GUILIN has been famous since Tang times for its scenic location among a host of gnarled, two-hundred-metre-high rocky hills on the Li River, down which you can cruise to the village of Yangshuo. Despite being prone to tourist-driven inflation and hard-sell irritations, the city is an attractive place to spend a day while organizing a cruise downstream, with plenty of well-designed landscaping, shady avenues and rocky parkland.
Look at a map and Guilin's medieval city layout is still clearly visible, defined by the River Li to the east. The two tree-lined lakes of Rong Hu and Shan Hu originally formed a moat surrounding the inner city walls – the last remnant of which is Gu Nanmen, the tunnel-like Old South Gate – and are now crossed by attractively hunchbacked stone bridges. Shan Hu is also overlooked by forty-metre-tall twin pagodas named Riyue Shuang Ta, one of which is painted gold, the other muted red and green, both attractively illuminated at night. Guilin's riverside promenade is Binjiang Lu, shaded from the summer sun by the fragrant osmanthus trees after which the city is named (Guilin means "osmanthus forest").