In Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, you’ll often hear of Yangshuo. This ancient town is a well-developed, tourist-friendly area, but still maintains its historic roots. Yangshuo is most often reached from the nearby city of Guilin, where there’s an airport (Guilin Liangjiang International Airport – KWL) or by bus, airport shuttle, taxi, or rented car. For a more scenic route to Yangshuo, you can take a scenic boat ride from Guilin down the Li River. It’s a slower way to reach your destination (about four hours) and a bit more expensive than a bus ride, but the iconic Li River cruise is privy to stunning scenic views, including the spot that is depicted on the Chinese 20 yuan note – a bend of the river with spectacular karst mountains in the background. If you’re interested in taking a Li River cruise, note that in the winter, or dry season, most boats depart from farther down the river (instead of in Guilin specifically), so you’ll need to get to the departure area by shuttle, bus or taxi.
Once in Yangshuo, there are many ways to get around. Yangshuo is a fascinating ancient town, with a clearly laid-out “ladder” arrangement of streets: the two main streets, West Street and Diecuilu, make up the ladder’s vertical legs while the smaller cross-streets make up the rungs. Exploring Yangshuo on foot is very doable. If you get tired, motorbike taxis will take you anywhere in town for a flat fee of 5 yuan (less than a dollar). Buses run to select spots around town. Taxis are available though expensive, so plan to bargain and agree on a price before getting in. For active explorers, motorbikes can be rented from hostels in town. Regular bicycles are also available for rent, both for exploring Yangshuo and for heading into the surrounding countryside, with or without a guide.
Exploring the area’s countryside by bicycle is quite scenic and idyllic, and a great way to see the craggy mountains covered in lush greenery. The scenery is so lovely and iconic that when former U.S. President Jimmy Carter visited Yangshuo in 1987, he insisted on touring the Yangshuo countryside by bicycle, much like the locals do. The Chinese government later built bicycle paths for visitors to enjoy the natural scenery of the area more safely and freely. An English-speaking guide will take you on an all-day bike ride for approximately $10-$20 apiece. The breathtaking views you’ll see are framed against the backdrop of the dramatic karst mountain formations, hundreds of massive limestone peaks that rise from the river, standing as they have for millennia outside this ancient town.
In town, the architecture and ethnic minority groups (and their still-prevailing customs) provide color and flair. West Street, the oldest street in Yangshuo (at more than 1,400 years old), is considered the center of town. Visitors to Yangshuo will want to explore the almost 1,700 feet of marble-paved walkway, which is lined with historic architecture typical of a southern Chinese village (though mixed with influences from various cultures and foreign languages, making it sometimes known as “the global village”). Though you may hear English phrases and see bilingual signs in the shops along West Street, traditional Chinese culture is still very prevalent, especially in the cuisine and shops’ offerings. Embroidered silk cloth and wax-painted weavings are still made today as they were hundreds of years ago and make excellent souvenirs from your time in Yangshuo.
Just outside of the city proper, the Yulong River is a major tributary of the Li River and flows for more than 22 miles, past rice paddies and through the riverside villages of Yangshuo. Local people use bamboo rafts as their main form of transportation along the Yulong, as they have for centuries, and visitors today can tour the area while relaxing in a chair atop one of these rafts. Swimming is also popular here, since the water depth and current are much lesser on the Yulong than on the Li River. For visitors not eager to get on the water, bicycling through the towns along the Yulong River is another excellent way to experience the quaint villages and local culture while still soaking in the stunning views.
Moon Hill, or “Yueliang Shan” in Chinese, is named for the large circular hole that carves through this massive rock formation just outside of Yangshuo, the remains of what was once a limestone cave millennia ago. Visitors can pay a small admission fee (less than $3) to climb the 800 steps (about 20 minutes of walking) to Moon Hill’s arch. The views from the top are well worth the effort to climb the steps. Some visitors choose to continue on to the top of Moon Hill, though the extended path is steeper than the path to the arch. Moon Hill also offers 14 rock climbing routes on its northwest face, which vary in difficulty from amateur to professional level. Rock climbing in Yangshuo is well known for its varying levels and excellent conditions; September through November is the best time to climb there, and the Yangshuo Climbing Festival takes place then too.