02/08/2013 11:02 am ET Updated Mar 11, 2013

Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue Introduces A New Chinese Destination To Americans

For the 2013 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, the venerable sports publication flew models to every continent, asking them to pose in the cold and the heat, in the dry and damp air. One location used for issue -- the only one already known to the public -- already stands out for its touristic potential. The question is: Can the Swimsuit Issue put Guilin, China on the tourist map?

A city of close to five million, Guilin sprawls along the Li River in Guangxi Province, which borders Vietnam. The city has been popular with domestic tourists, including emperors, since the Ming Dynasty. The Chinese come to see the beautiful karst formations, teeth of jagged limestone that jut above the river.

The landscape shows that Chinese painters weren't prone to exaggeration.

But Guilin has never been a particularly popular destination for foreigners. The infrastructure isn't fabulous and few locals speak English. But inconvenience rarely stands between travelers and beauty. The Grand Canyon isn't, after all, in a very convenient location. Nor is Las Vegas for that matter.

And, Guilin has views to rival both. At night, neon lights illuminate the pagodas on Shan Lake. During the day, fishermen and their cormorants take to the river -- often through a scenic veil of mist -- and float between towering peaks. Though there aren't that many models in Bikinis just standing around, the Merryland Resort offers mini-skirted women admittance for a reduced price. The city has a bit of a sense of humor.

It also has, in Reed Flute Cave, one of the more stunning destinations for amateur spelunkers on Earth. Stalactites and stalagmites are in full force here even if travelers can't remember which is which.

Exposure in Sports Illustrated's Swimsuit Issue likely won't make this the most popular destination in Asia, but it should serve as a reminder of how much there is to see in China beyond the bright lights and big smog of Shanghai and Beijing.

Guilin, A Strange Place For Bikinis