Yangshuo Country

A mix of culture and riverland offers a range of activities

By: Christopher Batin

Yangshuo is one of the best-kept secrets in China tourism. It’s a relatively quiet city of about 300,000 people, comprised of microcosms of high-pitched bargaining, touring in quiet solitude and peaceful riverland farms under the brooding countenance of weathered karst peaks.

The scenery alone is worth the trip, but convince your clients to do more. Much more.

Dragon Head Hill and other limestone karsts and promontories create unparalleled beauty that is unmatched anywhere else in the world. Observing these natural panoramas from the vibrant bustle of a Yangshuo walking street is like being able to eat all the delicacies in a French confectionery shop and never gain weight.

For $5-$10, your clients can arrange with hotels to have local residents raft them into the heart of this river country, away from the big tour boats. These are off-the-beaten-path tours where they’ll interact with the locals and experience the natural power of this area, far removed from the daily buzz of tourism. I don’t recommend such tours during heavy rains, when floodwaters are brown and dangerous. If the water is clear, it’s safe.

For clients who crave urban action, West Street pleases with its many cafes, hotels, art and craft shops, shopping and Internet cafes. English is more widely spoken here than elsewhere in China, making it easy to bargain. Expect artwork of all types, and Chinese minority handicrafts from painted bamboo to rocks, fans and oils and watercolors on scrolls. My advice is to buy here, as many of these regional specialty items won’t be found elsewhere. Here’s an inside tip: Bargain hard. Really hard. Prices here are overly inflated due to the city’s meteoric growth since the mid-1980s.

Take a peak into one of the Kung Fu Academies, and be prepared to be amazed with feats of human endurance. During the day, sample a variety of foods from street vendors and splurge on one big meal a day at a restaurant that specializes in either local or international cuisine. I like the Beer Fish and other local fish dishes at Yangshuo Ren Restaurant.

Mr. Li with Jin Jiang Travel in Guilin suggests that for those with more time, a three- to five-day tour is a good introduction to Yangshuo. A day for shopping, two days to take in the myriad sights, another day to take in the area via bike or coach and a day to explore the countryside on the return to Guilin. One of the best ways to accomplish this is send your clients on a day-long Li River cruise, which starts in Guilin and ends in Yangshuo. They disembark and can easily begin touring on their own or walk to a hotel from the river dock. Tours include a return trip by bus or van to Guilin, or clients can forego the cruise and take the hour bus ride from Guilin.

After my riverboat tour up the Li River, I spent a morning watching the scenery while I reclined on a bamboo barge that a local resident single-handedly poled down the Yulong River. I enjoyed watching water buffalo, cormorants fishing, fish rising in the clear waters and farmers at work, all against a backdrop of stunning karst formations, bamboo groves and rice terraces.

A taxi or leisurely bike ride to Moon Hill will reward clients with a scenic and cultural view most tourists never see. For a few dollars, local guides stationed in town and at the base of the hill are always ready to show the trail and a 40-minute climb to some of the best scenery in the area. Of course, prompt your clients to spend a few dollars and consider having lunch and staying overnight at the guide’s home. Most of the guides are farmers and live in small huts that surround the base of Moon Hill. I recommend experiencing the day in the life of a Chinese farmer, who makes about $140 a year. The floor beds are comfortable, warm; the food and conversation good and entertaining. It’s a night out that oozes cultural adventure.

Yangshuo country is centered around geology and hydrology. Rock climbing is popular with younger tourists, with over 200 bolted routes up the numerous limestone karsts, with ample local guides and instruction.

Sunny and clear weather demands a day hike along the river or along the various ridges. Mountain biking is the best way to go. Within minutes of town center, your clients will be riding flat trails winding through rice fields and along the base of the mountain karsts. Bike Asia offers rentals, both guided and do-it-yourself tours, and is the source of contact for anything bike-related. A five-day tour package runs $375 per person, or $250 each for two. The tour includes roundtrip transportation to and from Guilin, meals, overnight accommodations with local villagers, a cooking class and cycling various trails that overlook rice fields and the area’s scenic rivers.

Tourists enjoy hands-on traditional Chinese cooking at the Yangshuo Cooking School. Located in a quaint, but functional Chinese farmhouse, the school offers two courses of study on two consecutive days. The course includes a shopping trip into town to purchase Chinese vegetables, meats, and cooking items. A half-day class runs about $15.

As agents, learning all you can about Yangshuo is a good idea. It’s a little hard to find, but worth it.


Bike Asia

China Travel Service

Yangshuo Cooking School