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The natural geography of the Earth has a variety of forms, creating many kinds of landscapes. Mountains, plains, hilly areas, valleys, canyons, situated in various zones of the planet- from the hottest and wettest to the coldest and driest- all they can offer stunning views that can impress people to travel. Some of these forms are exclusive and very specific, creating landscapes that are really unique. One of these kinds of forms is the karst hills areas.
What is karst?
Karst is a kind of rock with specific chemical composition, allowing a specific interaction with water. Due to this interaction, the water can change and form the surface in a way that can create formations with unique shapes. In other words, karst (or limestone) rock is relatively soft and can easily be modeled by the water.
There are karst areas in the whole world, but the karst rocks react differently in different parts of the planet. In some places, the water forms mostly canyons, in other places- mostly caves (and caves are one of the main karst formations). But there is a place on the Earth, where the karst, water, and local climate are combined in a perfect way so that they formed one of the most beautiful and breathtaking landscapes in the world- the karst (limestone) hills. This place is South China and parts of Southeast Asia.
Karst hills landscapes
The karst (limestone) hills can be formed in various shapes, depending on many factors. The three main shapes are conical hills (“fengcong”- 峰丛), tower hills (“fenglin”- 峰林) and stone forests (“shilin”- 石林). And there are a lot of shapes, combined various features of more than one of these three.
The conical hills, called “fengcong” in Chinese, are usually karst hills formed in their early stage. Their shape is like the second Chinese character of their name- “峰丛”. The best example of fengcong conical hills is in Luoping, China, where the hills are scattered on a beautiful plain.
The tower hills, called “fenglin” in Chinese, which means “peak forest” or “forest of peaks” are the most beautiful karst hills, where the water and the karst interaction is in its late stage. They are present in the most popular karst destinations like Guilin, Halong Bay, and Zhangjiajie.
There are karst formations, where the rocks are cut from above by the water, which has created shapes like erected sharp swords. In fact, if they were larger, they would be tower hills, but the specific environment in those places has broken the tower hills into small pieces. The best example of such landscape is again in China, in Yunnan province- the “Stone Forest”.
Other karst formations
The playing of the water and rocks has formed many other karst formations, going together with the hills. The most important of them include:
All karst hills areas normally have caves. Not one or two, but many caves. They are formed by the same water processing which forms the hills. Some of the caves are so large that a whole hill can be hollow inside. The caves can have one or more entrances. There are also many underground rivers, flowing inside the caves. These rivers usually enter a cave in its large entrance (where the tourists usually enter too) but flow out through a small hidden hole. Stalagmites and stalactites are common forms inside the caves.
Tunnels and holes
Some of the caves have collapsed in the past, or have been modeled in more complicated ways, creating strange forms like tunnels and holes. Thus a visitor can enter from one side and go out from the other side. Again, there are often underground rivers, or if the formations are in the sea, you can float through a tunnel and go out appearing yourself in a hidden lagoon.
There are also many coves, which can be seen on the hills slopes, mainly in the hill’s basic. Stalactites, stalagmites and flowing water can be also often seen inside. Some of the coves are used as small religious shrines.
Canyons are another feature of the karst areas. They can be usually seen in more compact karst hills areas, where the water has broken through the mountain body, creating a gorge with slopes which can be vertical like walls.
Ponors are karst holes, where the waters sink from an angle deep under the surfaces. There the waters enter an underground river system and go out again like a larger river.
These forms are depressions, or vertical holes, larger than the ponors. They are usually dry, but when the rain comes, the rainwater sinks into the hole’s cracks in the bottom, proceeding again to an underground river system. Some of the sinkholes are really large, and the largest ones are found in the Chinese karst areas.
THE 10 MOST BEAUTIFUL KARST HILLS DESTINATIONS
The karst areas in South China and Southeast Asia are large, and you can recognize these areas, when looking at Google Earth by their typical relief form, as a zone of green pimples. These zones in South China, especially in Guangxi province are really large, and inside them, you can find the best karst hills destinations to visit. Most of the karst hills areas in Southeast Asia are actually on the seacoast, and many of the hills are inside the sea, turned into islands, which creates a really stunning sea karst landscape.
See the 12 most beautiful karst hills destinations in South China and Southeast Asia, which are the best in the world, and be inspired!
Type of karst terrain: fenglin (tower hills) and fengcong (conical hills)
Guilin remains as the most famous of the karst hills areas in China and the world. And it really deserves it. It features not only karst hills landscape with a rich cave system, but in addition, there is a large river and a few smaller rivers. The area is also rich in history and local ethnic culture. All this has made Guilin be a really great destination, one of the symbols of China.
The area is located in Guangxi Autonomous Region and Guilin is the third biggest city of this region. Li River is flowing through Guilin and connects it with the two smaller tourist cities of Xingping and Yangshuo. The main attraction is a cruise on the river, from Guilin to these two cities, passing through fantastic karst landscape.
But the area has much more to offer- these three cities are full of old and ethnic style streets and neighborhoods, as well as pagodas, temples, parks and other attractions. Don’t forget the caves which are also very beautiful.
Check out some guides, books and other information about Guilin!
Type of terrain: fengcong (conical hills)
Luoping is a small city in the southeastern part of Yunnan province, near Guizhou and Guangxi. And the area around it features another fairy landscape- Luoping karst hills. This landscape is formed by a large plain as a foundation. And there are numerous conical hills, scattered on the plain.
But the most attractive side of Luoping can be seen at February-March when the plain is covered by endless plantations of canola (rapeseed). Then you can see a vast yellow sea of canola flowers and green conical hills everywhere like islands. Thus during this season, the area becomes a paradise for photographers.
Type of karst terrain: fenglin (tower hills)
This is one of the largest karst hills areas in the world. And the name of the area means “ten thousand forest peaks” because the tower hills are really numerous. The karst has formed fantastic landscapes, with caves, waterfalls, and valleys.
The main city and starting point for exploring the area is Xingyi, located not far from Luoping, but in the territory of Guangxi. Wanfenglin is divided into East and West Peak Forests. West Peak Forest is now turned into a National Park and it is the main attractive part of the area, recognized as one of the most beautiful karst hills areas in China.
Type of karst terrain: sandstone pillars
This is a different kind of karst hills landscape. Here the hills are not conical, even not tower-shaped, but are actually stone pillars. There are around 3000 such pillars, covered by subtropical rainforest. It is actually a part of a mountain range, whose karst areas are chopped and cut by the processing of water. Thus the formed pillars are like a stone forest, some of them higher than 200 m. All this has created a unique fantastic landscape, that can’t be seen anywhere else on the Earth.
The best part of Wulingyuan is Zhangjiajie National Park, so-called “Avatar Mountain”, where the famous film Avatar was shot. There are two main routes for the visitors exploring Zhangjiajie- a lower and a higher route. The lower route passes through the valleys under the pillars, and the higher- on the mountain summits. The place is particularly mystical, like an alien paradise, where the fog embraces the landscape.
Check out some guides, books and other information about Zhangjiajie here!
Type of karst terrain: fenglin (tower hills), most of them in the sea like islands.
Halong Bay is one of the perfect examples of sea karst hills area, and it is the most beautiful of them. It is located in Northern Vietnam, near Bai Chay city, which is its main starting point to explore. Actually, the karst zone covers a large area in this part of Vietnam, part of which is on the land, and another part- in the sea.
The part which is in the sea consists of more than 1700 islands, which are actually karst tower hills. Many of the islands are hollowed inside by cave systems. Most of them are uninhabited, or the local inhabitants live on floating villages between the islands.
Floating between the tower hill islands is a really unique experience. The ships enter in a maze of natural towers, revealing fantastic landscapes behind every hill island. No wonder that this place has become a popular tourist destination and has been proudly become a World Heritage Site. There are a lot of cruises, arranged by many tour companies, from a few hours to a few days, from budget to high luxury. So you have plenty of options, and if you visit Vietnam, Halong Bay is a must to visit too!
Check out some more guides, books and other information about Halong Bay here!
Type of karst terrain: fenglin (tower hills) and fengcong (conical hills)
This is another karst hills area, of Guilin-Wanfenglin type. Located in the north part of Guangdong province, it is less known than its “big brother” Guilin. Its main towns are Jiulong and Yangshan. Actually, Yingxi Limestone Hills area is extended further northwest, to Liannan, forming the so-called “Yingxi Corridor” of karst hills. Its main tourist part is located around Jiulong and Huanghua towns, featuring tower hills, fields, small rivers, a few old villages, caves and rafting spots.
But northwest of Huanghua the tower hills are merged into a compact mountain area with tower peaks. It extends further to Yangshan and Liannan, where the local Yao minority lives and adds another cultural taste of the area. And that’s what makes Yingxi really worth to visit- it is much natural and mysterious than Guilin, being far from the developed tourism and tourist crowds.
Check out some guides, books and other information about Yingxi, Qingyuan and Guangdong province of China!
7.Shilin stone forest
Type of karst terrain: limestone forest.
Shilin is the world’s best example of karst stone forest formation on the Earth. Here the water-stone processing has been different due to the different conditions that in Guilin and Wanfenglin. As a result, the rocks haven’t formed like tower hills but has been chopped as stone pillars. But unlike Wulingyuan’s stone pillars, Shilin’s pillars are tinier, sharper and thicker, like stone swords or teeth.
Shilin is the home of Yi minority, so, as the other karst areas in China, it adds a more special taste of the cultural environment there. The Shilin itself consists of Major Stone Forest and Minor Stone Forest, as well as some lakes and other local natural sites. Major Stone Forest is the main National Park of the area.
Check out some guides, books and information about Shilin and Yunnan province of China!
Type of karst terrain: compact mountain with peak forest
Vang Vieng is a small tourist city in Laos, well known with its karst formations and a river, added to the beautiful landscape. Here the karst hills are more compact than those in South China, and not very sharp, but their slopes are magnificent. As in all other karst areas, there are a lot of caves. The narrow valleys between the hill clusters are another stunning feature of the landscape.
This area has been very popular as an area of backpacking parties, with tubing, drinking, drugs and many other party things. But after some death casualties, the government closed most of the bars and seriously limited all dangerous activities. This decreased the crowds of tourists there and now Vang Vieng is a really charming and quiet place, in the fantastic scenery around it.
Check out some guides, books and more information about Vang Vieng and Laos!
9.Phang Nga Bay
Type of karst terrain: fenglin (tower hills) in the sea.
Phang Nga is a bay on the western coast of Thailand, in the Andaman Sea. There are islands, a river mouth, plain fields, beaches, a few towns and resorts, from which most famous are Krabi and Phuket Island. And there is a karst area, added to this tropical paradise. The karst hills are not too many and not compact. Again, part of them is located in the sea, forming beautiful islands.
But unlike Halong Bay in Vietnam, here the tower hills islands are smaller. Some of them are only rocks like pillars. The most famous of them is James Bond Island- a high pillar in the sea. There are picturesque canals between the islands, sea caves and karst tunnels, which makes this place a paradise for kayaking. Add to this the stunning beaches of Phuket nearby, so no wonder that Krabi area with its Phang Nga Bay is a world-famous destination.
Check out some guides, books and other information about Phang Nga Bay and Thailand!
Type of karst terrain: fenglin (tower hills) in the sea.
The karst formations in Southeast Asia are not located only in the continent, but also in the islands of Indonesia and the Philippines. The best one of them is El Nido– a tropical paradise in the extreme northeast of Palawan Island. It is quite similar to Krabi and Halong Bay, featuring the same tower hill formations in the sea. But here you can see more canal and lagoon type coastlines
There are more than 40 small islands around Palawan mainland of El Nido. The area is perfect for diving and snorkeling, as well as kayaking in the lagoons and canals. There are also some beaches which, combined with the karst terrain around, form stunning scenery.
Check out some guides, books and other information about El Nido, Palawan and the Philippines!
There are many other karst areas in South China and Southeast Asia, but their karst hills and rocks features are not the best as the 10 above. That doesn’t mean that they are not beautiful and not worth to visit, just their “power” is in other things- canyons, waterfalls, caves, or ethnic and cultural sites.
The karst hills areas are significant landmarks, real masterpieces of nature, created by God. So, if you make a trip to this part of the world, you really must include at least one of these destinations, which are an important part of the image of China and Southeast Asia.
The above mentioned are the ten best karst hills located in southeast Asian countries, including China. Furthermore, if you want to see the usual hills surrounded by beautiful mountains, you can consider going either trekking in Nepal, India or Bhutan and visit Ghorepani Poon Hill, Nagarkot, Anantagiri Hills, Ajodhya Hills, Phobjikha, etc.Or you can enjoy many other types of geological formations, such as red stone (“danxia”), wind-formed rocks and many other. Some of them are just unique hilly landscapes, and others are a “prelude” to the highest mountains on Earth. Our planet offers really a lot of amazing real pictures, where you can dive inside!
Watch how the karst landscapes are formed!
Hi, we are Krasen and Ying Ying. Krasen is from Bulgaria, and Ying Ying is from China. We are passionate about geography and history, and we believe that the best way to experience it is by exploring the Earth in reality, not in a school, and not virtually.
So, we created this blog Journey Beyond the Horizon, where we share geographical knowledge, travel guides and tips how to experience it when you explore our planet, and a lot of inspiration.
And we wish you a happy journey, not just virtually, but most of all- in reality.