Finding the Mystical Caves
Guilin is a gateway to a great range of spectacular attractions. Widely known for its lush landscapes, traditional architecture, and numerous nature related sites, Guilin is among the most popular travel destinations in the south of China. One of the surprisingly beautiful and unexpectedly interesting sites in Guilin is the Reed Flute Caves.
Located about 5 kilometers northwest of the city center, the caves can be reached in a few different ways. By following Zhongshan Lu (Zhongshan Road) out of the city center, you will be taken past Hidden Hill and Western Hill, then to the Reed Flute Cave. Riding a bike to the caves can be a wonderful way to see the green countryside and notice some of the other attractions that you might want to stop at on the way back. Biking is a popular mode of transportation throughout Guilin so many hostels and hotels have bikes that you can rent for the day for a nominal fee. If biking is not your thing, you can either hire a taxi, or take bus route 3 or 58. For those heading straight from the bus station to the caves, you can catch the No. 3 bus on Zhongshan Lu.
Beginning the Descent
After you arrive and purchase your tickets you will board individual little carts that will run along a rail track into the caves. Visiting the caves will take you at least an hour and you will have the option of a free, guided tour. As the largest of the many caves in Guilin, you will be covering 240 meters of subterranean pathways that will take you to formations such as: Sky-Scraping Twin, Mushroom Hill, Dragon Pagoda, Virgin Forests, Pines in the Snow, and Red Curtain.
Walking into the caves, you will witness towering stalactites and stalagmites that are illuminated by bright, colorful lights. Some complain that these lights make the caves too unnatural and ruin the experience, but most find that they serve to enhance the details and beauty of the stone formations. With tour guides leading the way through the dark paths, you will see grottos, pool, enormous towers of stone, and eerie unlit openings in the tall stone walls. The tour will bring you to a souvenir stand where you will be able to sample some local baijiu, a strong rice-based liquor, and buy a souvenir cave rock.
An elevator inside the Reed Flute Caves will take you down the tallest wall. Inside, your tour guide will tell you the significance of all the different rock features but only in Chinese, so if you have a friend that speaks very solid Mandarin it will certainly enhance your experience to bring him along. The people of Guilin have periodically occupied the caves as early as the Tang Dynasty. During WWII and the Sino-Japanese wars the caves were used as hiding places as well as protective shelters for important facilities like hospitals.
One cavern, the Crystal Palace of the Dragon King, can easily hold about 1000 people, though during times of war it is very likely that far more than this were packed into here for shelter from air raids. This historical significance gives many Guilin locals a sense of pride and they will be quite happy to share with you more information regarding the Reed Flute Caves.
Reed Flute Cave’s Lucky Turtle
Walking down a winding path of stairs, you will come into a tall and wide cavern with amazingly huge stalagmites in rainbows of light. If you try to wrap your arms around this enormous stone you will find that they probably don’t even reach half way round. Inside this grotto you will board small boats and sail through the cold and crystal clear waters of the cave, seeing the silent and eerie subterranean beaches. Once the boat is docked, you can visit a small cavern where an underground river breaks through the cavern wall, forming a waterfall, before it plummets back down and disappears into the ground.
Here you will also have a chance to meet the Lucky Turtle, an old turtle that apparently survived for an impossible amount of time trapped under rubble. After winding though a few more passageways, pools of water, and colorful cave formations, you will again board the carts and be taken back into the world above.