Guangxi unfolds south from the cool highlands it shares with Guizhou to a tropical border abutting Vietnam. Up in the northeast, the pick of the province’s peak-and-paddy-field landscape is concentrated along the Li River, down which you can cruise between the city of Guilin and the travellers’ haven of Yangshuo. Easily accessible, this has become a massive tourist draw, but remoter hills just a few hours north around Longji and Sanjiang are home to a mix of ethnic groups, whose architecture and way of life make for a fascinating trip up into Guizhou province, hopping between villages on public buses. Indeed, the further you get from the heavily promoted Guilin-Yangshou tourist corridor, the more places you’ll find which remain under-exploited – and more enjoyable for it.
Diagonally across Guangxi, the provincial capital Nanning provides a base for exploring Guangxi’s southwestern corner along the open border with Vietnam, heartland of China’s thirteen-million-strong Zhuang nationality. They constitute about a third of the regional population and, although largely assimilated into Chinese life today, archeological evidence links them with Bronze Age rock friezes west of Nanning at Ningming. Nearby are a couple other major draws: the Detian Waterfall, which actually pours over the Vietnamese border, and the massive limestone sinkholes at Leye.
Though subject to fiercely hot, humid summers, Guangxi’s weather can be deceptive – it actually snows in Guilin about once every ten years. Another thing of note is that the Zhuang language, instead of using pinyin, follows its own method of rendering Chinese characters into Roman text, so you’ll see some unusual spelling on signs – “Minzu Dadao”, for example, becomes “Minzcuzdadau”.