Why Yangshuo is our Favourite City in China
A Favourite City: Yangshuo
As the saying goes, leave the best for last and Yangshuo was exactly that for us. A gorgeous little city that wraps itself around picturesque karst peaks and is sandwiched by the Li and Yulong Rivers. It is one of the most beautiful places on earth, a real life Shangri-La, and we are so fortunate to have spent close to a week in this lush paradise.
The town itself is quaint and bustling. It has all the amenities one could hope for in a city but is small enough that you get a feeling of community around you. There is a large expat community here and they’ve made sure their respective regional cuisines are recognized on the popular Xi Jie or “Foreigner Street”. We had a great time joining in on “Quiz Night” with our new friend from Nanning at a local expat watering hole (DEMO Club – Thursday nights). We met her after chatting with her French friend who was teaching English in town as he brought his class of teenage girls for an afternoon sojourn by the Li River. Just another example of the friendly laid-back spirit we were so fortunate to enjoy in Southwest China.
We really loved that the tourist and ‘local’ commercial areas are well integrated, so you could enjoy a pint at a Brit-run English pub, or the local flavours just steps away. One wildly popular local spot Lao Xia Jiang Claypot Rice, was a definite favourite for us. For less than $3 USD you can enjoy a large local Yanjing beer and a steaming hot bowl of simmered vegetables and meat over a bed of delicious steamed rice (seriously the rice was unlike anything we had). We were crazy for the eggplant, so make sure when you go here to choose a dish with in it. You can definitely live well for a very reasonable cost in this town.
With all that said, the real reason why we travelled to Yangshuo was for the uniquely beautiful karst scenery. As we approached Guilin (the larger city north of Yangshuo), we were taken aback by the stark geological majesty jutting from the ground, seemingly from nowhere. Stunning in pictures, but take your breath away incredible in person.
Many people recommended we explore the incredible geography via bicycle and we couldn’t agree more. For about $1.50 USD you can rent a bicycle just about anywhere and just start exploring the dozens of bike paths all around the city and into the countryside. We will hold our memory of a day spent cycling with our dear Danish friend close to our hearts. Although we did have a bit of an unexpected adventure on the way back (a little impromptu detour + off-road terrain + shitty Chinese city touring bike = some spills & a flat tire) it was one of the highlights of our entire trip.
Walking around Yangshuo we ran into vendors on every corner selling bamboo raft tours who were always quick to catch anyone remotely looking in their direction and yell out,”Hello Bamboo?”. So before we left we agreed that we had to try out a bamboo raft trip down the Yulong River which turned out to be loads of fun even if it wasn’t exactly what we were expecting. Arriving at the river, our small bus was swarmed with women in their 60’s (some actually running towards our bus) trying to sell us water guns. After knocking down a few old ladies we made our way to a massive collection of bamboo rafts and waited for our “captain” to arrive.
After about 20 minutes of wondering if we had been forgotten on a raft, our “captain” arrived…
And with a big push from the captain’s bamboo stick we set sail down the picturesque Yulong River. Regarding my earlier statement about not being exactly what we were expecting, the raft tour turned out to be one giant water fight which is awesome if you are expecting that, not so much if you’re carrying expensive camera gear or hoping for a quiet romantic tour. But that didn’t spoil our fun and we still enjoyed the gorgeous views of the karst topography and the experience of floating down a river on bamboo! Seriously, seeing all of it’s applications throughout China only reinforces that fact that bamboo is a bloody amazing plant.
On our last night we climbed one of the karst peaks located smack dab in the middle of the city to watch the sunset. We were joined by a number of friendly vacationing Chinese and locals alike. Nana was one of the ladies we met who was doing her daily routine where she would climb up and down the peak three times at sunset when the stifling heat and humidity becomes a bit more manageable. Each time she reached the top she would stop and chat with us. She told us of how she had left an abusive relationship and a state of very poor health and moved to Yangshuo. She explained to us that stress free living and a healthy lifestyle that accompanies living in town had completely changed her life, even going so far as to say it saved her life.
The town was paradise for us; stunning scenery, friendly people, laid back lifestyle and enough to do in and around town that you will have trouble getting bored. When we go back to China, we will definitely return to Yangshuo. In fact it was the first place Alyse and I both agreed we could see ourselves living.
Make sure to check out “Our 10 Favourite Photos of Yangshuo” for more dazzling photos from this gorgeous part of the world.
Ross and Alyse