The Elephant Trunk Hill

Written by Ruru Zhou Updated Apr. 21, 2021

Elephant Trunk Hill, Xiangbishan in Chinese, is the very symbol of the city of Guilin. It is an elephant-shaped hill that looks like a huge elephant siphoning up water from the Li River. Climb up to the hilltop on a clear day, you will get a panoramic view of downtown Guilin.

Elephant Trunk Hill

Quick Facts about Elephant Trunk Hill

Highlights to See in the Elephant Trunk Hill

1. Water-Moon Cave:

It is a natural round cave between the trunk and body of the elephant. The Li River flows through the cave and when night falls the cave looks like a full, bright moon floating on the river, creating a romantic picture, hence the name. For centuries a lot of poets visited Water-Moon Cave and engraved their stories there, so in and around the cave there are many carvings and inscriptions.

What truly makes the Water Moon Cave unique is its mud pit. Tourists wade knee-deep in mud while wearing flip-flops. The mud is claimed to be quite healthy for the skin. The cave is also artificially lit guiding walkers to the hot springs where they can clean off afterward.

How was Water-Moon Cave formed?

About 200 million years ago, when the Indian Subcontinental Plate ran into the Eurasian Continental Plate, the crustal movement lifted up the landscape in Guilin and caused the shrinking of the Li River, leaving the mystical limestone karst mountains. The Li River water washed the softer substances at the foothill and eroded a small circular hole. As time passing by, the hole has “grown” into a 17-meter-long, 9.5-meter-wide, and 12-meter-high round cave, called “Water-Moon Cave” today.

Puxian Pagoda

This is a 13.6-meter-high solid brick pagoda on the top of Elephant Trunk Hill and looks like a vase from distance. It was built in the Tibetan style in the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) to worship Samantabhadra. Thereby Puxian Pagoda not only corresponds to the Buddhist story that Samantabhadra always shows up with an elephant but also coincides with the legend about Elephant Trunk Hill (see below).

Elephant Eye Rock

It is an oblong-shaped cave connecting the south and north hillside of Elephant Trunk Hill. It is roughly 2 meters high, 5-10 meters wide and about 50 meters long, and named after the position of the eyes of the elephant. This short ancient underground river way provides an excellent place for travelers to view, rest, and cool off.

The legend about Elephant Trunk Hill

Legend has it that in ancient times, the God Elephant was the mount of the Emperor of Heaven. One day, a fairy found that the evils in the Li River often caused floods and messed up people’s lives. She told the God Elephant and they secretly came down to earth to suppress evils and protect people.

This unauthorized action, however, angered the Emperor of Heaven. He turned the elephant into a stone mountain and punished it by making it suppress the evils in the Li River forever. Sealed by a sword on its back, the God Elephant can never return to heaven.

Soon after, Samantabhadra Bodhisattva traveled here and was touched by what the God Elephant did. He pulled out the sword on the back of the elephant, but under the rules of heaven, he couldn’t set it free. So he left his magic vase to keep the elephant here.

Later, the magic vase became the Puxian Pagoda on the top of Elephant Trunk Hill.

Elephant Trunk Hill History

How to get there?

From Guilin Railway Station, take bus No. 16 and get off at Xiangshan Park (象山公园) station. The bus runs from 6:00 to 22:00 every 7 minutes, with a cost of 2 CNY.

From Guilin Liangjiang International Airport, take airport shuttle bus Line 1 and get off at the terminal, Civil Aviation Building. From there, take bus No. 16 to the park.

By taxi: Usually, you should pay 10 CNY for the first 2 km, followed by another 2 CNY for each kilometer after. As for a long ride, you should expect to pay more depending on the season, time, and taxi availability.

Travel Tips

1. Morning and evening are the best time to visit Elephant Trunk Hill. You can climb the mountain and see the city in the morning mist or take a night cruise to shoot the glorious Water-Moon Cave.

2. The stone stairs up to the hilltop are steep but Elephant Eye Rock is a great place to take a rest and cool off.

3. There is a Cellar of Guilin Sanhua Liquor at the foot of Elephant Trunk Hill, from where you can smell the aroma of rice wine. The cellar is only open from one week before the Spring Festival every year.

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