We took a cruise down the Lí River to spend a few days in the majestic Yangshuo. Towering karsts of magical portions, each unique in their form, set the backdrop for the bustling town. It’s no wonder this place is a must-visit for so many people, including centuries of Chinese artists.
We spent three days in Yangshuo and packed in loads of activities, despite the humidity. There was plenty to do in the centre and it was nice walking along West Street at night, popping into the numerous shops or choosing from the endless supply of restaurants. However, for me, the real magic took place in the surrounding countryside.
Here’s a list of the top 5 things we did in Yangshuo:
1. Yangshuo park: this quiet oasis just outside the town centre is where you’ll find real Chinese life (not the stuff put on for tourists). Our local friend took us to Yangshuo Park the afternoon we arrived – although I can imagine it would be just as good in the morning. There were people practising Tai Chi under the shade of the trees, as well as others practising kung fu, playing music, dancing, playing cards or just generally socialising.
Follow the well-made path around the park as it weaves beneath the limestones karsts and over little canals. You can even climb to the summit of a karst to catch a bird’s eye view of the town and river.
2. Seven Star Tea Plantation: we organised a local taxi driver to take us around for the day. First stop was supposed to be Seven Star Tea Plantation, but the photo opportunities along the way were just too good – so we got out of the car a good number of times en route.
The Plantation is about 30 minutes from Yangshuo. We arrived and were given little weaved baskets and straw, pointy hats to wear. We ventured off into the fields and had a wonderful time watching the men and women pick the tea leaves. The views over the valleys were also spectacular. After we had explored all possible paths, we walked back to the offices and sat down in the cool wooden tea house for a tea ceremony. A beautiful, serene woman introduced us to the art of preparing tea and its benefits. Some of the teas we tried included:
- Green tea : with flowers – good for detoxification.
- Black tea : 95% fermented – good for warming the stomach.
- Oolong tea : 50% fermented – good for losing weight (serve after two pours).
- White tea : dried in the sun (not inside like the others) – good for high blood pressure.
All the teas come from the same plant and all from the plantation.
Price: free (in the hope you’ll buy lots of tea)
3. Xianggong Mountain and Fuli Bridge: next, our driver took us to a giant karst to get a view of the Lí River and its neighbouring formations. It was a moderate climb up the steps of Xianggong Mountain, and probably made more difficult by the humidity – but it was well worth the exercise. There’s even a smelly toilet at the top in case you need to go. At the summit, we marvelled at the landscape and saw fireworks coming from a few small villages. Our driver told us that the fireworks were from local wedding celebrations.
A short drive later, we were treated to the beautiful, arching Fuli Bridge. It was built roughly 500 years ago during the Ming Dynasty and boasts the tallest arch in the province. We walked over its ancient stone and followed a little path through the grass to get a front-on view. We happened upon a local painter sitting there and we watched his art take shape. Then we wandered back and ate lunch at a local kiosk by the waterside. The hand-cut noodles and dumplings went down well after the morning’s adventuring. We hardly saw a tourist – only the friendly yet curious faces of the locals.
Price: ¥60 for the climb up Xianggong Mountain, no fee for Fuli Bridge
4. Cycling around the rice fields: bicycles are the best way to get around and are ideal for enjoying the countryside at your own pace. There are many bicycle hire shops to choose from, but you’ll get a cheaper price if you head into the quiet back streets. We rented from a little, old lady in a hidden-away shop behind our hotel, Yangshuo West Street Residence.
There are multiple paths to choose from. We headed away from the Lí River, towards the rice fields. The path was concrete, elevated and perfect for cycling. We passed workers in the fields, bamboo boats on the River Yulong, and the ever-present karst. We ended up in the village of Jiuxian, built during the Qing Dynasty. The stone buildings were being restored, but we could still see some faded slogans on the wall from Mao’s Red Guards. After parking our bicycles and walking around, we stopped for a cool drink at Secret Garden, a tranquil boutique hotel hidden away in the small lanes of the village.
5. Tai Chi lesson: we cycled about 30 minutes inland for our Tai Chi lesson at Yangshuo Traditional Tai Chi School in Jimi village. We rode through the morning showers in our raincoats and were already drenched in sweat by the time we arrived, but after a quick drink of cold water, we were ready to practise.
The professionals were downstairs and us newbies were upstairs. We only had an hour (some people spend days or weeks there) and so the instructor really only had time to run us through the basics. It’s actually a lot harder than those retirees in the park make it look. It involves a lot of balance and coordination. Overall, it’s relaxing and healthy for the body and mind.
Price: our local friend negotiated the price for our one-hour class. The School’s website advertises a two-hour class for ¥180 (or ¥210 with lunch).
Accommodation: we stayed at Yangshuo West Street Residence aka C Source Hotel (I don’t know why it has two names). The location was ideal for us as we could easily get to places by foot. The rooms were nice, although we struggled a bit with the dehumidifier. There is a grand restaurant next door which, according to the photos on the walls, has entertained many famous people. It was practically empty while we were visiting, but we enjoyed sitting at their patio – drinking beer, watching the passersby on West Street and playing with the litter of kittens at our feet.
Guilin to Yangshuo: we took a cruise down the Lí River. It took about 4 hours and cost ¥395. Once at Yangshuo, it was very easy to walk from the port to West Street.
Yangshuo to Guilin: we took a local bus for about ¥20. The bus station is located on the outskirts of Yangshuo, close to the highway leading out of town. It can be a little difficult to find, so try and get good directions from your hotel or hostel.
The local bus stops many times along the way (at one point, it even filled up with school children). If you’re in a rush, there is a slightly more expensive, express bus available – but if you’re not, then this is a good way to see local life outside of the big city of Guilin.
In and around Yangshuo: we hired bicycles from one of the many bicycle hire shops. Another day, we negotiated a price with a local taxi driver to take us around. All up, she must have driven us for about 6 hours, stopped numerous times for photo opportunities, and taken us to some amazing locations outside of Yangshuo town. Other than that, it was ideal to explore the town’s streets by foot.
Travel advice: remember to carry a raincoat or umbrella around with you. Yangshuo is a great place just to wander around and discover, but you don’t want to get caught out in the rain.
China has restricted internet. We used the Express VPN app to access our emails and Facebook. It’s better to download it onto your phone before you arrive. In case you don’t, Yunnan Arabica Coffee not only makes great coffee, but they also have good VPN wifi.
Photo: tea picker at Seven Star Tea Plantation, Yangshuo, China.