Mention Guilin or Yangshuo on Lonely Planet’s Thorntree forums, and odds are you will get at least a few replies condemning Yangshuo as an overtouristed nightmare. But it remains an incredibly popular destination with foreign travelers for its marriage of stunning rural setting with plenty of Western conveniences. The best way to navigate the downsides of Yangshuo is to stay outside the town itself. You’re still close enough to take advantage of classes and travel agents, but you won’t have to deal with touts every time you leave your room. And you’re closer to the natural beauty you’re there to see anyway.
Things to do
Walking and Biking
Yangshuo’s main draw is its beautiful scenery, and this is best explored on foot or on bicycle. Your ho(s)tel should be able to help you out with maps and/or directions, but the key is to get out of Yangshuo town ASAP. You might consider the walk between Xingping and Yangdi (which you would have passed on a Li River cruise) or the walk to Dragon Bridge on the Yulong River.
Many hostels and hotels rent their own bikes for as little as 10 RMB per day.
Bamboo raft rides
Don’t be surprised when you arrive in Yangshuo and hear people hollering “Bamboo! Bamboo!” They’re trying to sell you on a bamboo raft ride along the river. If you’re feeling a bit lazy, this is a great way to see the karsts and farms surrounding Yangshuo without having to move a muscle. Your guide will do all the paddling for you.
Bamboo rafts ply their trade on the Li and Yulong Rivers. Prices depend on how far you want to travel. Check with your hotel to find out how much to pay before you get onboard — you’ll need to haggle with the guide.
I don’t normally write about activities or places that I haven’t experienced firsthand. But in this case, it doesn’t seem fair to mention Yangshuo without letting you know that it is probably the premier rock-climbing destination in China. For more information, check out Chinaclimb or Karst Climber.
Cooking class: Cloud 9 Restaurant
It rained one of the two days I spent in Yangshuo, so my mom and I took refuge in a cooking class at Cloud 9 Restaurant. We learned how to make a few basic Chinese dishes: a spicy beef stirfry, dry-fried string beans and vegetable dumplings. We each had our own wok and chopping block, and each person had the chance to practice every recipe. In terms of explanation (all in English), this class was not as good or as detailed as the class I took in Beijing, but it was an enjoyable way to spend the day and meet a few other travelers.
Cloud 9 Restaurant is located off of Xi Jie in downtown Yangshuo. The 3-hour class, which included lunch and a market tour, costs approximately 150 RMB per person.
Most budget hostels are located on Xi Jie (Ë•øË°ó, West Street), the main drag running through Yangshuo’s “old town.” To get the most out of Yangshuo, however, I’d recommend getting out of the town entirely. In addition to the Yangshuo Mountain Retreat, below, I have heard good things about the Outside Inn.
Yangshuo Mountain Retreat
This hotel is located about five miles from Yangshuo proper (10 minutes in a taxi). It was started by an American, and the staff speaks excellent English. The river view (right) is beautiful, and the rooms and common areas are quite comfortable and Western-style. As you would expect from a hotel in this price range, the level of service is quite high — they will arrange classes and tours for you, and provide a good deal of information on walking and biking routes. The only downside is that you are pretty much forced into eating in the hotel restaurant, which is yummy but hardly budget-priced.
For most of the high season, double rooms go for approximately 400 HKD per night, depending on the view. (Prices are significantly higher during the Chinese New Year and October 1 holiday periods.) You can look at rooms and make reservations at their English language website: http://www.yangshuomountainretreat.com.
Yangshuo does not have its own train station or airport, so most travelers will arrive in Yangshuo via Guilin. There are two ways to get from Guilin to Yangshuo:
- Bus: Buses depart frequently from Guilin’s main bus station to Yangshuo. The ride takes one to one-and-a-half hours, and the fare is 19 RMB. Buses return every 10 minutes from Yangshuo to Guilin.
- Li River Cruise: For a more leisurely trip, consider taking a cruise down the Li River to Yangshuo. Details can be found in the Guilin guide. If you only have time for a day-trip, the cruise ticket includes a bus ride back to Guilin.