We ended our China stint with a few days in Yangshuo, Guilin, which turned out to be our favorite place in China! The scenery, the mountains, the lovely smell of tea, the limestone karst that encompass the river, the hikes- it was all so surreal. Yangshuo is a quaint little city in Guilin, China, about a 20 hour overnight train from Beijing to Guilin, which was a super entertaining ride.
There is so much culture, history, and things to do to get your China fix, but it can be a bit touristy. In other words, it is a backpacker’s paradise! Like, there is a McDonalds in this tiny city…
We stayed in West Street (at 11 Youth Hostel), which is the tourist center of Guilin, but it did have some interesting Chinese quirks and architecture hidden within it. We walked around, explored the cute alley ways, and drank at some roof tops with fantastics views. Yangshuo is a special place.
The most impressive part of Yangshuo is that this little town is just wedged in between these unbelievable limestone cliffs and the Li River. Like imagine a massive city smooched between mountains and moats!
It was an interesting contrast between the advanced development and the beautiful nature in such a small town. Yet, Yangshuo was probably the most impressive scenery we had seen in all of Asia—it was real countryside China with a modern twist, especially if you walk out from the tourist center.
Unfortunately, Yangshuo’s weather isn’t the warmest, so we were caught in a bit of rain, limiting some of our activities (like biking the country side). However, we fit in quite a bit in a few days, so we have a few recommendations but also some that you can skip…so you don’t waste your time!
How to get there:
-Fly: If you decide to fly to get to Yangshuo, Guilin, the Guilin Liangjiang International Airport (KWL) is about 28 kilometers (about 17 miles) from the city center of Yangshuo and there are airport shuttles to take you there. Flying within China, however, does cost quite a bit. You are better off flying into a major city and from there fly domestically to Guilin.
-Train: We actually took the train to get to Yangshuo by the train! Overnight train, actually! We went from Beijing to Yangshuo by overnight train, in, what they call “Hard sleeper”, which was a small room with 4 beds. This was not only an incredible experience, but we saved a nights accommodation and got to see the country side! The sleeper train cost about 90 Yuan each (about $13 USD back in 2014). Trains go from Beijing, Hong Kong and Shenzhen. To find out more, here are the timetables for the train schedule.
-Long Distance Bus: Most cities in Guangdong Province provide nonstop luxury bus services and sleeper buses to Guilin. The China highway system is pretty interconnected for the most part so that allows for coach buses to arrive in Guilin from both small and large cities in China. From the main bus terminal, you can take a minibus to Yangshuo which depart close to every 20 minutes and costs only 20 Yuan!
Things to do:
Our personal favorite activity we did in Yangshuo was hiking up TV Tower. We found out about TV by asking a few locals their favorite activities in Yangshuo. At first, it seems like a super daunting hike… just looking up there were tons of stairs! ugh.. stairs.
That’s a big hike, but when you get up there, man, it is SO worth it.
After 30 ish minutes we finally made it to the top and it is breathtaking. You are overlooking these spectacular views with this tiny little city encompassed with hundreds of limestone cliffs and the Li river around it. The view from the top is much better than the view from the bottom. I think that’s the general gist of a hike though, the views, right? :P
It is hands down one of the most stunning views we have seen in Southeast Asia, and this hike is definitely overlooked and underrated. It is a must when in Yangshuo!
You have to take a bamboo ride on the Li River. This scenic view allows you to sit back, relax, and admire in awe. This is the view from the bottom, where you get out of the city, and cruise in the serenity of the scenery.
The bamboo boats are quite cool to ride on as well. We loved how emerald green the river was next to these misty mountains. It was just incredible. It did rain a bit while we were cruising down the river, but the fog did surround the mountaintops giving it a bit of mystique. It was really beautiful.
Yes, this may be a tourist trap area. However, there are some really cool shops, cheap shopping, bars, clubs, street food, and anything western that you could possibly need. We loved going into teashops and sampling some of the Chinese teas.
We thought the aromas and the atmosphere in teashops were really relaxing. We left with some jasmine tea (our favorite) and felt really refreshed after a few samples. We also ate our heart out on all street food delicacies, sooooooooooo good!
Vendors are everywhere and you can smell some great (and awful) foods cooking away in the street! Grab some on the go and walk along the river to eat it.
Although we didn’t have enough time (or the proper weather to do so), we were recommended to ride a bike along the Yunan River. You pass cute villages, ride along some great landscapes, and really see the countryside of Yangshuo. If you ride around, make sure you see the famous Moon Hill! We were told it was really amazing, especially if the weather is nice.
Do not waste your time with this tourist attraction trap. It is a natural cave but it has been altered and fixed so it looks really fake. There are all these unnecessary bright colored lights, paved floors to walk through, souvenir shops midst cave, and signs and barriers everywhere. It just looked so man made that took away from the caves natural beauty.
We walked straight through it and it was just a waste of time. After we finished, our tour took us to this classroom like shop, selling items like green tea tooth paste, and bamboo oil! They had a seminar to sell useless and unrelated products to our tour bus. We thought it was a huge tourist trap and waited outside. Don’t bother with this cave, it was a waste of a day.
Please note, Yangshuo is said to be a tourist trap but like many other cities, you can easily take the off beaten path and truly discover the beauty that lies within Yangshuo. We loved the mountains, the hike, and the river cruise and it really gave us different perspectives on all the views of the city.
Have you been to Yangshuo, Guilin? How was your experience?