Guilin’s smaller, more relaxed cousin, Yangshuo, boasts the same stunning karst scenery, with a multitude of activities that are great for intrepid explorers. Whether you travel by boat, bike or foot, the landscape demands your attention.
During the day, the traditional bamboo rafts that float along the Li and Yulong Rivers are the perfect way to relax and take in the other-worldly view; the Water Caves offer an action-packed obstacle course of mud pools, stalactites, stalagmites, and freshwater springs; and the evening brings with it one of China’s best shows, Impressions Liu Sanjie. Sitting on the banks of the most scenic stretch of the Li River watching the illuminations on the surrounding mountains is reason enough to visit Yangshuo.
Situated in Guangxi province, Yangshuo does not have an airport or train station, however, it is a convenient hour-long taxi ride to Guilin Liangjiang International airport.
Buses: Buses between the two cities depart as regularly as every 10 minutes throughout the day and take around 1 hour 30 minutes. You can also catch direct buses to Nanning (6 ½ hours) and Shenzhen (13 hours).
Just down the river from Guilin, Yangshuo is a highlight of any China tour. A small but lively town, people come for the breathtaking karst landscape and stay for the wealth of activities. With river rafting, hiking, countryside cycling, caving, and even mud wrestling on offer, there is something for everyone in Yangshuo. Untouched countryside is just a half-hour bike ride away and once back in town, travelers will find a wide selection of restaurants, bars, and markets.
Cycling: The most convenient way to see Yangshuo and the surrounding area is by bicycle. Whether you're exploring the beautiful countryside or meandering round town, bikes are available to rent all over, with a range of prices and equipment to suit everyone's needs. Popular cycle routes include the historic village of Fuli, situated 9km east of Yangshuo. The journey will take around an hour and cyclists are rewarded with the narrow ancient streets of this rural village set within breathtaking countryside. However, you don’t necessarily need a set route to explore around Yangshuo; losing yourself in the lush greenery is half the fun. If you do get too lost, you will always be able to find someone to point you in the right direction!
Hiking: With breathtaking karst mountains encircling the town, it is no surprise that hiking is one of the main activities in Yangshuo. Bilian Peak is perhaps the easiest to reach. Situated just west of the Li River, the climb to the top takes around 30 minutes, rewarding you with fantastic views of the surrounding area. Moon Hill is Yangshuo’s most recognisable landmark. The limestone peak, with its moon shaped hole, offers unparalleled views of the countryside. A hike to the top will take around 40 minutes. For those looking for a more challenging hike, there is a jaw-droppingly beautiful hiking trail between the historic village of Xingping and Yangdi. The trail is 16km long and will take around 5 hours. Both villages are accessible by bus from Yangshuo.
Yulong River Bamboo Rafting: The Yulong River is a small tributary of the Li River that is located around 7km south of Yangshuo town proper. The river passes by many small villages before joining the Li, offering an interesting insight into the riverside lifestyle of the villagers. The Yulong River valley is navigated solely by non-motorised bamboo rafts, steered by a gondolier. Rafts depart from several points and travel south to the Gong Dong Bridge. The first departure point is the 400-year-old Yunong Bridge, which can be reached by bicycle from Yangshuo in around an hour and a half. The route takes you through beautiful countryside but is not clearly marked so we recommend taking the bridge name in Chinese characters in case you need to ask someone for directions. The raft from Yunong to Gong Dong bridge will take around 4 hours. Another popular starting point is the Chao Yang Dock, where the journey to Gong Dong will take around 1 hour 30 minutes. Bikes can be taken on rafts, so wherever you choose to exit, you will be able to cycle at least part of your return journey.
Climbing: Yangshuo offers some of Asia’s best climbing. There are many climbing outfits in town can arrange a range of different climbing experiences, whether you are a complete novice or an expert. It is a great way to explore the region's topography from a different perspective! Prices start from around 300 CNY for a half day.
Caving: The Yangshuo region is home to several fascinating cave networks. Located just beyond Moon Hill you will find the Water Caves. The caves are entered by boat and the network is around two miles long. A trip to the caves includes wriggling through muddy passages and the opportunity to swim in an underground waterfall pool. From the outside, Silver Cave looks like one of the region's many other karst peaks, but once you enter you will find a spectacular collection of stalactites and stalagmites, alongside sparkling crystal formations.
Many of Yangshuo’s numerous expat-owned restaurants, and some good Chinese ones, can be found around the popular tourist area of West Street (Xi Jie). The area is pedestrianized and easy to navigate. If you try the authentic local food, you will find that Yangshuo cuisine is centered on a balanced sweetness and plenty of fresh seafood. Some mouthwatering dishes that you should try include:
Li river shrimp: Cooked simply with rice wine, salt, and pepper, these stir-fried, bite-sized shrimp are the perfect snack.
Fish hot pot: Hot pot is the best way to try some of the local catches - served either in thin slices or in larger chunks, depending on the type of fish - and is a great way to eat communally. However the fish is prepared, you will always dip it in a spicy broth.
Lipu taro roll: This meatloaf-style dish is made from fatty pork belly and mashed taro root covered in a sweet sticky peppery glaze. It may not look particularly appetizing, but it has a delicious combination of flavors and textures!
Braised eggplant: This dish consists of the ever-versatile eggplant stir-fried in a sticky chili sauce with spring onion. The dish packs a salty, slightly spicy kick, yet still maintains a hint of sweetness.
Clay pot rice: This rice dish is served in a sizzling-hot clay pot that is brought directly to your table, giving it a crispy texture around the edges that you can stir through the dish.
Stinky tofu: This dish is a must-try for adventurous foodies! The tofu is fermented, deep fried, filled with a garlic sauce and served on a skewer. Trust us when we say that it tastes much better than it smells!
Impressions Liu Sanjie Night Show: Yangshuo is home to one of China’s best shows, created by famous Chinese film director Zhang Yimou (the man responsible for the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics). The show uses the Li River as a stage, with 600 performers perfectly choreographed alongside a fantastic light display.
Dacunmen Night Market: This popular local night market offers a great evening of entertainment. Located around 30 minutes from West Street, the market is not for the faint-hearted - just about anything can be brought here - but it offers a fascinating insight into the non-touristy side of Yangshuo.
Bars: Yangshuo’s largest selection of bars can be found around West Street. For an up-to-date list of live music and events, visit the Yangshuo Expat website.
Like Guilin, springtime is when Yangshuo’s karst topography is at its greenest and most picturesque. The Summer rain gives a beautiful sparkle to the surrounding rice terraces, however, there is a risk of the river flooding, which may affect your ability to do certain activities.
Autumn is the time of both the Mid-Autumn Festival and the Fishing-Lights Festival. Mid-Autumn Festival also marks the beginning of the Folk Singing Festival of the Zhuang minority. The Zhuang gather at Moon Hill and sing traditional songs in the moonlight (dates vary according to the lunar calendar, see here for an up-to-date calendar). The mesmerizing Fishing-Lights Festival happens in November. Local fishermen gather on the Li River in lantern-lit traditional bamboo rafts, whilst local people release floating candles and offerings into the water.
For those looking for a quieter experience with the same scenery, there are small towns just around the river bend that are more like Yangshuo from over a decade ago. One such town is Xingping. Although easily accessible from Yangshuo via an hour-long bus, the 1,000-year-old village feels worlds away from its touristy neighbor. Xingping is also home to a lively market that occurs on days of the month ending in 3, 6, or 9.