunately, I just didn’t get the feeling here. Maybe it’s because I was pressed for time and didn’t get to venture deeper into nature as I could or should have, but honestly there are millions of other beautiful places in the world, where I would get a happier feeling interacting with the locals. And I’m sorry to say, it’s not Guilin.