Endowed with the solitary Karst mountains, crystal waters, beautiful countryside and minority people, Guilin is always on the top of any destination list for photographers worldwide. It’s been called ‘the best landscape photography location’ in China, even on this planet. There are not only amazing landscapes here, but also old towns, ancient architecture, cormorant fishermen, rape flowers and marvelous caves. As an amateurish photographer, I have always been told to keep this photography spot a secret. As a local citizen, I am happy to share these spots with the great photographers from all over the world, to promote our beautiful city.
1. The essentials of Guilin and Yangshuo landscape, Li River
The Li River is the mother river of Guilin city. The boat ride from Guilin to Yangshuo (4 hour ride) is the best way to go for sightseeing and picture taking. You can even set up your tripod on the roof of the boat. The highlight is the section from Yangdi to Xingping. There are hundreds of thousands of stand-alone peaks along the river. It’s like a classical Chinese painting when you combine the crystal waters and the bamboo on the banks with some of the solitary peaks all in one picture. It’s a vivid picture when you can see the ducks and water buffaloes swimming in the river, local ladies washing their clothes beside the river, and cormorants standing on a bamboo raft.
Travel Tips: The other option is take a bamboo raft from Yangdi downstream to Nine Horses Painted Cliff or upstream from Xingping Town, to just visit the highlight part of the River. The bamboo raft ride will provide a different angle for photo taking.
2. Terraced fields and minority culture, Ping’an Village
Longji Terraced Fields is the must see spot if you are taking a Guilin landscape photography tour. A two-day tour with one overnight in the village is highly recommended. Ping’an is a typical local Zhuang minority village. You can hike along the terraced fields and choose the best spot to shoot some great photos. If you can stay overnight in the village, you will have a chance to shoot the sunset and sunrise with those terraced fields. You can explore the local village on your own. The personality of the local minority people offers many more great photo opportunities.
Travel Tips: As for the terraced fields, you can shoot different scenes in different seasons. Normally, the local farms will plant the rice paddies in early June and harvest in early October. The best photography season is the end of September and early October when the rice paddies are turning to yellow.
3. Countryside, rice paddies and fish ponds, Muhuantou Village
This is an off-the-beaten-path village which was firstly discovered by local photographers. As a photography spot only, this is the best spot to have a bird’s eye view of a local village, rice paddies and fish ponds. In the early morning, when the local farmers go out and walk along the rice paddies with a dog, it’s a great chance to shoot your best photo.
Travel Tips: There are no well set-up stone steps leading to the top of the mountain. You may need to prepare a pair of gloves if you want to climb to the top. Prepare a flashlight if you want to shoot a sunrise or sunset, as no road-light is available there.
4. Bird’s eye view of the city, Chuanshan Park
There are lots of hills in the center of Guilin city. However, due to the slippery surface of the Karst formations, there are not many hills that you can climb to the top of. Chuanshan is one of the best spots to have a bird’s eye view of the city. With the Xiaodong River going through the park and reflections of the Tower Hill, this is a favorite place for local photographers. The small bridge that crosses over the river is another highlight of this park. It’s a good place to shoot the sunset over the city with the hills as the background.
Travel Tips: This is a good place to shoot sunsets. Prepare a flashlight, as no lights are available on the hill. There are lots of small paths on the hill, and a local tour guide is highly recommended.
5. The best spot to shoot the river and mountains, Xianggong Hill
Xianggong Hill is the most popular landscape photography spot in Guilin. There are hundreds of photographers and tourists visiting this hill every single day because it’s the best spot to shoot the Li River with the precipitous mountains as the background. This is one of the best photos you could take in Guilin. There are a great many mountains along the Li River, but there are only a couple of them that you could climb to the top.
Travel Tips: This is a good spot to see a sunrise. But there is no good condition hotel near the hill. If you choose a hotel in Yangshuo or Guilin, you may need to get up in the early morning around 3 to 4am.
6. People’s daily life, Daxu Old Town
First built in the Han Dynasty and located beside the Li River, Daxu Old Town has a history of more than 800 years. It’s one of the best photography spots in Guilin where you can take a photo of the old architecture, stone paths, and the local people living their daily lives. I suggest that you hire a local professional photography tour guide so that they could help you to book a local family visit in advance, which would be the highlight of your trip to this old town. The host will introduce his old house and daily life to you. Furthermore, the host will be your model as well. If you have time, pay a visit to the Chinese herb pharmacy. It’s a great chance to see those Chinese herbs and take a picture.
Travel Tips: Book a local family visit before you go. If you have a full day, you can take a ferry to Maozhou Island. You can see the local farmlands and their crops.
7. Picturesque countryside, Yulong River
As a branch of the Li River, Yulong River is famous for its crystal waters, peaceful countryside, beautiful bamboo and rafting activities. It’s a must see in Yangshuo town. As a photographer, you can just walk along the river and explore the villages nearby. You might come across the local farmers with their water buffalo, which is a great photo opportunity. Or you can rent a bicycle (or scooter) to discover more areas. The best option is taking a bamboo raft on the river to take some great pictures of the river with the mountains.
Travel Tips: There are a couple of hotels built along the Yulong River. If you want to immerse yourself in the local countryside life, you can book a hotel near the river. Our most recommend hotel is Yangshuo Mountain Retreat.
8. Fisherman with his cormorants: Xingping Old Town
This is the most iconic photo that people learn about in the Guilin landscape. It is also the classic photo on the Chinese banknote 20 Yuan. In fact, this is a famous local fisherman whose picture has been posted in most of the famous photography magazines including National Geographic. The location is Xingping Old Town. The photo of the fisherman with his cormorants is just one of the highlights in this town. If you want to have a bird’s eye view of the town and the Li River, the Laozhai Mountain in the town is your best option. It’s located by the riverside so you can easily find the entrance. Climbing Laozhai Mountain is quite challenging as the steps are very steep.
Travel Tips: The fisherman has a busy schedule every single day. We suggest making a reservation with him in advance. You can shoot the sunrise, sunset, cormorants and the fisherman with his gas lamp at nightfall.
9. Marvelous cave with amazing lights: Reed Flute Cave
The four most well-known characteristics of Guilin are: crystal water, solitary mountain peaks, marvelous rocks and amazing caves. Due to the Karst formation, there are a great many caves in the mountains of the Guilin area. However, only a few caves are open to public. The Reed Flute Cave is the most famous one among them. Because of erosion, the stalactites and stalagmites have formed in different shapes. You also can find the huge, tall stalagmites which are still growing. With the decoration of colorful lights, this is the ideal place for cave explorers and photographers.
Travel Tips: The cave has its own English speaking tour guide. As for photographers, I always suggest that you hire your own tour guide because you will need more time for picture taking.
10. Local farmer with his water buffalo: Zhuangyuan Bridge
Here is a classic picture that comes to mind when people are thinking about China: a beautiful landscape, crystal waters, an old bridge, a local farmer and his water buffalo. You can take this ‘wow’ picture in Guilin. This off-the-beaten-path spot is for photographers only. It’s also good for drone photography if this is your style.
Travel Tips: The farmer is not a professional model. You need to book him in advance and advise if he needs to bring along his water buffalo.