Written by Zoe Stephens
A small town buried deep amongst vast mountain landscape in the South-Eastern Guangxi province; for years Yangshuo remained China’s best-kept secret. Visited only by the odd adventurous backpacker or explorer, times have certainly changed.
It was first put on the tourist map in 1980 when Lonely Planet used the unique karst mountain structures towering over a peaceful Li River as its front cover for its China publication, breaking China out of the built-up, polluted stereotype and into a new exciting territory. This presentation of China’s little-explored countryside quickly became an iconic image of the country, and lead to it being represented on the 20 RMB notes still in use today.
The demographic has certainly changed, moving from the days of the humble backpacker to large Chinese tourist groups. But nearly 40 years later it still sees waves of tourists flocking in to see what the fuss is all about.
With its untouched and secluded status partially lost, what is it about Yangshuo that continues to charm an increasing number of tourists both domestic and international?
No matter how many pictures you’ve already seen in books or on Google, upon arrival, the unique dragon-teeth like mountain structures will surely take your breath away. About an hour’s drive from the nearest city (Guilin), backpackers and tourists eager to get a piece of the untrodden earth flock to see this remote and secluded town with the promise of ethereal river views and surreal mountain landscape as far as the eye can see.
When you leave Yangshuo and find yourself immersed once again in the high-rise buildings and smog. This will surely be the first thing that you wish you took in more of – perhaps a reason why so many return. Or indeed, never leave.
Li & Yulong River
Amongst the mountain formations, Yangshuo boasts two large, ancient rivers. The impressive 83km long Li Jiang river and the slightly smaller Yulong river (35km) flowing through it.
For those wanting a scenic and impressive entrance into Yangshuo, the Li river can be used as a transportation point from Guilin to Yangshuo. Daily cruises vary from luxury to budget, but are generally fairly pricey. They do, however, ensure a Lord of the Rings style arrival as you drift along the still waters enshrouded by the towering peaks of the karst network.
Replacing the motor boats you find on the Li river, the Yulong offers a number of bamboo rafts driven by locals that have become a major tourist attraction in recent years. This 3-4hr trip will get you much closer to nature and give you a serene, authentic cruise down the river.
Another great way to enjoy either river is by cooling off in the midday sun with a swim or sunbathe along the bank of the river. The water is usually clean enough!
- Outdoor activities that don’t break the bank
Apart from cruising on the water, there are many cycle paths along the river which are being constantly developed. There is also an ever-growing number of places to stay, small shops, cafes, and restaurants located in the small villages along the river where you can pick yourself up a mango smoothie, rest, and enjoy the scenic views.
A scooter is going to be your new best friend in Yangshuo. What better way to enjoy the vast, unique panorama, than by cruising on a scooter along the winding mountain roads or through paddy fields. Apart from simply enjoying the ride, a scooter can open up many more opportunities to help you make the most of your time in Yangshuo.
Other activities on offer include exploring the numerous caves tucked away in the mountains, and the wildlife that houses them, or enjoy Yangshuo from up above by climbing one of the structures to get those killer views and Instagram snaps. If the 45 minute climb sound a bit too arduous, you can always enjoy the view by taking a few minutes in a hot air balloon or a microlight over the city.
With its world-class climbing spots dotted throughout the countryside, Yangshuo plays host to a large community of climbers who make the journey to Yangshuo for the unparalleled climbing opportunities. You’ll be spoilt for choice! Most climbers stay at least a few weeks in order to make the most out of their stay.
Climbs range from absolute beginner to finger-blistering technical climbs you’ll want to complete before your time there is up. If you don’t fancy travelling with all your equipment, there’s convenient places in town where you can pick everything up for decent prices.
After a long day in the heat, climbers can convene for a pint at one of the local climber’s bars in town and reflect over their day’s’ triumphs, making for a strong community feel.
Town & Community
It depends on what brought you to Yangshuo as to how much time you’re going to want to spend in the tourist-riddled town centre and West Street. West Street is great to take a walk down and see what’s on offer in the shops, and, with its small canals and charismatic cobbled streets, the fairly compact town centre has a certain lure about it.
There is an abundance of bars, such as the world’s only North Korean themed bar, various restaurants, and entertainment such as a cinema and karaoke. It’s hard to find a dull moment in Yangshuo. The expat community is a small and close-knit one, and will surely add to your long list of reasons why you never want to leave.