Guilin is known for its beautiful landscape, but it is also known for its tourist crowds. If you are looking for something off the beaten track then it’s time to lace up your boots and head off to the rarely visited Hua River Valley. Be warned, there will be some hiking involved, but if you are ready to sacrifice some sweat then you can witness the tranquil beauty of the riverside villages of Su Jia Cun and Tang Lang Jiang.
Off You Go
Start your journey from Guilin's city centre at the first of the two bus stops on Jiefang East Road on the way to the Liberation Bridge. Here, catch the irregular – and rather rickety – 24 bus to the Guilin University of Aeronautical Technology, (Hang Zhuan), its terminus. For some weeks at the end of July and into August the service may not run. If it’s not available, catch the number ten instead to the Guilin University of Electronic Technology, (Guidian), and take one of the pedicabs from there to Hang Zhuan.
Now the Hiking Begins
Continue up the road past Hang Zhuan’s gates from where you’ll see the red-brick gatehouse of the Shanshui Golf Club approximately a kilometre ahead of you. Walk to the fork in the road that services the golf club and turn right to where the tarmac quickly gives way to a narrow lane.
The lane winds its way between fields and hills to the pretty village of Yuan Li Cun, a kilometre further on. After crossing the bridge into the village proper it’s worth taking some time to explore the watercourses and rice fields around the village, but not for too long; the most strenuous part of your walk is yet to come.
If you imagine your entry point into the village as the bottom-right corner of a rectangle, you need to exit at the top left. Here you will find a small path running along the foot of the hills. Take this path and follow it as it winds up the hillside.
Watch Out for the Mosquitoes
It’s a hike of 30 minutes or so to the top; tiring most certainly, but no great challenge for anyone of moderate fitness. Chinese companions are useful here. The mosquitoes seem to prefer local to foreign food and while your friends dance and shout you can stroll on unmolested, admiring the view as Guilin's peak-littered plain unfurls behind you.
Once you’re at the top, pause for a while to delight in the cool breeze and admire the mosquito bites of your Chinese companions, then begin your descent.
The narrow track terminates at a larger path a short way down. Here you have two choices. Turn right and you have a comfortable walk on a broad path. Another path – used in the main by goatherds – may require a stick to slash your way through the undergrowth in its initial stages but is far more scenic, running as it does alongside a stream descending into the valley. This lies immediately ahead of you when your path joins the larger track and will reward you with mossy glades and grazing goats. The two paths meet again at a ford over the stream. By now you will have had several intriguing glimpses of the Hua River ahead of you and will know you’re nearly there.
Su Jian Cun Village
A kilometre or so further on and you reach the outskirts of Su Jian Cun. This exquisite stopover is unused to visitors, but the caution of the locals is readily overcome with a smile and a greeting. Follow the path to your right through the village to where the Hua River is dammed to provide water for an artificial stream which winds its way through the village and other villages for some ten kilometres to its south and this is where you stop for lunch. The large building next to the start of the watercourse serves as a restaurant wherein you can buy Guilin noodles for 3 RMB per person.
Su Jian Cun Village.
After lunch, explore Su Jian Cun, crossing the dam to the far side of the Hua River for the scenery you'll find there and following the watercourse to the far end of the village. The village is small and traditional; there's a surprising amount to see amidst the activity – and inactivity – of the villagers.
On Your Way to Tang Lang Jiang
Don’t stay too long, as the best is yet to come. Reverse your tracks to leave the village in the direction you entered following the path by the Hua River. The scenery which opens up before you as the path leaves the cover of the trees is exquisite, and over the following few kilometres, as you approach the village of Tang Lang Jiang, the rice fields, water buffalo, fishermen and quaint buildings seem sculpted into a rural idyll that blend with the hills and water of the river to superb effect. In particular, make your way down the path through the rice fields to a wooden bridge. Here you can idle away your afternoon just gazing around and taking photos, swimming in the placid river or crossing the bridge and explore the scenery on the far side. Walk a little further up the river and you’ll be rewarded with new vistas in this tranquil and isolated backwater which seems a world and an age away from Guilin’s often madding crowds.
Near Tang Lang Jiang.
Finding Your Way Back
When it’s time to depart, you have three routes back to civilisation. If you're here when the buses aren't running from Hang Zhuan it's best to return the way you came. You're likely to have a five kilometre trek ahead of you from Hang Zhuan to Guidian and the bus back to the city, though you may strike lucky with a pedicab along the way.
A less strenuous climb back to the road is to walk a few kilometres beyond Tang Lang Jiang, following the path by the hills. Here they dip and you'll clearly see a path to the top. Follow this and you'll enter a sun-dappled forest which you cross to a steep, scrambling path down to the road on the far side. From here you can stop a 13 bus back to Guidian's main campus.
If instead of crossing the hills here you continue down the path some four kilometres, you will arrive at the Guidian new campus, the starting-point for the 13 bus. Along the way you will pass a ground-level cave from which a stream flows, a pleasant place to stop and savour the cool air which surrounds the cave's entrance. Be a little cautious if wading into the cave to explore; the water can be deep in places.
The Hua River, readily accessible from the city, is secluded and makes for a very relaxing day out. If you follow this article you'll know there's so much more of it to explore. If you have the time it's worth visiting again and again, making your own discoveries along its scenic course.
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Keywords: Hidden treasure Guilin traditional villages Guilin off the beaten track Guilin Hua River Guilin beautiful hike Guilin
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