Gulilin, An Idyll Far Away From the Hustle and Bustle of City

Source:China Daily Date: 2008-10-16 By sakura

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The antidote to urban development, and the accelerated pace of life that goes along with it, lies to the south and through the western gate of China.

Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region has been the inspiration for traditional Chinese landscape painting and poetry for hundreds of years for good reason. Its natural attractions have captured the imaginations of Chinese literati and made the region an integral part of China's classical art vista.

While the city of Guilin isn't the capital of Guangxi province, it is the principal location for artists, naturalists and those seeking a quiet retreat. Guilin has been renowned as a source of creativity since the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), when Cao Ye and Cao Tang dedicated more than 100 poems each to the city in the Complete Collection of Tang Poetry.

To this day, artists flock to the city and its surrounding areas, lured by its limestone peaks covered with bamboo, set against tranquil horizons. Crowded with soft green hills and sectioned by the Lijiang River, Guilin offers prize photos for even the most amateur photographer.

"The people of Guilin take pride in their cultural heritage; the city has produced innumerable artists as a result of its surrounding environment," explains Professor Li Wen at the Guilin Art Museum.

A haven for artists and travelers alike, the area's economic development has depended greatly on its tourism industry. The popular route from Guilin to Yangshuo by way of the Lijiang River is full of floating merchants. Villagers whose families have lived alongside the river through the centuries support themselves today by selling crafts, carried upon bamboo rafts, to tourists.

Anchoring onto the ferries that cross the river on an hourly schedule, the bamboo sailors shout "Hello! Hello!" to greet prospective customers, and engage in hearty bargaining for scroll paintings, silk fans and figurines.

The magnificent mountain peaks of Guangxi's northeastern region have inspired more than art and poetry in recent years. Yangshuo has developed a reputation as the "rock climber's mecca" of China. The area has become a pilgrimage point for backpackers given the popularity of this adventure sport.

Currently, there are more than 200 climbing routes as recorded in Paul Collis' Yangshuo Climbing guidebook. Communities of rock climbers can be found throughout town, relaxing after a hard day's relay, in one of the many quaint pubs lining the brick-paved pedestrian alleys. The office headquarters for China Climb, one of the largest climbing communities offering package tours and programs, is actually set inside local favorite watering hole, The Lizard Lounge.

The region welcomes millions of visitors every year, some of them eventually becoming hosts themselves. Bicycling through the back roads of Yangshuo, just 5 km west of town, a modest guest house appears in the shape of a renovated farmhouse.

Opened just over one year ago, The Giggling Tree was founded by a Dutch couple after their experience leading tours throughout China for several years. Although managed by the owners and English-speaking staff, much of the service provided at the inn is run by villagers.

The renovated farmhouse offers private rooms with bath in colorful summer motifs, with wicker furniture and wooden floors. The impressive restoration project includes the replacement of 80,000 roof tiles and the installation of electricity and plumbing systems that didn't exist before.

Further north of Yangshuo, lies the one-of-a-kind Hotel Of Modern Art (HOMA). Located within a 550-hectare sculpture park, HOMA offers the karst landscape of Guangxi from an entirely re-oriented artistic view. Owned and developed by an entrepreneur from Taiwan and patron of the arts, Rhy-Chang Tsao, the park was named Yuzi Paradise (Fool's Paradise) to capture the whimsy and other-worldliness of the capacious eco-art park.

Initially opened in 1997 as a private artists' retreat, the park, hotels, workshops, and conference center include more than 200 art pieces created and contributed by more than 100 international artists. Four years ago, HOMA opened its doors to public guests, aspiring artists, and connoisseurs. Exotic, luxurious and secluded, Yuzi Paradise makes for a tranquil retreat.

It lies mid-way between Yangshuo and Guilin, a little over an hour and half's drive each way. Private cars and shuttles must be arranged to its remote location. The solitary ambiance is ideal for romantic getaways. Upon arrival, guests are offered either bicycles or 1930s-style open-air electric cars to cruise around the park. The features of the park are as harmonious with nature as they are discordant.

Monuments of human creativity, the sculptures are a mix of ingenuity and playfulness. A high-tech greenhouse filled with semitropical vegetation and botanical gardens - including 100 rare species of Australian cacti - can also found within the park.

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