Just over an hour south of Guilin, Yangshuo is another famous tourist sight in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. With its natural scenery and laid- back air, Yangshuo is a great escape from the gray and pollution of China's big cities. Yangshuo town has flourished so swiftly that it's practically unrecognizable from the city described in the latest edition of whichever guidebook you own. So, let's follow our guide Yunfeng to explore the town by ourselves.
YF: The town of Yangshuo is a backpacker's paradise. Quirky souvenir shops and essential services like Internet cafe, telecom services, food corners, pharmacies abound. New streets have sprouted up with shops offering all sorts of comfort foods, the main thoroughfare has been widened to accommodate the growing volume of traffic. Clusters of shops selling herbs, teas and daily provisions line the inner alleys.
Yangshuo's subtropical weather, characterized by temperate summers and winters, encourages the travel-weary to lounge by numerous street-front cafes, enjoy a banana pancake and sip an ice-cold beer or two.
The western face of the remodeled town is juxtaposed with the eastern charm of the postcard-perfect natural scenery. Dotting the horizon are craggy tree-covered mounds ranging from 100m to 300m high.
This little town of some 300,000 inhabitants, comprised of various ethnic groups such as the Zhuang, Yao, Miao and Han, has blossomed since the Sui Dynasty some 1,400 years ago. Glimpses of the rich cultural background can be seen in the many shops selling local products such as talcum, silk, huge wall fans, scrolls and exquisite pottery pieces.
Enriching the land is the pristine water of Li Rivers, which winding some 56 km through Yangshuo, connecting it with Guilin. The river is central to Yangshuo's prosperity: river water is funneled to irrigate the lush fields. Most locals still work the land on the paddy fields and orchards, though a growing number of locals are involved in the more profitable tourism industry.
Walking, biking, rafting or swimming are several ways to appreciate Yangshuo's charms. To beat the noon-day heat, take a leaf from the village children swimming in the clear river waters.
Bamboo groves and willow trees line both banks of the waterfront, and locals use the light but hardy plant to build water-thin rafts to fish, rinse vegetables or ferry tourists from one embankment to the next. When visiting the water caves, these bamboo river taxis will bring you close up to stalactites as they slide effortlessly beneath dipping limestone canopies.
There is plenty to see in Yangshuo: karst peaks, plains and villages. Fortunately, Yangshuo's many pretty sights are incredibly well-connected. Rent a bike for a day from one of the many bicycle rental shops in Yangshuo and drink in the sights as you pedal.
A leisurely 30-minute ride from Yangshuo, and to the west of the highway, is Moon Hill, or Yue-liang-shan, as locals call it. A limestone pinnacle with a moon-shaped hole square in the middle. It cost RMB 9 to access Moon Hill's superb view, there are stairs that lead from the bottom of Moon Hill to its windy, arched peak. Be prepared for a good workout as your haul yourself to the top. The path gets narrower, rougher and more slippery as you near the peak, but the panoramic view is worth the sweat. If you start at 5:30 am, you can make it in good time for the electrifying sunrise. On a clear day, you get a rewarding 360-degree-view of karst topography and Lijiang River unfurling in the distant horizons.
If you are hungry for your climb, head for Moon Hill Village, just across the road from Moon Hill. Mama Moon is a sprightly tour guide who speaks a smattering of eight foreign languages and whips up a delicious spread of village fare for the famished tomato and egg omelets, fresh fish, steamed chicken and tasty winter melon soup.
(Climbing enthusiasts will be thrilled with the thousands of natural peaks to test their rock-climbing skills. Climbing equipment is easily available from Mountain Retreat. Suggested peaks include Copper Door, Gold Cat Hill and Thumb Peak. Or try scaling slippery Green Lotus Hill, Upper and Lower Antenna Hills.)
Famous for its exquisite Ming Dynasty architecture and centuries-old wood carvings, Xingping Village is also noteworthy for its superior Fengshui. Seven mountains form a protective shield around the village and two stone guardians stand erect at the village entrance. Together, they keep the temptations of the modern world at bay, but these relics also tend to discourage proper sanitation and sanitary habits. Odors of the natural kind abound in this rural backwater albeit culturally rich village. Ornamental caves, elegant sloping roofs and ancient homes have long drawn scholars and dignitaries to walk the quaint back alleys. It's said that Sun Yat-Sun visited the village when he was preparing to tackle the warlords of the north. In 1998, former American President Bill Clinton also popped by. Xingping Village can be reached from Yangshuo via a RMB 2.50 minibus, but picture-perfect Xingping is best appreciated if you bike or walk along the country roads.
The scenery along the Li River, which snakes all the way from Guilin, will knock you senseless¡ªit's got the Chinese ideal of water and mountains. Farmers, children and water buffaloes are visible along the many river bends playing, washing, collecting water or transporting their day's catch. Fishermen come in the feathered coat of cormorants, birds perching on their master's bamboo boats waiting for prey. The metal clasped around their neck stops them from swallowing their catch.
Local cuisine is delightfully varied and delicious. The rivers are well stocked with tench, a type of fish that tastes great when deep-fried and cooked with beer, green peppers and tomatoes¡ªit's slightly spicy. Horse chestnuts, an October delicacy, are often found stuffed into a juicy duck's breast. Yangshuo¡¯s snails are famed for their succulence, but be sure they have been thoroughly scrubbed. They're great stir-fried with pickled bamboo shoots, chilies, ginger and peppermint. Spicy Guilin rice noodles, can be found just about anywhere. And anywhere along the west street is a good place to start looking for lip-smacking grub:
(The West street is a 2 km stretch crammed with shops, pubs, cafes and hotels. Here's where flickering neon lights have replaced red lanterns and the air is rich with band music and banter. Menus are in both Chinese and English and the food is as authentic as it can get in China with very reasonable prices.)
Finally, here are some practical travel tips for you:
Bring plenty of RMB in small denominations to pay for minibus rides and bike rental. As it's hot in summer and you'll be easy to get sunburn, so wear a cap and roll on the sun block. Fire fishing began as a night fishing technique where fishermen use torches to attract fish. Now the Yangshuo Fire Fishing Festival, held in late Autumn, is a time for shows, food and riverside bonfires. One thing for sure while traveling in Yangshuo is that lots of film is needed. There is so much to capture: children at play, ancient waterways and bridges, never-ending peaks, so enjoy your trip to Yangshuo, I'm Yunfeng, see you next time!