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A Vistor's Guide to the Reed Flute Cave, Guilin

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A Vistor's Guide to the Reed Flute Cave, Guilin

Back-lit rock formations resemble a city-scape in front of a small underground lake inside the Reed Flute Cave near Guilin.

© 2012 Sara Naumann, licensed to About.com.

Introduction:

The Reed Flute Cave (芦笛岩)is one of Guilin's most popular attractions. A natural cave carved out of the karst limestone mountains over millions of years, today tourists go through the artificially lit cavern and wonder at the amazing formations and underground lakes.

Location:

The Reed Flute Cave is located northwest of Guilin city-center. It takes about twenty minutes by car to arrive at the park entrance.

How to Visit the Cave:

At the time of writing, there are two entrances - one for domestic travelers and one for foreign guests. Perhaps foreigners get to pay more, perhaps it is to allow non-Chinese speakers to travel at their own pace. Either way, follow the signs and pay entry. Try to grab one of the large metal flashlights that are available for guides' use if you are not with a guide. It will allow you to turn on the lights inside the cave sections.

Large tour groups go through the cave and stop at each of the "attractions", e.g. rock formations in the shape of [fill in the blank], all of which are highly lit by artificial neon lights. If you are traveling on your own, you can either tag along with a group or try to go at your own pace. The problem with your own pace is that you may miss things as the lights are timed and turn off automatically after some time. If you have one of the metal torches, you can find the light switch and use this to turn them on yourself. (The sensors are activated by passing metal over them; using just your hand won't work.)

How Much Time to Allow for the Cave:

I recommend 45-60 minutes inside the cave. When I visited, I had my two kids along plus our guide and we took our time at the beginning crawling around where we could, taking a lot of photos and going slowly.

There is a park outside the exit of the cave with lots of souvenir, boat rides and gardens. If you want to spend more time, you can allow another 30-60 minutes for post-cave fun.

Visiting Tips:

  • Flashlights: You might want to bring along your own high-powered flashlight (preferably encased in metal so you can turn on the lights at will) but if you don't, you'll still be able to see plenty. A little pocket torch will do nothing except allow you to see your feet in the dark. The cave is enormous so you won't be able to shine a small torch up to the ceiling.
  • Shoes: The cave floor is paved on many places but is very wet and very muddy. My son and I wore sneakers and were fine but my daughter had on Crocs and her feet got wet, muddy and cold. Avoid sandals.
  • Warmer clothes: At the height of summer it is still very cool in the caves. If you are someone who gets cold easily you may want to bring along a light sweater or jacket.

Kid Friendly?:

Yes, definitely (read more about my own experience below). Older kids will probably have more fun than really small ones but overall, this is a great attraction for kids.

Strollers: I advise against strollers. The path is very uneven, muddy and slippery and there are a number of narrow passages as well as stairs.

Cave Features:

Cave Path: There is one way through the cave and there are no facilities (e.g. bathrooms, places to buy drinks) once inside so make sure you take care of business before you go in. Once inside, you follow the set path through the cave. There are a few areas where you can wander off the path and do a little "exploring" but many such places are cordoned off and you don't want to wander off too far in the dark anyway.

Cave Formations: You'll pass many marked areas that you're meant to appreciate - mostly stalactites and stalagmites that resemble all kinds of strange things and illuminated brightly with colored lights. We saw vegetable rocks, a rock shaped like the Statue of Liberty and many others.

Turtle Cave: There is a separate section of the cave where you can go inside and see "ancient cave turtles". When this was described to us, I thought the folks who run the place happened upon some very old turtle inside the cave. Sadly, the are is just a sideshow with filthy small pools where all sorts of very large turtles are kept hostage. There is one pit with a few large snapping turtles and another with - very sadly - a giant sea turtle. I would advise just skipping this altogether.

Outside the Cave: Once you're through the cave (45-60 minutes) you can find bathrooms, snacks and souvenirs. There is a large garden outside that you can wander through if you have time and you can even book a bamboo raft here for a small ride if you so desire. Generally speaking though, you aren't missing much if you just keep on going to your next destination.

Guide Comments:

As I mentioned, I visited Reed Flute Cave with my kids and a guide. My seven-year-old son greatly enjoyed examining the rock formations and the rocks themselves. My two-year-old daughter enjoyed the visit for the first half but then her feet got muddy and wet and she tired. She did enjoy getting to hold a flashlight and generally play with it in the dark.

My own spelunking experience has been, until now, limited to the very cheesy tourist attraction in the US, the Meramac Caverns, complete with faux Jesse James hideout dioramas and red, white & blue lights. I'm happy to have now a less patriotic cave experience. The cave was overall quite fun for my kids and enjoyable for me - and a good break from the otherwise stifling heat of Guangxi in the summer.

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