Otherworldly karst-rock peaks burst skywards, reflected in a gentle river. It’s a picture that has inspired Chinese painters for generations and continues to attract tourists to Yangshuo today. And while the town is no longer the sleepy backpacker hangout it once was, it’s still possible to avoid the crowds. While January temperatures drop to the low teens, this month also has some of the least rainfall, so arm yourself with a coat to enjoy the vistas minus the tour groups – and make the most of low-season prices, too.
Yangshuo is laced in by two rivers;unless you’re desperate to see the exact cluster of hills pictured on the 20RMB bank note, we suggest you avoid the Li River, where the bamboo rafts are motorised and the waterways are shared with tourist cruise boats. Instead, raft down the smaller, quieter Yulong River where, instead of spluttering engines, a boatman guides the bamboo vessel two hours down river with a pole. There are two departure points on the Yulong: the slightly more expensive option from Jinlong Bridge (150RMB per person, versus 130RMB per person from ChaoyangDock) is a more peaceful stretch,dotted with water buffalo, ducks, and farmers in conical hats.Another option for exploring Yangshuo’s rivers is kayaking from Fuli town along a stretch of the Li River not frequented by the tour boats. Such trips can be arranged through most hotels and hostels, or through Black Rock Climbing (www.blackrockclimbing.net) for 200RMB per person. Arrive in advance so you can wander Fuli’s lanes, which are lined with shops selling giant traditional fans and paintings.Some of the most fun to be had in Yangshuo is hiking, cycling or motorbiking along back paths. Of all the spots marked on the tourist map, Moon Hill and Xianggong Hill are most worth the climb. While the latter rewards with impressive views of the snaking Li River, at the former, a moon-like arc of eroded limestone frames peaks fading off into the distance.
Those karst hills also afford some fantastic opportunities for rock-climbing and abseiling. Black Rock (see ‘What to see’) caters to all experience levels, from 220RMB per half-day. In this inspiring setting, tai chi schools flourish. The one in Jima Village
has experienced masters who give private one-hour lessons from 100RMB per person. There are also traditional ink-brush painting teachers in town. Teacher Yang (139 7733 0060), who instructs out of her workshop on New West Street from 100RMB per hour, comes highly recommended.
Beer fish – a surprisingly tasty concoction comprised of local carp braised in beer and served with tomatoes and scallions – has become a Yangshuo speciality. Try making it for yourself at Yangshuo Cooking School
. A half-day course (180RMB perperson) includes a local market visit and instruction to make five dishes. In the town centre, Pure Lotus
stands out from the banana pancake backpacker cafés with its vegetarian cuisine and atmospheric décor. For a cheap but cheerful dinner, head to the stretch of the Li River between Xi Jie (West Street) and Diecui Lu – at night, hawkers set up bankside DIY barbecues. Even if you’re not staying there, head to the Tea Cozy (see ‘Where to stay’) for at least one meal. You can pick your own greens from the hotel’s naturally fertilised veggie patch and, if you order fish, watch staff catch it from their pond. You can then choose between eating in the lantern-lit garden or on the rooftop.
There’s a host of clean, friendly options in Yangshuo, with Monkey Jane’s
and Greenforest (0773 888 2686), being just two, but be prepared for the bustle of the central tourist strip. There are excellent value, small hotels in the relaxing, unspoiled villages nearby. The Tea Cozy
is one such place, offering en suite rooms from 380RMB. Moondance Resort
, a short distance from Moon Hill, is another good option, with rooms also starting from 380RMB.
Flights from Beijing to Guilin take around three hours and cost from 1,750RMB return (including taxes) with Air China.
A taxi from the airport to Yangshuo will set you back around 350RMB. Express buses from Guilin’s bus terminal leave for Yangshuo every 20 minutes between 8am-8pm (one-way tickets 20RMB). Alternatively, consider overnighting in Guilin and catch one of the boats from Zhujiang and Mopanshan piers that take four-to-six hours to reach Yangshuo. These can be arranged through www.lirivercruise.net
from 374RMB per person, including pick-up from your Guilin hotel.