Yangshuo: Karst Mountains as Far as the Eye Can See

The main street in Yangshuo, China.

I’ll admit it, China and I got off to a bit of a rough start, but once I reached the Guangxi province and swapped tall buildings for karst mountains and traffic jammed avenues for bamboo rafts on a river, my outlook on China changed. Yangshuo proved to be the highlight of my time in China and here are just a few reasons why I liked this place so much:

Man on a bamboo raft in Yangshuo, Guangxi, China.

It still has a small town feel

Even though Yangshuo is a very popular tourist destination with foreigners and Chinese alike, the old part of the city still maintains a bit of a small town feel. Yes, there may be a McDonald’s and plenty of international dining options, but there are also historic buildings with ancient roof tiles, cobbled streets that have been smoothed over by centuries of pedestrians walking over them, quiet temples by the water’s edge, and you’ll even spot the odd man transporting his goods aboard a bamboo raft. Yangshuo may be booming with tourism, but part of what makes it so appealing is that its small town charm hasn’t been entirely lost.

The lively night markets

West Street is the main pedestrian road in Yangshuo and the place really comes to life once the sun goes down. This is the place to sample lots of street food, plus you can also find lots of quirky souvenirs: combs made out of ox bone, stamps with your name carved in Chinese characters, and fake Chinese passports (I was kind of tempted by those!)

The night market in Yangshuo.

Biking through the countryside

On our last day in Yangshuo, Sam and I decided to rent some bicycles and bike out to the countryside. Maneuvering our way out of the city was an adventure in itself – imagine a mixture of scooters carrying live ducks and toddlers riding shotgun – but once we reached the outskirts of town, it was desolate dirt roads for miles on end. Seriously, if you come to Yangshuo, you need to hop on a bike and explore what’s out there!

Bike ride in the countryside, Yangshuo, China.

Fun hostels that are budget friendly

I ended up staying at Monkey Jane and what I liked about this place is that it really catered to budget travellers. Say you are a backpacker travelling on a dime, well, this hostel was advertising free room and board in exchange for some of your time. Care to re-paint one of the dorm rooms? Don’t mind bartending for a couple of hours at night? Willing to carry crates of beer up to the 5th floor? Monkey Jane was willing to strike up a deal. While I personally didn’t take them up on that offer, I can see how this would be appealing to many travellers.

Views from Monkey Jane Hostel.

My only advice: don’t stay on the 4th floor if you’re hoping to get some shut eye. The bar is right above and I could hear everything from Ricky Martin’s “Livin’ la vida loca” to the Bloodhound Gang classic “let’s do it like they do on the Discovery Channel”. Amusing? At first, but not at 3 a.m. when the party is no closer to being over.

The rooftop views

Every rooftop in Yangshuo has breathtaking views like this one. Need I say more?

Views of the limestone mountains in Yangshuo, China.

All the international food!

Going out for food in Yangshuo was like country hopping. My first afternoon there I found myself having lunch at a German restaurant. Cheesy Oktoberfest tunes with lots of accordion were playing overhead, while a waitress clad in a dirndl took my order. I was happy to see that the meals on their menu were hearty and authentic, and I was beyond pleased with the Käsespätzle (egg noodles smothered in cheese) I ordered. Das ist gut!

Night time view of Yangshuo.

Another favourite of mine turned out to be Cafe Mimosa which specializes in Israeli food. (Yes, Israeli food in China!) The women running this place sure knew what they were doing – thick, fluffy pitas always baked fresh, hummus with a garlic kick, and the best chicken shawarmas I’ve had in a long time. This was my go to place, and they had a pretty great view to boast.

Morning exercise in the park

The Chinese really value their health and nowhere is this more obvious than at the local park. I got up really early one day to find that several groups were gathered at Yangshuo Park for their morning exercise routine. On one side of the park a group of seniors were doing tai chi, while over on the other end another group was working on a ballroom dance (satin shoes and twirling skirts included). Not to mention the people out roller blading, riding bicycles and jogging. And those who weren’t exercising were chatting with friends or playing cards.

Men playing cards at the park in Yangshuo.

The day trips

As beautiful as Yangshuo is, part of the appeal of this region is that you can take plenty of day trips to nearby towns and villages. If you are willing to put in a bit of hard work and climb uphill, then the town of Ping’An which is home to the Longji rice terraces is worth the visit. On the other hand, if you are looking for something a bit more low key, cruising down the Li River aboard a bamboo raft is a relaxing way to take in the scenery.

Ping'An and the Longji rice terraces.

The EngRish signs

Another thing I enjoyed about China were the EngRish signs! Have a look at some of these – they really made me chuckle. (The toilet EngRish was my favourite.)

Funny engrish sign on Chinese food package

Funny engrish sign on Chinese food package

Xie xie, love you long time!

Fire safety in China.

Funny engrish sign on Chinese food package

And that was Yangshuo! My week in China flew by, and it was hardly enough time to even begin scratching the surface of such a vast country, but in spite of the little hiccups I may have had a long the way, I look forward to exploring more of this country one day.

Have you been to China? What was your favourite place?

Join the Conversation

25 Comments

  1. says: Sam

    Yangshuo was indeed one of my favourite places in China too, though I was there in March several years ago, and it was bloody freezing! Riding a bike out of town is definitely a highlight, though I didn’t know about all the international food. I wonder if that’s a new thing; I was there 4 years ago, so I guess it could have changed a lot since then.

    1. says: Audrey

      Ahh, that sounds nice…if you have the right clothing. 😉 China was going through a crazy heat wave while we were there – I felt like I was back in SE Asia.

  2. says: Jeff

    The EngRish signs are hilarious. Chinese are always funny. My next home is China. It is land of beauty from its culture to its land nature. This is land of my dream.

  3. says: Raymond Waruhari

    I like EngRish signs – direct translation. Actually these signs are made for tourist who want something to smile about.

  4. says: chinamatt

    Did you visit Yangshuo’s Chinatown? No, really, my English-speaking Chinese tour guide (who really didn’t show us much because we preferred wandering on our own) pointed it out. I’m still confused about the whole thing.

  5. says: Maria

    As always you crack me up Audrey with the signs but I’m over the moon with the “Wow!” moment the b/w photo of the man on the bamboo raft creates. That’s an award winning photo.

  6. says: Cole Van Horn

    I’m living and teaching English in Hubei right now. I’ve actually been planning a trip to Yangshuo during the winter holiday so I am very excited to see your pics and commentary. Let me ask though, what is the best way to get from Guilin to Yangshuo. Bus? Is there a train? And around how much money should I save up in preparation if you had to give a rough estimate? Let me hear your advice!

    1. says: Audrey

      You can either take a direct bus from Guilin to Yangshuo or go as part of a tour. I went for the tour option, so they picked me up from my hostel in Guilin, we went rafting down the Li River, and then after the day’s outing they drove us the rest of the way to Yangshuo. I think the tour I took came to about $30 USD, but you can obviously get there for a lot less if you just take the direct bus. In terms of budgeting, it all depends on how many tours you end up taking because that’s what adds up! Food and accommodations were actually quite affordable.

  7. says: Agness

    We’ve have been just for a day, didn’t stay overnight as we found a cheap hostel in Guilin. I remember the market and the local food we tried – some fried tofu with chili and baked sweet potatoes. The mountains looked so amazing. Really miss this place and the locals!

  8. says: Shaz Lake

    These photos look amazing. I haven’t been to China yet, but I feel like I always enjoy myself most when I get out of the city and into the countryside. The ox bone comb sounds interesting too!

  9. That first photo is amazing!! We had very little interest in visiting China when we lived in Taiwan, though now we are starting to wonder why! Hopefully one day we will make it back to give China the proper time it deserves. Yangshuo looks like a beautiful place to experience!

  10. says: K @ Nonbillable Hours

    We were in Yanghsuo in 2008 — it remains one of my favorite places I’ve traveled! After weeks of huge, smoggy Chinese cities (in August, no less), Yangshuo was such a breath of fresh air! We did the bicycle ride and the trip to the rice terraces also– both incredible.

  11. says: Chris

    China’s a funny old place. I’ve yet to go (you can’t count the day visit from hong kong as all I did was go and buy cheap dvds) but when I do can see it being somewhere you go for a long time and not a quick in and out trip.

  12. says: Angela

    Hahah the love you long time sign is hilarious!
    We spent three months in China and our favorite place was either Beijing or Xi’an. Beijing because it’s so big and awesome and Xi’an for the amazing food.

  13. says: Heather

    Visiting Yangshuo was one of the highlights of my two years in China! I went in February right after Chinese New Year and the old town was still strung up with red lanterns. It was magical!

  14. says: Alex

    Keep trying to convince my Girlfriend to go to China with me. Think this is perfect ammo! It looks beautiful and a nice way to get out of the city – did you find anywhere else like this?

    1. says: Audrey

      I didn’t spend that much time in China, so I didn’t get to visit that many destinations. However, if you’re looking for unique landscapes in China, also try looking up Zhangjiajie National Forest Park – haven’t made it there but it looks pretty spectacular. Vang Vieng in Laos is also known to be quite scenic with all its karst formations.

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