Budget Travel Guide to Guilin, China

Guilin is one of the most picturesque towns in China, located in Guangxi Province. Its main attraction, Yangshuo River, makes it the most desirable place to visit (right after the Great Wall of China in Beijing) by foreign travelers. It surprises its visitors with stunning scenery of mountains, caves, lakes and river as well as rice terraces.

Boat riding across the Yangshuo River

Boat riding across the Yangshuo River

 

Guilin can be a very affordable place to explore as long as:[box type=”info” style=”rounded” border=”full”]

  • You don’t go for any tours organised by hostels and local travel agencies (it is very easy to organise your own tour without paying much).
  • Sleep in a hostel instead of hotel (you can find a few decent hostels with dorms in Guilin and pay little money for it).
  • Eat street food (grabbing a bowl of noodles or a piece of Chinese pancake on the go from time to time is more convenient and cheaper than having a big meal in a restaurant).
  • Walk a lot or use public transport (avoid taxis and motorbikes in Guilin as you can easily get ripped off).

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Together with Sarah of The further adventures of bennett, who we travelled with in Guilin, we decided to share some of our tips for travelling here on the cheap… while still having a great time!

1. Sleeping (RMB35 ($6)/night)

Ming Palace International Youth Hostel

Accommodation1

Inside of Ming Palace International Youth Hostel

 

We stayed at this hostel for 3 night and we need to admit it was a very cozy and friendly place. The dorms were cheap and very comfortable. We booked room with 10 beds in there and it still didn’t feel crowded.

The beds in dorms, Guilin, China

The beds in dorms

 

Sarah had her favourite bed she has ever had in a dorm room. The bunks were built of solid wood and were very sturdy. No rickety noises as someone on the top bunk turns over in the night! Each bunk had it’s own lamp, small shelf and extension lead so you could charge your electrical items in peace. Only downside would be that the extension leads only work when a keycard is inserted into the slot, so if you’re thinking about charging something during the day when you’re out it’s a bit more difficult. Bathroom in the room was adequate, there was a bathroom in each dorm room and one on the floor of dorms, but we felt that it might be better to have another somewhere else? A minor gripe but only because the dorm rooms are in fairly large numbers.

Breakfast eggs and toasts

Breakfast served downstairs

 

The social space was large and good tables and plenty of sockets for laptops and charging items whilst you socialised. There’s a pool table available and a couple of computers.  A covered outside terrace on the 5th floor was a welcome calm space with a good view of the mountains, especially during the storms when we were there! A laundry and drying space was also available on the top floor.

Fun thing about this hostel was that you could write on the staircase walls, so me and Sarah set about graffiti on each floor :).

Graffiti on the wall

Our master pieces

 

There are also a couple of local shops nearby for necessities, which makes this place even better.

2. Eating (total of $7 per day)

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Breakfast – RMB3 ($0.5)

Lunch – RMB15 ($2.50)

Dinner – RMB 20-25 ($3-4)

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A short walk from the hostel we found a local Chinese breakfast shop selling tasty breakfast items. We had our breakfast there every single morning before exploring the town. The prices start from RMB ($0.16) per item, so you can eat a lot and pay little. Isn’t it great?

Our Chinese breakfast - boiled eggs, you tiao, soy milk and sticky rice

Our Chinese breakfast in Guilin- boiled eggs, you tiao, soy milk and sticky rice

 

As for your lunches and dinners, there are plenty of local restaurants where Chinese food is served. It is yummy and cheap as long as you order only one dish, for example a plate of fried noodles or a bowl of noodle soup. The meal are huge so you will be properly stuffed. Try to avoid the restaurants where you can order many little plates with various Chinese dishes and then when it all adds up you will end up paying 10 times more.

Food1

Our favourite noodles in Guilin – cheap and yummy!

 

Guilin noodles – best noodles ever and so cheap. Go off the beaten path. As you walk past look at what everyone is eating. We found the amazing noodles after looking at a nearly empty bowl and thinking “well, that looks like it would be good!”

When exploring Yangshuo river we found a nice and cheap place to have our dinner at. There was a great selection of food from soups to fried rice and you could actually see them all on the wall with all prices attached.

Food

The local restaurants we found on our way to Yangshuo river

 

3. Transport

  • Getting to Guilin from Dongguan on the cheap ($32)

The cheapest option to get to Guilin is either to take an overnight train (standing or hard sit tickets) or bus (sleeping tickets). We have travelled by bus paying RMB200 ($32) per person. The journey took nearly 12 hours during which we could sleep.

Overnight sleeping bus from Dongguan to Guilin

Overnight sleeping bus from Dongguan to Guilin

 

Everyone had a separate bed, a sleeping pillow and a quilt. You need to make sure your shoes are taken off before getting into the bus. The journey was long but we could smell dirty socks of Chinese all the way!

  • Getting to Guilin from the airport ($3.26)

There is a bus from the airport to the Aviation Hotel from 6:30am-9:00pm. It costs RMB20 ($3.26) and takes around 45 minutes to an hour to go each way. As Sarah only had minimal luggage, it took her around 30-40 minutes to walk to the Ming Palace International Hostel from where the bus dropped her off and that was basically just following the river, so nice and easy!

[box type=”note” style=”rounded” border=”full”]Sarah took a plane from Xiamen to Guilin as she was short of time. The flight was 1 hour 25 minutes and costed RMB1000 ($160) round trip. It was a bank holiday and over a weekend so it was pretty expensive. If you are more flexible/ not peak times, you can get a return ticket for less than RMB700. She uses qunar.com. [/box]

  • Local Guilin Transport

Bus travel ($1- $3.26)

bus to reed flute cave

The bus to Reed Flute Cave

 

Bus travel is simply the best way to get around Guilin and the surrounding area. Again, there is no point getting on a tour when you can spend RMB20 ($3.26) on a bus to Yangshuo (although it can take up to 2 hours as the REALLY LOUD ticket guy wants to get as many people on the bus as possible – the return journey is a lot quicker!) We didn’t even stick around in Yangshuo all that long to be honest. We’d recommend getting a RMB7 ($1) bus to Xingping (they’re really regular at Yangshuo bus station) if you want to see the most spectacular scenery without spending money on a Li River cruise (RMB300 ($48) + per person depending on whether you take a raft or a bigger boat).

Bike rental ($6.50)

One of the stores where we had our bikes from

One of the stores where we rented our bikes from in Xingping

We rented two bikes (tandem and regular bike) for RMB40 ($6.50) total for 2 hours in Xingping. Definitely the best way to see and experience the scenery in Xingping! You have to put down a deposit (RMB200 ($32) per bike) but this is standard at all bike rental places in China. All you have to do is bring the bikes and the receipt back and getting your money back is really easy.

Me and Cez on a tandem

Me and Cez on a tandem!

 

We must admit that riding a tandem for the first time is not easy. It was a very unstable and shaky ride for the first 20 minutes or so, but then everything went smoothly. It was a great fun, but we would recommend you to take a normal bike if you want to ride it fast.

Sarah enjoying her ride

Sarah enjoying her ride in Xingping

 

4. Sightseeing

There are plenty of things to do in Guilin from riding a bike, visiting the local parks, exploring the rice terraces to visiting the caves. It all depends on your time, budget and preferences. Here are some spots we would highly recommend to see.

  • Reed Flute Cave ($15)

First thing you should know about the Reed Flute Cave? You can get there for RMB1 ($0.16) each way on a public bus. No need to use a tour at your hostel which may include other places you’re not so interested in and not even include the entrance fee either, which you’d have to pay extra for.

Reed Flute Cave

Inside the Reed Flute Cave

 

You need to take the number 3 bus from opposite the train station, which is really convenient, and takes 30-40 minutes to get to the cave itself. You do feel like you’re heading out into the middle of nowhere, but it’s really easy to find where to get off as you pass a big car park for the cave.

Reed Flute Cave

Reed Flute Cave

 

The cave ticket costs RMB90 ($15) and what happens is you queue up and are let into the cave in groups. There is a Chinese guide but each of the rock formations inside has some English translations you can giggle at. I mean, it’s a cave, what else are they going to tell you? I just held back behind the group which meant I had good photo opportunities – and felt like the naughty kid on a school trip! Later on there is a chance to see an offshoot of a cave, with turtles but this is optional and you can just continue through to the end of the main cave if you wish. Around the cave area itself, there’s not all that much to do but the scenery of the famous Guilin mountains is easily visible.

  • Parks in Guilin ($5.71)

There are several “mountains” in the centre of Guilin itself, such as Elephant Trunk Hill, Solitary Peak, DieCai Hill, FuBo Hill and Seven Star Park. You can buy a combined ticket for most combinations of them, but if your time and money is limited, buy the ticket for DieCai Hill for RMB35 ($5.71). We found this to be the most worthwhile of all the places to climb in Guilin, giving you a good overview of the city and the scenery around it. It’s the furthest hill, to the north of Guilin centre, but from Ming Palace International Hostel it’s only a 10-15 minute walk.

diecai hill

Diecai Hill, Guilin

 

Seven Star Park is the largest park in Guilin, over the river. It’s RMB75 ($12) to go in and boasts the famous “Camel Hill” and wild monkeys which steal bags of bananas from stupid Chinese tourists. Apart from that and a couple of “hills” to climb, I found it similar to most larger Chinese parks. If I had our time again, we personally wouldn’t go there again, but then again we have been in China a while and have seen many Chinese parks.

  • Longsheng Rice Terraces ($30)
The stunning Longsheng Rice Terraces

The stunning Longsheng Rice Terraces

 

A tour including entrance fee, guide and a 3 hour stop at Longsheng from our hostel costs RMB450 ($73). We felt that we could get there a lot cheaper so off to the bus station. Try as we might we couldn’t buy a ticket for a normal bus to Longsheng, despite us seeing several buses labelled like this when we were finally on our way. Outside the bus station there are many touts advertising travel to Longsheng Ricer Terraces, and this is why as a foreigner you cannot buy a Longsheng ticket at the bus station.

The view from the car when on our way to Longsheng Rice Terraces

The view from the car when on our way to Longsheng Rice Terraces

 

In the end, we took a taxi with 3 Chinese girls, paid RMB50 ($8) each for one way (RMB100 return) and RMB80 ($13) for the Longsheng Rice Terraces ticket. Our driver took us to the entrance (the terraces are around 23km away from the ticket office on windy, windy roads!) and let us explore for 3 hours. Total per person? RMB180 ($30) massive savings! We don’t know if we were very lucky though, as we returned in the car just the three of us and the driver charged us RMB50 each. It’s worth checking the price before you head back as you may be charged for baoche (full car) so instead of paying RMB150 for three of you you might be paying RMB300 – just a word of caution anyway!

  • Yangshuo River Cruise ($13) and Xingping ($1.32)

This is the highlight of your trip in Guilin – the stunning Yangshuo river. Again, you can do it on your own without booking expensive tours. We caught a bus from the bus station located in the city centre which costed us RMB20 ($3.26). After over 2 hour ride, we got to the place where locals (mostly ladies) were trying to sell us the Yangshuo cruise. After bargaining, we got 1 raft for  RMB80 ($13) and spent over 1 hours cruising. Although the weather was awful (heavy wind blowing into our faces and the rain was pouring), we still enjoyed the scenery.

Xingping

Xingping

 

If you want to see the scenery featured on RMB20 note, you should go to Xingping. It is easy to get there by bus and the ticket costs only RMB8 ($1.32). It’s a wonderful and picturesque place, less busy and more charming than Yangshuo in our opinion.

We found the scenery on RMB20 note!

We found the scenery on RMB20 note!

 

  • The Sun and Moon Pagodas (free)

The Sun and Moon Pagodas are located on Banyan Lake in Guilin and they just look amazing at night. The moon pagoda stands seven storeys high which is a glass tower whereas the Sun pagoda is copper decoration, consumed 350 tons of copper. You can have a wonderful walk along the lake’s edge which at night is just magic and is popular with locals and tourists alike. We absolutely loved it!

Guilin pagodas at night

Guilin pagodas at night

 

As you can see, Guilin can be easy on your pocket. Although it is a typical touristic spot and it should be expensive, there is still a way to do it on the cheap. Now you can add Guilin to your bucket list!

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{ 43 comments… add one }
  • Jason's Travels May 27, 2013, 4:35 pm

    Wow. The tips are great, but the pictures are even better. Great stuff.

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder May 29, 2013, 4:45 am

      Thanks Jason!

      Reply
  • ardun May 28, 2013, 2:03 am

    Great photos and very thorough with the prices! I just love the look of those mountains. Looks like you guys are having lots of fun :)

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder May 29, 2013, 4:33 am

      Thanks Ardun. We miss the look of those mountains a lot.

      Reply
  • OCDemon May 28, 2013, 6:35 am

    Those sleeper buses look really great. Now I hate regular buses even more.

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder May 29, 2013, 4:24 am

      LOL, it was stinky! Imagine you need to smell dirty socks of Chinese. Do you still hate regular buses :)?

      Reply
  • Jennifer May 28, 2013, 8:35 am

    Great guide Agness. How do you find ordering food in china when there are no pictures or prices!?

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder May 29, 2013, 4:22 am

      Thanks Jennifer. There are actually many ways to do it. 1) You use your English-Chinese dictionary on your phone, get some sentences translated and show them to the waiter/waitress. 2) Carry a pocket dictionary with you and show them what you want. 3) Try to speak English very slowly and use your hands and gestures to explain what you want to eat. 4) Ask if anyone is the restaurant speaks some English and 5) Learn some basic food words and try your best to speak Chinese :)

      Reply
  • The Guy May 28, 2013, 1:29 pm

    What a great and comprehensive guide, thanks Agness. The hostel looks very cosy and there are lots of things to do in the area. With such beautiful scenery it is a stunning place.

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder May 29, 2013, 4:11 am

      Thanks a lot. That was one of the best and the cheapest hostels we have been in China. As for the scenery, it’s just amazing. The place left us speechless.

      Reply
  • Franca May 28, 2013, 1:30 pm

    I love the idea of renting a tandem maybe because I’ve never ridden one, it looks like fun.
    The Reed Flute Cave also looks stunning, definitely something I’d choose to see. Thanks for the tips Agness :)

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder May 29, 2013, 4:07 am

      Nice to hear that France. Renting a tandem was a lot of fun although we struggled a lot for the first few minutes. The Reed Flute Cave was great, worth paying the money.

      Reply
  • Becky Padmore May 29, 2013, 11:06 am

    Your photos always make me want to visit the places you’ve been, it looks so diverse (and so cheap to travel around)!

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder June 3, 2013, 4:01 am

      Thanks, Guilin is super duper cool!

      Reply
  • Salika Jay May 29, 2013, 2:52 pm

    Everything is so cheap, isn’t it? The hostel looks like a cozy place, and the food looks delicious. Something about Chinese food :) You’ve captured some great views too. Great guide, Agness!

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder June 3, 2013, 4:09 am

      Yes, China in overall is a cheap travel destination, but you still need to be careful and follow your budget plan strictly. It’s so easy to overspend.

      Reply
  • Halida A. May 30, 2013, 3:52 am

    I love how the hostel has a very unique style :-)
    Guilin seems to offer picturesque views (I especially love the cave and the river). Is it easy to get around in Guilin if you don’t speak Chinese at all?

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder June 3, 2013, 4:11 am

      Yep, the hostel was great. You could pain and draw as much as you wanted to. Me and Sarah felt like little kids. Me and Cez speak basic Chinese, more than enough to survive in China :)

      Reply
  • Kelly S. May 30, 2013, 2:27 pm

    I love this! I need you guys to come and do this in Europe so I don’t have to do the research. How is that? Just follow you around by one destination (read love to travel, hate to research) I read that you are going to The Netherlands? Awesome…

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder June 3, 2013, 4:19 am

      Kelly, that would be our pleasure. :):) Yes, I’m going to the Netherlands on 29th July for a month, but I am also visiting Poland, Zurich and Brussels :). Wanna meet up? Would be awesome!

      Reply
  • Charlie May 31, 2013, 1:01 am

    The tandem bike is so cute! I’m really looking forward to hiring bikes to better see the places we visit. I ride a bike everyday here in Montreal, I’d miss it on the road if we don’t hire them occasionally. Reed Flute Cave looks amazing and I can’t believe how cheap everything is! Thanks for the guide!

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder June 3, 2013, 4:20 am

      Nice. We ride our bikes here in China every day. Thanks for the comment. Hope you can make it there on the cheap one day :) Lovely place!

      Reply
  • Jonny Blair June 8, 2013, 7:26 am

    I’m here in Guilin now loving it – wont have time to do as much as you did though but loving it so far – staying in the same hostel as you and we’ve signed the wall near you! Off to Yangshou next! Got some good money saving tips too – especially for the parks entry thanks to my girlfriend who speaks Chinese! Safe travels, Jonny

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder June 8, 2013, 12:07 pm

      Hey Jonny. Got your e-mail, that is so awesome. C’mon Guilin is small, you can manage to do a lot in a short period of time. This hostel rocks, doesn’t it? Paint something on the wall :) You will love Yangshuo. I can’t wait to see the photos on your travel blog :). Say hello to your girlfriend. Have fun!! Stay safe!

      Reply
  • jennifer April 18, 2014, 11:12 pm

    Hi Agness!

    I will be in Guilin in a mere six weeks. I am pretty sure I am going to scream with excitement when I see the Sun and Moon pagodas!

    Thanks for all the useful tips in this post.

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder April 19, 2014, 3:44 am

      Hi Jennifer,

      I am glad to hear you’re heading to Guilin soon. I hope you will have a fantastic time!

      Reply
  • Laura May 12, 2014, 5:42 pm

    Not sure if you still check this feed as it’s from last year but I have a few questions. Love your blog by the way, so informative and helpful! We are planning to be in Guilin at the end of August/early September. Looks like it’s cheaper to fly into another city and take some other sort of transport to Guilin (train, bus, plane). We’re not concerned about time, but we will have big suitcases as we’re planning to stay in China for about a year. Is it hard to get around by bus/train with luggage? Would a flight be easier? Any advice? Thanks so much!

    Reply
  • elizabeth May 1, 2015, 8:17 am

    Thanks so much for the info & pics! We are currently living in Guangzhou, China – but we’ve been so busy working that we haven’t had time to explore. But we are planning a week getaway in May — and planning to visit the Guilin and Yangshuo areas. Everyone here talks about how amazing it is, so we can’t wait! We look forward to trying your tips in a few weeks!

    Cheers & happy travels!

    Liz & Josh
    Peanuts or Pretzels Travel Blog
    http://www.peanutsorpretzels.com

    Reply
  • Mimmy October 15, 2015, 7:08 am

    Hello!! We’re planning a 3-days-trip to guilin, and your comprehensive blog is a huge help!
    One question, though, while visiting all those places, would it be practical to stay in cyan box hotel (in qixing district) for the whole 3 days? Looking forward to your opinion☺️…. Thanks and cheers!

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder October 16, 2015, 12:57 pm

      Yes, sure. But everything depends on what you are planning to do.

      Reply
  • Karine March 4, 2016, 4:18 pm

    Hi! Your tips are the best!!! Just wondering.. Do you remember which bus did you take to go to the place where locals try to sell the Yangshuo Cruise? Or the place’s name? Tks a lot

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder March 6, 2016, 4:08 pm

      Nope, but please check it out on Google. It’s been a long time :-(. Good luck and thank you, Karine :)

      Reply
  • Melody March 20, 2016, 2:51 pm

    Hey we are planning a 3 days trip to Guilin, and i found your blog when i was doing research. ( i love your blog and the tips are very helpfull!!) how long did you guys stayed in Guilin? And the plces you visited was that far from your hostel? And is it possible to use the underground in Guillin? Thanks in advance. Melody, The Netherlands.

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder March 23, 2016, 8:54 pm

      Hi. We stayed there 4-5 days as far as I remember. Guilin is not that big so you can get everywhere by a local bus or bike, don’t worry about it. Please search for Guilin articles here and you can find more info.

      Reply

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