Chinese high-speed rail network from Hong Kong to Guilin/Yangshuo – and escape to this spectacular karst landscape over a weekend

First post from our newest HKTravelBlog team member, Stephen!! Welcome aboard. Check out this YouTube video through Xingping and Yangshuo from Hong Kong –  Details below!

With a little planning, it’s possible to do all of this in one weekend. If you do it over a bank holiday weekend (or taking one or two days’ leave) it turns into a fabulous escape from Hong Kong.

I’ve done this trip twice now – and it’s surprising how quick and easy it is to do (as usual, with a little planning and preparation – I mean, who said life was easy?)

As noted on other weekend adventures – you will need to get from Hong Kong to either Shenzhen or Guangzhou in order to connect to the Chinese high speed rail network.

Preparation required: You will need to sort out a Chinese visa and Chinese rail tickets in advance. Please check out the following links for my recommendations on where to go for these. There are lots of other options too. I’ve chosen what I find to be the most convenient – but would also love to hear other suggestions.

I normally take the ‘Through Train’ to Guangzhou East Station from Hung Hom station (in Kowloon) on a Friday night after work, pick up my high-speed rail tickets for the next morning at the ticket counter there, take a taxi to a hotel very close to Guangzhou South Station – and catch an early night at a hotel near the station in order to be up to board one of the early trains the next morning that will whisk you through to the Guilin region.

Discussion point: The ‘Through Train’ takes you to Guangzhou East Station. The high-speed rail trains leave from Guangzhou South Station. You can take the Guangzhou Metro from Guangzhou East to Guangzhou South. It’s a bit of a trek, but doable. A taxi should not cost you more than 100RMB. You can also take trains to Guilin from Shenzhen (though there are fewer trains) – but this would be a little quicker and handier. You can take the MTR to Shenzhen – and then head to Shenzhen North station. Or take a bus from Hong Kong to Shenzhen and make your way to Shenzhen North.

I’ve stayed at the Jing Ou Space Apartment near Guangzhou South Station. The thing to understand with the high-speed rail stations is that they are usually located quite far from the city centre. You could stay somewhere more central in Guangzhou and make a night of it – then take a taxi to the South Station the next morning.

It can make sense to get to the high-speed rail stations a little early. Security is pretty tight and the stations can get busy. You need to pass through a luggage security check at the entrance to the station, and show your ticket/passport. It can take a little time. Once in – there are usually a few places to grab a coffee/snack – but offerings are limited enough.

You will then need to find your platform – and wait for your train to be called. Your ticket will then be checked again (or you maybe able to scan your ticket through the ticket gate and walk through).  Once you’ve done that – you are on the train. The high-speed rail network is very impressive. The cavernous, white, glistening stations can be a surprise to a lot of people. The scale of the management of the movement of people is to such a degree that makes you realise they have planned these stations for the long-term. I’ve ridden quite a few of these trains – but it’s still an impressive sight to see the super modern carriages glide into the station, or to gaze at the beautiful piece of modern machinery that will transport you at almost the speed of an aeroplane to a truly other-world landscape.

Discussion point: The Guilin-Yangshuo region is quite extensive – once you arrive, there are a myriad of things you could do. I will describe a weekend that I did – which was a fun mix of different activities, and at the end, note other things you could mix-and-match to create your own unique experience.

We took the 7:18am train to Gongcheng station, which arrived on the dot at 9:28am. The ride was smooth and FAST! You have time to snooze on the train, perhaps chat to your fellow passengers – or gaze out the window. The landscape switches from urban sprawl to a taster of the scenery that is to come quite quickly. If you glimpse out to the right of Hezhou station – you can see the rolling karst hills framed behind the modern rail platform – which makes for a nice juxtaposition of modern Chinese scenery.

Discussion point: There is a newly opened station at Yangshuo – which is much handier for getting to this region. The train above arrives into Yangshuo station at 9:44am. 

We hired a car to meet us at Gongcheng station – it’s a new station and it seems that public transport has not caught up as quickly with the 21st century high-speed rail links. You can get a car for the day for about 500RMB – we asked the driver to take us around several sites, and finally drop us off at our hotel for the night. It worked out really well.

Over the day, we saw various sights – such as:

  • Xianggong Hill
  • Yulong Bridge
  • Moon Hill

Actually – there’s so much in this region, you can piece together your own trip by referring to a great guide maintained by a local business owner.

Finally, we got dropped off at the village of Xingping – where we would catch our ferry to our accommodation for the night.

Discussion point: The Guilin-Yangshuo region has been famous for years – and rightly so. Yangshuo years ago was a sleepy town with small cafes, restaurants and backpackers hanging out before they moved on to their next destination. The fame of Yangshuo grew over the years – and now, Yangshuo is a bustling, busy Chinese tourist town. It’s not the sleepy backwater that it used to be. Some people will enjoy that – but if you want to find the ‘old Yangshuo’ feel, there are other areas around the region where you can find that. Xingping is one of those areas. Actually it’s REALLY SLEEPY – but it’s also really beautiful. We got dropped off by our driver at Xingping, where we had to board the Xingping ferry that took us across the Li River to the place that we would stay for the night.

We stayed at XingPing Our Inn. It’s a quiet family run guesthouse nestled in Xingping village. Since you have to cross the river, you end up on a bend in the river, with one road leading up through the village. We checked in, found our rooms – then went for a walk through the village. We ended up catching the sunset – and I think you’ll agree, it’s a fairly magical place. That being said – there’s not much going on! We had dinner at the guesthouse, with great food cooked by the family – and hung out around the garden and house. The ferry stops pretty early – but you can get a fisherman to take you back over to the other side, where there is more on offer. But even still – it’s quiet! If you want some more action – stay in Yangshuo.

The view that evening from the river side was like from another age…

The next morning – we set off to climb Laozhai shan. It’s a pretty steep, but relatively short climb. (maybe 30 mins). The view from the top is nothing short of spectacular. The karst mountains roll out seemingly endlessly before you, you see the Li River winding between the mountains, and you can spot small villages dotted through the landscape. I think a climb up Laozhai-shan is a must-do for this trip – if you have the legs for it! And I’ll leave the pictures below to explain why…

We then headed off to negotiate a river cruise up the Li River. This is also a wonderfully relaxing way to see the region. Bring some snacks and drinks and while way a few hours kicking back and taking in the gorgeous scenery all around you.

Afterwards, we took a local bus to Yangshuo. We had booked our second (and final night) in Yangshuo as we wanted to catch the Impressions Liu San Jie show. This may not be to everyone’s taste – but I think it’s a fascinating glimpse into modern Chinese tourism and an impressive large-scale elaborate performance. The show tells the story of the three Liu sisters (Liu San Jie) – and intertwines this with stories and history of the Li River. There are hundreds of performers, mostly employing local residents. I’d advise getting tickets close enough to the front to catch the scale of the show. It’s hard to catch the scale of the show – but a few shots below.

And after that – we were done. We wandered around West Street – which used to be the sleepy backpacker hangout area of the town – and is now full of bars, karaoke, restaurants – it’s modern Chinese tourism at its best, and fun in itself.

We stayed at a beautiful (but very affordable and friendly!) resort on top of a mountain outside Yangshuo. As you may have noticed, I’m not a fan of modern Yangshuo – and this is a great compromise. Although it can be a little difficult to get taxis there and back.

The next day –  we hired bicycles from our accommodation and had a great morning cycling around the paddy fields of Yangshuo. There were lots of places to stop off and grab a drink, as well as many opportunities to stop and takes shots of the lush countryside.  Cycling around Yangshuo is fabulous. The recommended routes are not that busy with cars – and it’s very flat.

We started making our way back to Hong Kong in the afternoon. Since you don’t have the break of a night’s accommodation as you had on the way to Guilin, this is a little bit of a trek. So I think it’s interesting to break this up also in Guangzhou.

We took the 3:12pm train to Guangzhou – and took a taxi to Shamian Island in Guangzhou for an evening stroll and a coffee at what must be one of the more beautiful Starbucks in the world. Shamian Island is a historical part of Guangzhou, with green leafy streets and historical colonial buildings. Of course, you could go straight from Guangzhou South to Guangzhou East station – and catch your train back to Hong Kong.

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