Guangxi has since become an autonomous region within China – only one of a string of autonomous ethnic regions in China – and the canals are no longer used to transport troops or food for their upkeep. In fact, the canals are now seen as contributing to the city's overall beauty. The region itself belongs to what geologists term a karst landscape, i.e., the bedrock is of carbonate origin, either limestone or dolomite (limestone in the present case), that erodes unpredictably, leaving pitted stones, some above ground and some in the form of sinkholes, and some of which "pitting" results in caves of varying sizes.
Guilin is built around water, one might say. The Li River and the Taohua Jiang ("Peach Blossom") River meander through the city, and a number of smaller lakes and ponds are present within the city and its immediate environs. The city lies in a small valley, encircled by mountains with typical karst features, including caves, all of which contributes to the unique beauty of the city and its environs.
The surrounding counties of Xin'an, Yangshuo and Longsheng are renowned for their beautiful scenery. Yangshuo in particular has become a paradise for backpackers, with its idyllic countryside, its easy-going atmosphere, and its cheap food and beer. Longsheng is famous throughout China, if not throughout the world, for the unparalleled scenic beauty of its terraced rice paddies, and for its genuine Zhuang and Yao ethnic cultures (though Guangxi is the "home province" of the Zhuang ethnic minority, there are ten other ethnic minorities present here, as well as a large contingent of Han Chinese). A visit to Longji Terraced Fields in Longsheng County, roughly 120 kilometers from Guilin, is at the same time an enounter with the unique ethnic minorities who tend them. The most spectacular caves in the Guilin region are Reed Flute Cave and Silver Cave, both of which are located in Lipu County, about 70 kilometers from Guilin.
Guilin proper is a well-developed, modern city with a plethora of retail shops that are tourist-friendly, and with a string of excellent Hotels- especially along the main artery, Zhongshan Lu, which runs roughly parallel to the Li River. The downtown area of the city is dominated by a central square surrounded by a number of good hotels, shopping centers, and other commercial buildings. Guilin Railway Station is a regional transportation hub that connects to all the major cities of the nearby provinces. Those who enjoy walking are encouraged to spend a few hours ambling along the city's charming waterways and around its placid lakes - they will discover what makes Guilin the Shangri La that tourists near and far have begun to recognize.
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