A JOURNEY TO YINGXI KARST HILLS- a fairy tale of South China

A JOURNEY TO YINGXI KARST HILLS- a fairy tale of South China

China has many faces in people’s imagination. And one of them is its karst hills landscapes, with bamboo forests, rivers, rice fields, and local peasant’s life. There are a lot of artists, recreated all this beauty in their pictures.

Before I came to China for the first time, I thought that these images are only legendary. Yes, I have seen some photos from Guilin, and I have heard that there are places with such kind of landscape, but I thought that Guilin is the only karst hills area in the world.
Then I arrived in China, in Guangdong province, and my friends there guided me to its northern part. And there I saw them- the same stunning sharp hills in various shapes. I learned that there is not only Guilin, but there are a lot of other karst hills areas. Not only in South China, but in most of the Southeast Asian countries too. And I learned how to recognize these areas on Google Earth- their green papule-shaped forms, in contrast to the surrounding “normal” mountains.

So, I arrived in my first karst hills area. It was like an unreal, alien world. It was Yingxi…

Yingxi Limestone hills view
A view of Yingxi Karst Hills area

WHERE IS YINGXI KARST HILLS AREA

Yingxi Karst Hills area is located in Guangdong province, north of Qingyuan city, only about 2 hours on the road from the rich and crowded city cluster of the Pearl River delta- Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Hong Kong, Macau, and all other urban areas. When you go there on the highway to Lianzhou city, passing Qingyuan and the mountainous area beyond it, suddenly the sharp hills raise beside the road- high, dark green and splendid. Then you turn left on the exit to Jiulong, and here it is- the beautiful Yingxi.

There are a few towns and many small villages, scattered in the maze of the karst hills, part of the South China karst system area. And the hills themselves are not only what you see on the first sight- many of them hide some mystical gems- caves, tunnels, underground rivers, holes and stone walls. Yes, some of the hills are literally almost empty inside.

Outside, the landscape is like a fairy tale, especially in the hidden small fields, surrounded by the hills like a fortress. You can go camping at some of these fields and enjoy an unforgettable time there. So, although Yingxi Karst Hills are not as famous as Guilin, it is still one of the most beautiful karst hills areas in Asia. 

A landscape of Yingxi Limestone hills area
Yingxi landscape

EXPLORE YINGXI

Anyway, let’s take a walk around Yingxi. Let’s suppose that we come to Yingxi by car (the way I have visited this place many times), which is the best way to explore the area. Coming from the highway to Lianzhou, the karst hills suddenly appear beside us, and we exit the highway.

Jinlong cave

Here, right near the highway exit is our first stop- Jinlong cave and underground river (金龙洞地下河). We stop in the parking in front of the cave and enter inside. Right after the cave gate, there is a river and a boat, waiting for visitors. The boat is floating slowly in the cave tunnel, thus penetrating deep inside the limestone hill, between stalactites and stalagmites, under mysterious multicolored lights, until a small wharf. Then we start a walk in a long cave tunnel, gradually ascending, and passing by a few fairy halls. Finally, we arrive at the exit, high on the hill, then descend back to our car.

Jiulong

Then we go to the main town of Yingxi- Jiulong. It is a typical small town, full of restaurants on its main road, offering tofu (doufu) meals, which is the main local food here. There is nothing special in the town itself, so we turn right, to the south, to our next stop- Jiulong Small town (九龙小镇)- yes, this place is named exactly after the town itself, maybe to tells us that this should be “the real Jiulong”.

Yingxi Limestone hills- Jiulong Small Town
Jiulong Small Town

We stop in front of the main gate, built between two karst hills. Being a tourist attraction, there are a lot of stalls selling souvenirs and local street food. We enter through the gate and appear to be in a very picturesque place. A field, surrounded by karst hills. A lake in the middle of the field, full with lotus flowers. There are again two caves in the hills that we can see, one of them with a “glass bridge”, very popular recently in China. We rent a double bicycle and ride around the area.

Dongtian river tunnel

We finish exploring this place, back to Jiulong town and proceed to our next stop- Dongtian river tunnel (洞天仙境). It is a few km north of Jiulong town. We stop in the parking and walk to its gate. There is a narrow path-alley inside, which passes by a small dam lake and a river and enters a huge cave hole. While we walk further inside, natural raindrops fall from the rocks above us. Soon we arrive in a large hall, with a big opened hole above us. We cross the river on a bridge to the other side. We see a small local boat, and a man with a traditional cone hat floating around.

Then we are again in another large and short tunnel. We see a path with stairs, which guides us high up beside the rock walls and terraces inside the cave tunnel and nearer the above hole. There we see another glass bridge, this time more extreme than the first one in Jiulong small town.

Yingxi Limestone Hills- Dongtian River Tunnel
Dongtian River Tunnel

Finally, we back down to the other exit of the river tunnel. We walk through a bamboo forest and few stalls with local food. We arrive at a wharf, and take a boat from there back to the main gate, floating on the river through the whole river tunnel.

Huanghua

Our next starting point is another small town- Huanghua (Yellow flower town). We can notice its street market, set up on the main road and making the traffic very slow. But anyway, the local atmosphere that we can feel here is worth to pass on this road with patience. And to buy from the variety of fruits, exposed on the stalls.

Huanghua is a “hub point” to a few interesting places nearby. Also, it is the best point for accommodation, since Yingxi has to be visited for at least 2 days. And before leave it to explore the nearby places, we go to its town park, located in a valley between two karst hills. There is its landmark- an old arc-shaped bridge over the river, a favorite place for photos with authentic cultural taste.

Peng Jia Ci

Then we are ready to explore the surroundings of Huanghua. Our first direction is to the southwest. There is an old, few centuries old village, called Peng Jia Ci (彭家祠), about 3 km from Huanghua. It is built on a hill slope, so its houses are set in a terraced way. Many of them are in old traditional Cantonese style, with its arc-shaped roof and ornaments. The locals named it “Little Lhasa” or “Little Potala”, due to its outside view, reminding of the famous Tibetan city.

Yingxi Limestone Hills- Peng Jia Ci- the "Little Lhasa"
Peng Jia Ci- the “Little Lhasa”

We stop our car in the parking lot below the village and enter inside its walls. Now the village is abandoned, the descendants of its inhabitants live in the new village on the hill’s foot. So we walk upstairs to the top of the hill, through the maze of the old houses and mysterious empty rooms. A splendid panorama reveals in front of us from the upper houses and their terraces, dominated by the endless sea of karst hills, green fields, villages and a river nearby. Finally, we descend back to our car.

But before leaving this place, we enjoy a short cruise on the river. The cruise is by a raft, covered by a roof. It floats on the river about 2 km. The cruise stops in the middle, we walk 200 m and get on a second roofed raft. Then we back on the same way to our parking lot, and by car- to Huanghua, ready for our next stop.

Yingxi Shengjing

And this time it is to the northeast- a place, called Yingxi Shengjing (英西胜境). It is a picturesque field, surrounded by few karst hills, with few lakes in the middle, some with lotus flowers. There is a small karst hill in the middle, with a local temple. We stop by our car in front of the temple and go to the largest lake. There we choose one of the small rafts and row by it on the lake, around a small island in the middle.

Yingxi Limestone Hills- Yingxi Shengjing
Yingxi Shengjing

Heshunyan

From here we don’t need to back to Huanghua, but we take on another road, north of the town, which guides us to Heshunyan (和顺岩) village. We stop our car in the village’s main square and proceed on foot, straight to the nearby karst hill. And the road penetrates through the hill, by a natural cave tunnel and a small creek flowing inside.

We pass the tunnel and go out on the other side, in a breathtaking landscape- an isolated field, surrounded by limestone hills all around us. There are small farms nearby. We proceed on the road, some 10 mins walk, and arrive at a temple, located under one of the hills. There are alpine climbing rocks beside the temple. The place is good for camping… but not for locals, since many of them are afraid to sleep near a temple.

Guanyin valley

Then we back again to the cave tunnel and our car, proceeding to our next stop- only about 1,5 km from Heshunyan. It is Guanyin valley (观音谷). We enter another karst hills cluster and stop our car in front of another temple. A short walk on the road and a path on the left leads us to Guanyin cave. Here the karst hills landscape is one of the most alien-looked in the whole Yingxi. And we see the cave- it is short, with another exit in front of us, shaped like the Chinese mythological goddess Guanyin, like a light hole, surrounded by the dark walls of the cave.

Yingxi Limestone Hills- Guanying valley
Guanyin valley

Tiger drifting valley

Then we back to the main road from Jiulong and Huanghua, leave Huanghua area and proceed westward. Our next stop is Tiger drifting valley. Here we stop and enjoy drifting on one of the many small rivers of Yingxi, passing underground through the hills.

Jiuzhongtian cave

Then we reach our last stop- Jiuzhongtian cave (九重天洞). And again, there is a small mountain river, flowing through the cave. We enter deep inside, following the river, under the multicolored lights, taking photos of the beautiful underground scenery.

Beyond Yingxi

We go out of the cave. From here we decide to proceed further on this road. It passes through two small towns- Jingbei and Baiwan. Here the karst hills become closer to each other, forming a compact karst mountain, without fields between its peaks. The place is wilder and more remote- it is a real adventure to proceed further north inside. So we proceed on our main road, which ascends the karst mountain, passing through some of the most beautiful landscapes that we have seen in China, then descends to the main highway from Qingyuan to Lianzhou, but without connection to the highway.

Here the on the T-junction we can choose to turn right or left, in order to reach one of the nearest highway entrances, and back to the modern civilization to the south- Qingyuan and Guangzhou. Or to proceed further north, to the next fairy areas of China- Yangshan, Lianzhou and Yao tribe land.

Yingxi Limestone hills- Guanyin valley area
Guanyin valley area

HOW TO GET TO YINGXI

As I said in the beginning, this wonderful trip, arranged in this way, can be best done by car. Unfortunately, in China you can’t drive a car without a Chinese driving license, so if you don’t have such document, you can go to Yingxi (and everywhere in China) only by a car of someone else, who possesses it. It’s not difficult to arrange and actually is not so expensive, if you are few people, sharing all the expenses together.

Hitchhiking? It is not popular in China. Yes, maybe its possible with a lot of patience to stop a passing car, but even you do it, it is unlikely that the car driver would want to guide you through all this route inside Yingxi.

Another option is by bus. There are buses from Shenzhen, Guangzhou, and Qingyuan, to Jiulong and Baiwan, as follows. Few buses travel to Jiulong small town and Dongtian river tunnel from Shenzhen at 9:00, 10:00 and 14:30, and the price is 100 RMB, and back to Shenzhen at 8:30, 14:00 and 15:00. There are also many buses from Qingyuan North station to Jiulong town, every 30 mins, from 6:40 to 18:30.

BIKE RENTALS

There are many places where you can rent a bike. It is really a pleasure to ride among the hills. However, the problem is that if you want to enter some cave, underground river or hill (like Peng Jia Ci), you have to remain the bike outside and it may disappear. But it is proper to explore the karst hills clusters north of Huanghua- Heshunyan village with its cave tunnel, the temple, and Guanyin cave since these places don’t have gate entrances. But how about other places?

Yingxi Limestone Hills- an old bridge in Huanghua
An old bridge in Huanghua

GATE ENTRANCE AND FEES

Not all the destinations have entrance fees, but the following have:

– Jiulong small town- 80 RMB
– Dongtian river tunnel- 85 RMB
– Peng Jia Ci- 80 RMB
– Jiuzhongtian cave- 88 RMB
– Yingxi Shengjing- 68 RMB
– Tiger drift valley- two versions: 168 and 228 RMB
Some of the destinations have combined tickets: Dongtian river tunnel and Jiulong small town- totally 130 RMB

ACCOMMODATION

The options for accommodation are rich. There are many small hotels in Jiulong, Huanghua and some of the nearby villages. You can find of them in Booking and Agoda. But it is better to contact them in advance to confirm, because some of them may not accept foreigners, because don’t have such registration license.

Basically, the hotel prices in China are stable, the same in every season. But since Yingxi is a tourist area (although still not very developed), it can be more expensive during the holidays.

Since Huanghua town is located in the middle of Yingxi area, it is the best place to sleep. There are a few good hotels, one of which is my favorite- Art hotel, located in the southeastern part of Huanghua town. The price there is usually between 180 and 250 RMB per room (depending on the season). The hotel building is nothing special outside, but the interior is very pleasant, clean and with a lot of art ornaments.

Yingxi Limestone Hills- In the maze of limestone hills
In the maze of limestone hills

There are also many hostels in Huanghua and the surrounding villages. A good hostel is Lemon hostel (柠檬青旅), located in Gongzheng (公正) village (I heard that now maybe it will change its name). Another place, with more basic conditions, for only 95 RMB, is Luyou station (驴友驿站), on the road west of Huanghua town. And although many of the local sleeping places are not registered anywhere, it is usually no problem just to go there and ask them for one night sleep.

But maybe the most exciting way of accommodation is camping. Camping is more proper in the colder seasons- fall, winter or spring. We have spent New Year night (Dec 31-Jan 1) two times, and the parties that we made under the opened night sky were really unforgettable. There are no arranged campsites in the area, so you just have to find a place by yourself. Usually, nobody will tell you anything against your tent but would be against a bonfire. Anyway, if you go camping there (you can rent a tent from many outdoor shops in Shenzhen, Guangzhou, and Qingyuan), it is better to be more people together. It is safe until now I have been camping there few times, without any problem, but… who knows.

FOOD

Yingxi area, like many other places in China, has its own specialties. Here it is Jiulong doufu.

The food in Yingxi is not spicy, as in the whole Guangdong province. However, some of the meals may be felt not so delicious for the strangers, especially for those who like more “heavy” taste.

SAFETY

Yingxi area is quite safe. The local people are very friendly and open to help (maybe it may change in the future if Yingxi becomes more tourist developed site and the money become a local god).

All these features of Yingxi area make it a very exciting place to visit. It is really worth to make a journey there- for geographical exploring, for adventures or just for relax, guaranteeing unforgettable memories.

Look at this video and make a virtual trip to Dongtian river tunnel in Yingxi!

Check our some guides about Qingyuan, Yingxi and South China!


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A journey to Yingxi Limestone hills area- a little known fairy tale of South China A journey to Yingxi Limestone hills area- a little known fairy tale of South China


Krasen and Ying Ying

a travel couple from Bulgaria and China. We love to explore our planet and we want to make it meaningful. Welcome to our travel blog!

2 Comments

  • Campbell
    November 20, 2018 9:58 am

    WHat an incredible part of the world! Would love to visit China, but it is HUGE and we have no idea where to begin haha thanks for sharing!

    • Krasen and Ying Ying
      November 20, 2018 3:15 pm

      Yes, China is really huge, and there are a lot of hidden gems that are little known, but incredibly beautiful. If you want to explore China, maybe first start from the main famous destinations. Then dive into the deep unknown… it is really exciting! 🙂

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