GUILIN has been famous since Tang times for its scenic location among a host of craggy, 200m-high hills on the Li River. The city rose from a rural backwater in 1372 when Emperor Hongwu decided to appoint a minor relative to govern from here as the Jinjiang Prince, and this quasi-royal line ruled for fourteen generations, dying out in the 1650s with the collapse of the Ming dynasty. Guilin was later resurrected as provincial capital until supplanted by Nanning in 1914, after which it declined to a shabby provincial shell. Smartened up since the 1990s by the addition of well-designed landscaping, shady avenues and rocky parkland, today – despite tourist-driven inflation and hard-sell irritations – the city is an attractive place to spend a day while organizing a cruise downstream to the village of Yangshuo.

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