Yangshuo: still a must-see destination
Yangshuo was one of the destinations we were most looking forward to in China. Namely because Keith and I enjoyed it so much when we visited 11 years ago. But also, the scenery around this area is stunning.
I was hoping all the reviews I’d read about over development were slightly exaggerated. Here’s what we found.
Travelling from guilin to Yangshuo
Yangshuo River cruises
The main method for arriving in Yangshuo is along the Li River. The cruises take around 4 hours and take in some of the most iconic views in China, as depicted on the RMB 20 note!
You can choose either a 3 or 4*air-conditioning conditioned boats and either an English or Chinese cruise. The 3* is the preferred choice. There is a basic cruise but only mandarin is spoken, cleanliness on the boat is poor and lunch is underwhelming.
Whichever boat you choose, these diesel boats trundle along in a procession along the river, so it doesn’t quite offer the calming ambience you’d expect! But you do see the fisherman working along the river and often bamboo boats will come to the boats to sell snacks or trinkets.
I also don’t remember the cost being so high though! The prices we saw started from around RMB 275 per adult, half price for kids between 1.2 and 1.7m and free for kids lower than 1.2m.
For these reasons we decided not to take the river cruises this time. Instead, we opted to use the money we’d save and use other transport to see the area and escape the crowds.
Train to yangshuo
Although it claims to have a train station, in reality it’s a 1 hour bus trip from yangshuo. If you are travelling from guilin the best option is to take the bus as this is only 1 1/2 hours anyway. Plus it’s cheaper!
We opted to take the train without knowing the distances and although it was cheap we did have to pay RMB 100 for a taxi to our hostel. Still it was a quicker option. The bus from the train station was and RMB 20 each.
Bus to yangshuo
If travelling from Guilin this is the easiest option. Buses leave either Guilin north train station or Guilin railway station. Most of these buses can be booked through your hostel. Check timings with them.
The best and cheapest departure is from guilin railway station. It’s 1 ½ hours and cost RMB 25 per person. Whilst North railway station takes 2 hours is RMB 50 per person.
Where to stay in Yangshuo
It’s a backpackers paradise, or it once was. And whilst it’s still on the backpacker trail, the area has a more ‘holiday destination’ feel to the area.
Most accommodation is based around West Street, but over development, and the need to break the sound barrier to get someone’s attention, means it’s a very busy and noisy area. We stayed around West Street last time we visited and didn’t have an issue. But alas times have definitely changed.
For this reason many travellers now choose to stay outside Yangshuo in the smaller villages.
There are lots of choices ranging from budget accommodation through to high end hotels and spas throughout the area.
However, for us I wanted to be near but not too far away from yangshuo. I wanted to be able to walk into the hustle and bustle and then walk away from it when it got too much.
Also, the villages whilst quaint, were a bit too quiet for me. We had a reccie while we were out exploring just to see what the food options were like. There were no villages to speak of. Instead they were unmade roads with a handful of street restaurants/food stalls and a shop or two. They had easy access to Yangshuo main town, but you’d need a bike or scooter to travel between them.
I also wouldn’t stay on the otherside of the river. There is only one bridge crossing point and it doesn’t look very convenient.
Therefore we opted to stay not far from the Green lotus hotel, just around the corner from West Street and a 10 minute walk. We tended to walk into West Street area most nights.
The hostel we stayed in was en attendant Godot hostel. The owner was so lovely and very helpful with a wealth of information. He got us cheap scooters, cheap bikes and cheap tickets for the golden water cave. He wasn’t pushy but very friendly.
The room was large, slightly hard beds but good facilities for the price. There was a roof terrace with slightly dodgy flooring, but nice views. Laundry facility was also available for RMB 30 serviced or RMB 10 self service.
The only downside was the early morning wake up call. It’s situated next to a school and at 5.30/6am the music starts and again at 6.30am! We did go back to sleep but the second march song makes sure you’re awake!! It even played on a Saturday and Sunday!! Bring earplugs if you plan on staying as it’s still a lovely hostel in a great location!
Where to eat in Yangshuo
Anywhere in West Street area. There is actually a ladder system in Yangshuo. West Street and Diecui road are the main lengths and in between there are rungs of streets, which is where most of the restaurants and bars are.
The further out you go, the cheaper the food gets.
We mainly visited local restaurants on Guihua road. The food here is mainly local rice and noodle dishes. Most of the restaurants had a similar menu. Prices are slightly higher than other areas of China ranging from RMB 25 to RMB 40 for mains or RMB 15 (£1.75) for a large plate of fried rice.
There are lots of western options, you can get pizza, pasta, German hot dogs, Indian, burgers etc…and not forgetting the big chains of McDonald’s, KFC, pizza hut and Starbucks! See what I mean about touristy! But these are much more expensive. Don’t expect them to be just like home either, it’s an adaptation of western foods in most places!
There are restaurants near our accommodation, but these are more aimed at locals. Although menus had pictures, there was no English and I’m actually a bit done with guessing my dinner now!
For breakfast and sometimes lunch we enjoyed visiting the number of bakeries near us for raisin bread, croissants and yogurts.
Things to do
There’s so much to do in Yangshuo, hence the reason we decided to stay for a week. Most of it you need to get out of town and explore to find the real gems and escape the crowds. Therefore I’ll produce separate blog posts on these activities. See below:
- Cycling around Yangshuo – I’llI post a blog shortly about the type of bikes booked, the cost and routes.
- Scooters – click here to learn how to hire scooters, why this is the best rainy day activity and where to go.
- Cooking class – with cloud 9 cooking school. A chance to visit a local market and create restaurant quality food. It was delicious, even if I do say so myself. Click here to find out how Ethan and I got on!
- Ten mile gallery – a stretch of road which encompasses moon hill, golden water cave, butterfly caves, yulong river, Rock climbing wall and romance park! Plenty to see.
- Climbing TV hill – a karst overlooking yangshuo. A very sweaty and steep climb but worth the views from the top! Only tagged 35 minutes! Click here to see the views and how to get there.
- Yangshuo park – a little green area at the back of the turn. It has a nice open space and on Sunday when we visited you can see men playing cards, people dancing, women singing karaoke… badly!! Ha ha, kids running around (including mine) but everyone having a great time!
- West Street – during the day West Street is calm and quiet, but when nighttime falls the place is mobbed add over processed! It’s a great place to find food, but I would escape the main, more expensive street.
- Bamboo rafting – you can either do calm rafting on yulong river or motorised bamboo rafting near Xingping. Both were expensive for what they were in my view. You used to be able to cycle to the north of yulong river and put your bikes on to return. But now, you have to arrange a transfer for the bikes.
- Xingping ancient village – an hour’s bus ride from yangshuo. This ancient town had a feel of the old Yangshuo. The streets were filled with eateries and shops but it was very calm and very quiet.
I’m sure there’s things that we haven’t listed but these are the ones we did! It certainly filled a week and gave us some rest time too!
It’s a shame that Yangshuo has become so developed as it takes away the charm the town once had. But that’s just how fast China is developing in general!
However, saying that the beauty of the area still exists. You just have to go out and find it. As hiring a bike and scooter is a great activity and a fun day out it’s not a hardship. Even if it rains the scooters are brilliant.
After we visited Xingping we decided that actually it was a reminder of the old Yangshuo and in fact we would prefer to stay here and take day trips to yangshuo instead!
Even through the development I’d still add Yangshuo to your itinerary, it’s so stunning! But I’d consider splitting your visit with Xingping and staying outside yangshuo main town. This depends on what you and your family like. If it’s peace and quiet you want, and you don’t have fussy eaters then one of the smaller villages might be better.