Yangshuo is a small town near Guilin in northern Guangxi province in China. It lies in the midst of the spectacular karst scenery that has become a quintessential image of China—one view (pictured above) is even featured on the back of the 20 Yuan note. Yangshuo is very touristy, but the surrounding landscape provides plenty of opportunities to get away from the crowds. Most visitors view the karst mountains from a bamboo raft on the Li River, but hiking and biking through the countryside can be even more memorable. I’d do both if you have the time.
Best Time to Go
Yangshuo has long, hot and humid summers with mild winters and a lengthy rainy season from March to August. The best time to visit is directly before or after the rainy season.
Getting to Yangshuo
Yangshuo has no airport or train station, so you’ll have to take a bus or a boat from nearby Guilin.
Minibuses leave from the square in front of the Guilin railway station and take 80-90 minutes. Buy the tickets on the bus once it is underway for ¥18. Ignore touts who try to sell you more expensive tickets—they will even get on the bus before it leaves and try.
Express buses leave from the Guilin bus terminal off Zhongshan Zhong Road and also take around 90 minutes. Buy tickets from the counter inside the terminal for ¥20.
Once in Yangshuo, there’s a good chance the bus will stop before the center of town, claiming that you have arrived at the bus station. Touts will urge you to get off so they can charge you to get to your hotel or just take you to a hotel that pays them commission. Bus drivers are in on this scam.
You can also arrive in Yangshuo on buses from Nanning, Guangzhou, Shenzhen (Hong Kong) or Zhuhai (Macau). Buses from Guangdong Province will drop you off at a Gas Station, which is about ten minutes on foot from the main tourist area. Follow the signs for West Street.
Many people opt to take a boat from Guilin to Yangshuo. This option will cost at least 400 Yuan, although you could probably get on a tour for 100 or so. The boat passes some incredible scenery along the way, but you could just as easily hire a boat in Yangshuo or some of the smaller towns (more on that below in the “Things to Do” section), which would save you money and take you through only the most scenic areas.
Yangshuo is small and can easily be navigated on foot. Another good option are the five minibus routes with a ride costing 1 Yuan. If at all possible, avoid the taxis, as they are probably the most expensive in all of China, charging 25 Yuan for even the shortest rides. Motorbike taxis charge a fLat fee of 5 Yuan, making them a good alternative for those who don’t want to walk or take public transport.
To get around the countryside and visit nearby towns, many people opt for bicycles. These will cost you anywhere between 10 and 50 Yuan, with prices generally indicating the quality of the bike. Motorbikes can also be rented at a few locations around town.
Most of the nearby towns can also be reached by local buses. These depart from the Yangshuo Bus Terminal. Naturally, you can also take a very overpriced taxi or simply hire a private driver for the day, if you don’t mind spending the money.
Yangshuo has a ridiculous number of hotels, hostels and guesthouses and you will have no problem just showing up and finding a room. The prices are also generally quite low, with single rooms available from 40 Yuan. The guest houses and hostels geared toward western tourists won’t have rooms for 40, but a bunch of the Chinese-named hotels offered me rooms at that price after some bargaining, even ones located right in the heart of the tourist area. No matter where you stay, make sure to bargain—the listed prices are always much higher than the actual prices.
If you prefer to book ahead, the Green Forest Hostel is the best in town.You’ll find a lot more options on Agoda’s Yangshuo page, plus an excellent accommodation map that can be a great help, even if you don’t plan on booking a room ahead of time.
If you want to spend a night in the much quieter village of Xingping (see ‘Things to Do’ below for more), This Old Place International Youth Hostel is a great choice.
Eating & Drinking
You’ll find no shortage of restaurants in Yangshuo and they serve all kinds of food. The prices are a bit higher than elsewhere in China though, especially in the touristy areas near West Street. If you leave that area, you’ll be able to find some slightly cheaper Chinese restaurants around town, identifiable by their lack of an English menu. For the cheapest options, try the self serve places on Chengzhong Road or the night market on Guihua Road.
The nightlife in Yangshuo consists of a few places frequented by backpackers and a bunch of places for the Chinese tourists (read: not tolerable for longer periods of time). You’ll also find a lot of tea shops around town, but I’d avoid them. Many will scam you, the rest are simply overpriced. Have tea elsewhere in China and whatever you do, do NOT follow a Chinese person you just met to a tea shop—this is the most common scam in China.
Yangshuo is safe, but watch out for pickpockets anywhere crowds gather, especially at the station and the night market. Beware of scams. If someone approaches you, assume they are trying to rip you off, no matter how nice and helpful they seem. Keep talking to them if you like, but don’t go anywhere they suggest.
Things to Do
- Karst Landscape: the area around Yangshuo is renowned for its beautiful scenery with thousands of limestone hills peppered around the countryside. There are a number of popular areas to enjoy the karst landscape either by bamboo raft, cycling or on foot:
- Yangdi-Xingping Scenic Area: the most famous and beautiful stretch of the Li River; you pass through this area on the boat trip from Guilin to Yangshuo or you can take a boat directly from Yangshuo or take a minibus to Yangdi (¥8, takes 90 minutes) or Xingping (¥7, takes 45 minutes) and get a boat there; rafts will generally cost around 150 Yuan, but it is possible to find some for 100 or even less (bargain hard, the hawkers are incredibly aggressive); you can also hike this stretch (24 km, takes 5 or 6 hours), in which case you’ll have to buy a ticket for 100 to 150 RMB (bargain for a lower price), which includes the price of two of the three river crossings (if you start in Xingping, you might get away with not paying); river crossings should never cost more than 10 Yuan and are sometimes free; if you get tired of walking, you can always just hire a bamboo raft—they’re everywhere
- Yulong River Valley: rivals the more famous Yangdi-Xingping area in beauty; take a minibus from the Yangshuo Bus Terminal toward Jinbao and get off near Yulong Village (tell the driver where you want to go and he’ll tell you where to get off) or simply cycle out; you can go bamboo rafting on this river as well, but many people opt to cycle this valley which takes you through numerous farming villages and over old stone bridges; it’s easy to get lost, but it’s generally not a big deal if you do; hire a local guide if you are worried (generally around 100 RMB per day)
- Moon Hill: a hill with a huge hole shaped like a moon that can be climbed fairly easily via a bunch of uneven stairs for some incredible views; take a minibus toward Gaotian from the Yangshuo Bus Terminal or ride a bicycle (follow the road to Wuzhou south from Yangshuo for about 8km); the Moon Hill Café at the bottom serves very overpriced and mediocre food, so think about bringing your own snacks and drinks; entrance is 15 RMB
- Big Banyan Tree Scenic Area: a popular park by the Yulong River featuring a 1400 year old Banyan tree; located on the road to Wushu between Moon Hill and Yangshuo; entrance is ¥20
- Assembling Dragon Cave: a karst cave surrounded by peaks that apparently look like dragons in the clouds; rock formations inside the cave are it up by neon lights; located 6km south of Yangshuo between the Big Banyan Tree and Moon Hill
- Cormorant Fishing: local fisherman use comorants to catch fish; one of the famous images from this area; arrange for this activity with your guesthouse or any of the travel agents in towN
- People’s Park: great place for people watching, as locals gather to play cards, knit, etc.; located across from the bus station
- Climbing: the limestone karsts surrounding Yangshuo make for some excellent climbing, with over 300 routes for all skill levels; you should have no trouble finding climbing partners in Yangshuo—try the Climbers Inn especially; several climbing companies around town arrange climbs and rent equipment; they also sell the “Yangshuo Climbing Guide”, which details the various routes
- Biking: the countryside around Yangshuo is perfect for exploring on a bicycle with a bunch of little villages surrounded by farmland and backed by the incredible karst scenery; bikes can be rented all over town and generally run from 10 – 50 RMB or more (for the most part, the more you pay, the better the bike); the bikes aren’t in the best condition, so make sure to check them out thoroughly before renting; maps of the area are available wherever you can rent bikes, but even with a map it is easy to get lost; getting lost is not a big deal and is actually part of the fun, but you can always hire a guide for around 100 RMB per day (in some cases, hiring a local farm woman will include a lunch at her place)
- Exploring Caves: the limestone hills are riddled with caves; any of the climb shops around town can help with cave tours as well
- Swimming in the Li River: during the summer months, it is possible to swim in the Li River; one good spot is the “Secret Beach”—find the locals swimming from the docks just upstream from the town center and continue walking north for about 20 minutes; you can also swim at numerous spots on the Yulong River, such as near the Dragon Bridge
Money Saving Tips
- do not take taxis in Yangshuo—they are ridiculously overpriced and will never use the meter; walk, take public transit or hire a bicycle to get around
- avoid the restaurants in the touristy areas
- stay at a smaller hotel or guest house with a Chinese name
- no matter where you stay, make sure to bargain; the listed prices are always much higher than the actual prices
- don’t buy souvenirs in Yangshuo, as the prices are much higher than elsewhere, even after extensive bargaining; buy your souvenirs anywhere else—there’s nothing on offer here that you can’t also get elsewhere
- avoid the tea shops as you can get better tea at much better prices almost anywhere else in China
- don’t get scammed; be very wary of any stranger who tries to befriend you—Yangshuo is not the place to make friends with the locals; do that elsewhere in China