After 3 weeks travelling in Yunnan I was ready for a bit more comfort. I’d slept in more dorms than ever before and had to put up with cold showers, toilets without doors and thousands of Englishly challenged Chinese people. I found what I was looking for in Yangshuo – a great place to relax amid some famous (and unfortunately very popular) scenery. Some of that scenery can be seen on the ¥20 note. If there’s one thing Chinese tourists love it’s a photo op – and what better place to get your photo taken than next to some famous mountains which have been immortalised on money forever.
Even if you aren’t into posing for endless photos there’s still heaps to do in Yangshuo, or you could follow my lead and get into some serious relaxing which is aided by the great value accommodation and huge variety of food. My room was more like a hotel room and only cost ¥80 (about $15). It had aircon, a huge bed, a deck and a small TV which played the world cup football. It’s the kind of room you want to spend time in, which is more than can be said for most accommodation in China.
I did actually get out and explore quite a lot (in between watching movies on my laptop) in the week I spent in Yangshuo. Here are some things to keep you busy:
Explore the countryside
A great way to see the famous scenery around Yangshuo is to hire a bike, but you’ll have to escape the heavy traffic of the city before you get some peace and quiet. The scenery is very similar to that of Vang Vieng in Laos, but the cycling experience is pretty different. The roads are full of buses and cars and it’s kinda hard to know where to go, but in this kind of area almost anywhere is worthwhile. The one place that wasn’t was the Assembling Dragon Cave. I’ve been to a few caves over the last 3 years and this was the worst. It was so full of people that it was hard to move, and some amazingly considerate old Chinese men decided to start smoking. I’ve never seen anyone smoke in a cave before – but obviously due to the lack of ventilation the smoke envelops everything in no time. Exiting the cave was just as bad as there are about 5 shops to weave through before you see the comforting light of day.
Far more rewarding was a trip to an old village. It was a bit of a crumbling mess, which is actually a good thing as most old places in China (that attract tourists) are overly restored and kinda soulless. There weren’t many other tourists there, and you can look inside a lot of the old houses (which thankfully haven’t been turned into shops selling souvenirs).
Moon Hill is a famous landmark, and if it wasn’t so hazy the views would have been pretty good. The haze was a huge problem for the whole week I was in Yangshuo – the scenery was amazing but you couldn’t see half of it! I was just about to buy a ticket (¥30) for Moon Hill when an old Chinese woman said she could get me in for ¥5. She took me a few hundred metres down the road and up a small dirt track, over a barbed wire fence and eventually onto the path that leads up the hill.
Go bamboo (actually, plastic) rafting
I can’t believe they still call these bamboo rafts. They are all made of plastic tubing – but I didn’t hold it against them, I was there for the views. The haze robbed the ¥20 note view of some of its magic, but it was still a good trip. The rafting tours are definitely set up for the local tourists, which means lots of opportunities for photos. We stopped a couple of times at famous points, including a mountain that apparently looked like a horse and a small island where people like to get married.
Yangshuo at night
Yangshuo is home to a lot of Western expats and tourists, so it’s easy to find a bar or a club that’ll suit your tastes. I spent 1 night drinking with local expats and 1 night out with some local tourists and they were completely opposite experiences. The Chinese night club featured some bizarre entertainment, including a fully clothed male pole dancer and a singer whose main trick was downing beers quickly. The beer man came over to our table mid song, picked up a bottle and started drinking it. He should stick to cans, as he made a bit of a mess and only ended up finishing half the bottle. Drinking with the expats was a lot more laid back (and cheaper). I was at a small bar called Bad Panda which I really recommend – it’s the kind of place that seems really familiar, like you could be anywhere in the world.
Walking the streets of Yangshuo at night is an exercise in frustration or euphoria – depending on how much you like shopping, having your photo taken and walking slowly. I’m not a fan of any of those things, so I didn’t linger on the streets too long.
My week in Yanghsuo was the perfect way to end a month in China. You can pack your days with rock climbing, caving and cycling, or you can relax in the great guesthouses, bars and restaurants. The views are nice (apart from the haze) and there is a far more Southeast Asian feel compared to other parts of China, which means you’ll likely either stay longer than planned or leave straight away in search of a more “authentic” Chinese experience.
Have you been to Yangshuo? Let me know how it was!
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