When I travelled to China last year, I was able to realize a whole set of dreams by hiking the Great Wall, exploring the Terracotta Warriors, wading through the hustle & bustle of Shanghai and reveling in the glory of Beijing. All of these places and sights gave me memories that will last a lifetime, and no trip to China would be complete without visiting these places.
However, when it came to really stepping off the beaten path and doing something different, Yangshuo ended up stealing my heart. In fact, most of my companions actually chose Yangshuo as their favourite place in China. Situated deep in the middle of the Chinese countryside, Yangshuo is a traveller’s dream destination. While in Yangshuo you can explore the countryside, relax along the Li River, and do a multitude of different activities that give you a truly authentic Chinese experience. If you make your way to China, make sure to give Yangshuo the love it deserves. Do so and you will be repaid ten times over.
The first 24 Hours
DO: Even if you haven’t heard of Yangshuo before, you’ve probably seen pictures of it. When people talk about the countryside in China, they are often referring to Yangshuo with its beautiful limestone karsts, which stretch as far as the eye can see. That’s why the first thing you should do when arriving in Yangshuo is to hop on a bike and ride into the countryside to see these majestic views for yourself.
Taking into account all of my experiences in China, biking through Yangshuo’s countryside is easily one of, if not my favourite experience. When biking through the countryside, you’re able to cycle along the Li River as it guides you through the hills and slopes, through the limestone karsts that make you feel as if you’re in a dream, and past all of the different wildlife that is home to Yangshuo. Whether you bike for a few hours, half a day or even a full day, this is something that you cannot skip out on when visiting Yangshuo. There will be enough time for the hustle & bustle that the rest of China has to offer. A bike ride here puts you right in the middle of a postcard view with nothing but nature to serenade you.
EAT:Biking through Yangshuo allows you to get in touch with locals on a very personal level. You’ll see farmers checking in on their water buffalos, locals wading down the Li River, and even local people cooking up a delicious meal or two. The best part is that many of these locals are willing to provide you with the experience of having a home-cooked meal. In fact, a home-cooked meal is often just what you need when you’re biking around Yangshuo. So when going through one of the many villages surrounding Yangshuo, make sure to stop and grab a quick bite to eat.
DO:After you hop back on your bike, make at least one more stop before heading back. Situated just a few kilometres outside of Yangshuo, Moon Hill is moon-shaped hole in one of the limestone karsts. You have to pay a small entrance fee and walk several hundred steps to get to the top of the hill, but once you’re up there, the million-dollar views are worth it. If you’re interested in rock climbing, the Moon Hill’s arch is a great spot to check out.
LOCAL:After a long day out, it’s probably best to sit back and relax for the evening. One of the more popular activities that my group and I found in Yangshuo was taking a calligraphy class – a great idea if you’re looking to do something truly authentic. Considered a form of art as opposed to just writing, you’re able to learn about Chinese history and culture and even go home with your own piece of art at the end of the day.
The next 24 Hours
LOCAL:If you’ve spent even a little bit of time in China, you’ve most likely seen groups of locals practicing different sets of moves while meditating in the morning. What they’re doing is practicing tai-chi, a form of Chinese martial arts. If you’re able to wake up early enough, then be sure to sign up for a class in Yangshuo. Not only are you experiencing another local tradition, it’s also a great way to energize yourself for the rest of the day.
Tai-chi in Yangshuo. Photo by T. Bronselaer.
DO:Other than its limestone karsts, Yangshuo is also known for being home to part of the Li River, which locals will tell you is one of China’s more significant rivers. After biking through the countryside, seeing it from the river’s point of view is a must. How do you do this? By taking a bamboo raft ride, of course! This scenic ride allows you to just sit back, relax and enjoy the view. There are also floating restaurants that pop every so often, with locals ready to offer you drinks, food and even to take your picture if you wish. It’s definitely a different way to see the countryside, but it’s something that you have to do given the chance.
EAT:Every so often, and in honour of my time in China, I’ll head over to the kitchen and whip up an authentic Chinese dish. Of course, it just so happens that I learned to cook many of these dishes in Yangshuo. Before you leave, try to sign up for a cooking class. Not only will you learn how to make some fantastic dishes (such as kung pao chicken and dumplings), your chef will also take you to the local vegetable and meat markets where you can learn about different kinds of ingredients. And the best part? You get to eat what you make! I often still have dreams about the food my friends and I ate that night.
LOCAL:After devouring all the food you’ve cooked, it’s probably a good idea to try and walk it off (at least some of it). As with a lot of the cities in China, Yangshuo is home to a robust night market with vendors selling everything from trinkets and gifts to treats and other little goodies (if your stomach is up for it). Or you can just walk through the market and enjoy the ambiance that one of China’s best places provides.
The Yangshuo night market. Photo by Rory.
China is a land filled with mysteries and wonders. Yangshuo is one of many. G Adventures runs a number of departures to China encompassing a wide range of departure dates and activities to cater for different tastes. Check out our roster of small group trips to this mesmerizing country.