Named for the lush green reeds growing outside, Reed Flute Cave has been one of Guilin’s most prominent attractions for over 1000 years. 芦笛岩 in Chinese (pronounced Lúdí Yán), is a massive limestone cave over 180 million years old.
This foot-accessible cave is known for the reeds that grow outside that are hollow and can be made into flutes. Inside the cavern are many stalactites, stalagmites, rock formations, medieval ink inscriptions, and colored lights that highlight the unique sights.
Reed Flute Cave Map
Quick Facts About Reed Flute Cave
Name in Chinese: Lúdí Yán 芦笛岩
Maximum Height: 18 meters
Maximum Width: 93 meters
Opening Hours: April - November: 7:30-18:00, December - March: 08:00 to 17:30
Ticket Price: 90 CNY for adults, 45 CNY for children under 1.4 meters, free for children under 1.2 meters.
Location: The cave is located between the Toahua River (桃花江) and Fanglian Pond (芳莲池), northwest of Qiaotou Village (桥头村) by about 500 meters.
How long does it take to visit?
The tour itself takes about 1.5 to 2 hours, plus some waiting time for getting tickets (anywhere from just a few minutes to 30 minutes or more, depending on how busy it is).
Give yourself about 2-3 hours to visit Reed Flute Cave. It will take 3 hours or more if you are in the city center, especially if you visit during rush hour as Guilin can have a lot of traffic. If it is peak tourist season, expect to spend more time there as well, on account of the crowds.
The Crystal Palace
The Crystal Palace
Reed Flute Cave’s most famous highlight, is the legendary Crystal Palace of the Dragon King. This area is the widest part of Reed Flute Cave, and it forms an enormous hallway with few stalagmites and stalactites. The few that have not been washed away by erosion point in various directions, and the lights inside the cave make the stalactites appear to be lanterns, illuminating the cavernous hall while the stalagmites look like jumping fish.
Upon exiting the Crystal Palace, it 3 “lanes” appear, and legend has it that this is where the Monkey King battled the Dragon King’s minions.
Some Hidden Gems Found in the Cave
1. Ink Inscriptions: There are over 70 ink inscriptions inside the cave, dating back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907). It is believed that the oldest inscriptions in Reed Flute Cave are from the year 792.
2. The Tower-Shaped Pine: This stalagmite resembles a pine tree covered in thick layers of snow and ice.
3. Rose Dawn over Lion Peaks: This series of formations looks like mountains, forests, and a lion protecting its cubs.
4. The Double Columns: Reaching out of a stalagmite stone forest, these two gargantuan pillars reach almost to the ceiling of the cave.
Rose Dawn over Lion Peaks
How was Reed Flute Cave formed?
1. Continental Plate Movement
200 million years ago, most of the Guilin area and much of South East Asia was under water. Continental plate tectonics changed this. As the Indian Plate started to slide into the Eurasian Continental Plate, Southern and South Eastern Asia began to rise. Now Southern Asia- the Himalayas- is the highest point on Earth, and S.E. Asia is famous for its beautiful karst formations.
2. Monsoon Climate Erosion
Guilin was part of Asia that was previously under the ocean. As the ocean receded and guilin rose up, rock formations that had already existed in the ocean began to appear. These rock formations were “cleaned” thanks to the monsoon climate eroding the soft sediment and soil around them, leaving the mystical limestone karsts that define Guangxi’s landscape. Low-lying areas formed ponds and lakes that water drained into, creating submerged caverns over millions of years.
3. Carbonic Acid Erosion
As the limestone karsts continued to rise and the softer substances were washed away, they became proper caves. The thick subtropical jungle helped feed carbonic acid into the subterranean caves.
This carbonic acid (formed by plant matter interacting with water) breaks down rock via slow erosion over millions of years. Phosphates and calcium are separated from rock, broken down in the carbonic acid as it flows lower, and then deposited on new layers of rock. This can be seen as water drips from stalactites to stalagmites. Thus fantastical rock formations can be found in Guilin’s many caverns, particularly Reed Flute Cave.
Today, the rock formations, particularly the stalactites and stalagmites are still “growing” and changing.
4. Moon Spirit vs. Corrupt Government Officials
There is also a local legend of some corrupt government officials stealing illicit treasure. This angered the moon spirit Chang’e, who hid the treasures in Reed Flute Cave. Chang’e grew reeds over the hiding place to mark where the treasures were, however, using her power weakened her and she was unable to return the treasures to the people. Over the years, the treasures became the natural beauties that can be found in the cave.
Reed Flute Cave’s Human History
Although the beginning of its formation started about 180 million years ago, Reed Flute Cave as we see it now is probably closer to 1 million years old, as most of its life it was an underwater cavern. The medieval ink inscriptions tell us that Reed Flute Cave was an attraction in the Guilin Area at least 1200 years ago- possibly even earlier.
As the Chinese Dynasties rose and fell, it slowly became abandoned and forgotten...until the Sino-Japanese war. During the war, refugees rediscovered the cave as they fled the Japanese.
In 1962, the cave was officially opened by the modern Chinese government as a tourist site, since then, millions of tourists have visited this natural wonder.
A stalactite named "Music Screen"
How to Get There
1) From Guilin South Train Station take bus No. 3. The bus runs from 06:30 to 21:50 every 10 minutes. Tickets cost 1 CNY.
2) Take city bus 3, of 58 from downtown, and get off at Reed Flute Cave Station.
3) Take the City Sightseeing Bus. It goes to Elephant Trunk Hill, Seven Star Park, Wave Subduing Hill, Folded Brocade Hill, and Reed Flute Cave. It leaves between 10:00 and 15:30 every 30 minutes.
4) Reed Flute Cave Bus Station in Chinese: 芦笛岩停车场.
By taxi the cost will vary, but to make sure you don’t spend too much on an unscrupulous driver, know that you should pay: about 10 CNY for the first 2km, followed by another 2 CNY for each kilometer after. There may be a 1-or-2-yuan surcharge as well. This means for a roughly 6 km ride, you should be spending about 15-30 CNY depending on starting location and traffic if you start in or around the city center.
From the airport the taxi is much longer (30+ km), and you should expect to pay 60-80 CNY depending on season, time, and taxi availability.
Best Time to Visit
August and early October are especially busy and should be avoided. August is a typical break-time from school and work for many people as well, so there are hordes of tourists on holiday. October 1-7 is Golden Week, a week long holiday for nearly everyone in China, and most tourist destinations are jam-packed.
Visit between January and February. Despite its subtropical climate, Guilin’s bitter and rainy cold chases off most tourists during these months.
Other holidays to avoid: Qingming Festival (Tomb-Sweeping), Jan. 1st (New Year’s Day), Dragon Boat Festival, and May 1st (Labor Day). The Chinese holidays happen according to the lunar calendar, so their dates change each year- be sure to check if there are any holidays happening during your trip.
Avoid weekends. Just like holidays, weekends are busy and crowded, so try to visit during the week.
Early-morning during non-holiday weekdays is the best time to visit to avoid crowds.
Fortunately, reed flute cave is an open and easy-to-navigate tourist cave. You can leave your expedition gear, hardhat, and harness at home.
The temperature stays at a constant 19-20º Celsius (66-68º Fahrenheit), like most caves, so you should be cool and comfortable. Long sleeves and pants are a good idea during the summer to avoid mosquitoes.
1) It may be a tourist destination, but it’s still a cave. Leave your suits and high heels at home. Most likely you will get a little dirty/muddy from brushing against the rock walls.
2) Closed-toed shoes are a good idea to prevent foot injuries and keep your feet clean.
3) Some water-resistant boots/clothes are never a bad idea in a cave, as caves are sculpted by dripping water.
4) Check the weather in Guilin before you travel. Summers are sweltering hot and winters are bitter cold with heavy rain.
Despite the interior lights, it is still difficult for most phone cameras to get enough light to make good pictures in this cave. Using HDR mode can help, but a DSLR camera is recommended for photographers.