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The best things to do in Yangshuo, China

The best things to do in Yangshuo, China

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Our Lonely Planet guidebook described the town of Yangshuo as a “once-peaceful settlement” now a home to “pole-dancing bars” and it was at that point I was beginning to question why I’d thought it was a good idea to visit Yangshuo. That description alone conjured up something seedy with images of Amsterdam’s famed Red Light District flashing up in my mind. Fortunately, the Yangshuo we discovered was nothing like this. Sure, there may be a few strip clubs in the town but that’s completely not what Yangshuo is about.

Whilst it’s not exactly the peaceful town it once was, Yangshuo still remains one of China’s most prized destinations. Spend 30 minutes on a bicycle and head out of the town and you’ll discover exactly why Yangshuo became so popular in the first place.

Some of you will probably hate Yangshuo. There’s a big focus on “Western” food with pizza restaurants, a Mcdonalds, a KFC soon to open and cafés promoting “American breakfasts”. And usually, I’d probably join you in not being a fan of a small town full of places like that. But despite this, I felt that the town of Yangshuo still managed to retain its charm.

The fact that the town is home to some of the most impressive scenery I’ve ever seen definitely helped make it one of my favourite places on our China trip closely followed by the Longji Rice Terraces. Then there’s the lively street-food scene, the helpful locals, good, cheap Chinese food and it didn’t go unnoticed by me that it’s a bit of an adventurer’s paradise.

the best things to do in yangshuo china asia pin

About Yangshuo

Yángshuò (阳朔) is one of the highlights of a trip to China. The once peaceful town is now full of hostels and westernised restaurants but there’s so much more to it. Outside of Yangshuo, you’ll find your reason for visiting. The karst mountains in Yangshuo appear out of nowhere and it’s like something from another world. Hire a bicycle and cycle through the valleys, or take a bamboo raft ride down the Li River in Yangshuo. Whatever you do make sure to catch a sunset and watch the cormorant birds dive into the river for dinner.

Where is Yangshuo?

Yangshuo is both a town and its own Yangshuo county, China near the larger city of Guilin in the north. It’s in the Guangxi region and is known for its dramatic mountain landscapes.

If you’re trying to choose between Guilin or Yangshuo I highly recommend Yangshuo since Guilin is basically just a large city. Yangshuo is where you’ll get to the see the impressive scenery the area is famous for as it sits in the valley between mountain peaks.

What’s typical Yangshuo weather?

Yangshuo weather is generally mild and humid the whole year-round. On average, the temperature is around 19.5degreeC. July and August see the hottest Yangshuo weather with temperatures of around 34-37degreeC. January is the coldest month in Yangshuo at 5-8degreeC.

When’s the best time to visit Yangshuo?

The best time to visit Yangshuo is between April and October. This is when the weather in Yangshuo is mostly sunny and doesn’t rain much which makes it great for all kinds of outdoor activities.

We visited Yangshuo in November and while it was still warm, it did rain quite a lot!

Useful resources for your trip to Yangshuo:

Skyscanner – Cheap flights to Yangshuo

Booking.com – Great hotels in Yangshuo

Hostelworld.com – Find great hostels in Yangshuo

GetYourGuide – Find amazing tours in Yangshuo

Yangshuo Lonely Planet guide

How to get to Yangshuo and away

yangshuo china

On this trip to China, we got around mostly by catching the high-speed trains in China but, since we were coming from one of China’s ancient towns (Huangyao), we had to navigate our way through China’s public bus system. Most people will be coming from Guilin, Hong Kong or another big city. Here’s more information on how to get to Yangshuo, China.

Yangshuo doesn’t have an airport, the closest airport is the Guilin Liangjiang International Airport (KWL). I always use Skyscanner to find cheap flights all over the world as it never fails to get me great deals!

Book a transfer from Guilin Airport to Yangshuo here.

Guilin to Yangshuo

Guilin is the nearest biggest city and it’s worth visiting. You can still experience some of the beautiful landscape from Guilin, but to see it better you’ll need to head out of the city and visit Yangshuo.

Getting from Guilin to Yangshuo is quite easy and there are several different ways to travel.

Guilin to Yangshuo bus

There are several bus stations in Guilin City centre from which you can get a bus to Yangshuo from Guilin. You can also get a bus from Guilin airport. The bus from Guilin to Yangshuo is pretty quick and only takes about 1.5-2 hours.  The main bus stations offering the long-distance coach to Yangshuo are Guilin South Passenger Station and Guilin Qintan Passenger Station.

Tickets cost less than 30RMB (or 50RMB from the airport) each and there are several buses each day.

Guilin to Yangshuo on the high-speed train

Both Guilin and Yangshuo have high-speed train station which makes it easy to get to each town from a lot of places in China.  From the city to the countryside it’s only about 30 minutes thanks to the train.

You can get a train from Guilin to Yangshuo from the Guilin Station, Guilin North Station and Guilin West Station to arrive at Yangshuo Train Station. There are around 11 trains daily from Guilin to Yangshuo and 15 from Yangshuo to Guilin. Second class tickets cost between 23-31RMB, first-class tickets cost roughly 38-50RMB.

Guilin to Yangshuo river cruise

One of the most picturesque ways to travel between the two cities is to take a Li River cruise from Guilin to Yangshuo. This gives you plenty of time to admire the karst landscape from the comfort of your Guilin to Yangshuo boat.

The river cruise to Yangshuo takes around 4-5 hours but this depends on the docks, water levels and weather. Most travellers on the Li River cruise will take either a 3-star or 4-star cruise. There’s usually just one cruise a day.

  • 3-star cruise: 215RMB from Mopanshan to Longtoushan and includes a simple set meal
  • 4-star cruise: 360-480RMB, Zhujiang dock to Shuidongmen and has a Chinese buffet lunch.

Note: You can’t take a river cruise from Yangshuo to Guilin. To return to Guilin you’ll need to take a bus or high-speed train.

Book a cruise from Guilin to Yangshuo here.

Hong Kong to Yangshuo train

There is no direct route between Hong Kong and Yangshuo and Yangshuo to Hong Kong. You can either fly from Hong Kong to Guilin airport and then see the directions above, or you can get a series of trains between the two cities.

Travelling between Hong Kong and Yangshuo takes about 3-4 hours which is super quick given they’re 520km apart! It’s best to get the train first to Guangzhou or Guilin and then change from either of those stations to Yangshuo railway station.

The Hong Kong West Kowloon Railway Station is the best station to go from.

Where to stay in Yangshuo

Now that Yangshuo is such a popular visitor destination, there are lots of hotels and hostels in and around the town. Here are some of the top hotels in Yangshuo.

where to stay in yangshuo

Best hotels in Yangshuo

Below are some of the top Yangshuo hotels, separated into price categories so you can book one according to how much you want to spend on your Yangshuo accommodation.

Budget-friendly hotels in Yangshuo (under $30CAD):

  • The Karstaway House: The Karstaway House has mountain views and includes free bikes, wifi and a buffet breakfast. There’s a restaurant, garden, shared lounge and a terrace on-site too.
  • Magic BambooServes an American breakfast or à la carte breakfast and bike and car hire are available from the hotel too.
  • Yangshuo Hao Lin Ju Inn – Yi Shui Ge: All rooms have microwaves, kettles, bathroom and free toiletries.

Mid-range hotel (under $70CAD):

  • Zen Box House: Zen Box House has a restaurant and free bikes and is 9km outside of Yangshuo centre, surrounded by traditional farmhouses and incredible views. It’s a great option if you want somewhere super quiet and relaxing. Enjoy a tea on the rooftop terrace or go hiking nearby.
  • Yangshuo Village Inn: Enjoy a massage, try a Chinese cooking class, or book hot air ballooning, river rafting and more through the Yangshuo Village Inn.
  • Tea Rhythm House Yangshuo: Rooms here have mountain views and there’s a garden, barbecue and terrace. Rooms have private bathrooms, include breakfast and there’s a hot tub too.
  • Yangshuo Xingping Autumn Inn: Book a room with a mountain view and you won’t be disappointed! They also include a small kitchenette and some have a balcony or patio with views of the mountains and river.

Luxury hotels ($70CAD+):

  • Yangshuo Ancient Garden Boutique Hotel: The beautiful rooms here have bathrooms with bathrobes and slippers and some have views of the pool or garden. You can book Tai Chi workshops through the hotel and chill out at the pool after a hike around Yangshuo.
  • Yangshuo Coco Garden Hotel: This gorgeous hotel not only has spacious rooms with amazing views but also all the extra items to make your stay comfortable like toiletries and electric blankets for cold nights!
  • Rui Hua Courtyard: This 4-star hotel in Yangshuo is set around a beautiful courtyard and has a sauna, garden and restaurant. The units here have fully equipped kitchens, washing machines and the all-important coffee machine.

Best Yangshuo hostels

  • Yangshuo Travelling With…: We booked a private room at this hostel and it had everything we needed. It wasn’t that easy to find – look for the 99p store in the mini-shopping centre and it’s just above that.
  • Mountain Stream Hostel Yangshuo: Each room has air conditioning, and all beds in dormitories have private curtains.
  • Yangshuo Wada Hostel: This hostel on the Yulong River is more peaceful than the one on West Street by the same company. By staying in one you have access to both for water, food and hanging out. The hostel organises weekly activities such as dumpling parties and tours in the surrounding area.

Best things to do in Yangshuo

Yangshuo is a paradise for adventurers and outdoors lovers. There are so many things to do in Yangshuo that’ll get you outside and appreciating the incredible landscape that you’ll never be left wondering what to do in Yangshuo. Let’s face it, the mountains and rivers are probably the reason you travelled here in the first place so get outside and explore!

things to do in yangshuo

Explore West Street, Yangshuo

West Street is the oldest and main street in Yangshuo and it’s packed with tourists, both domestic and international. Whilst it’s not what you’ve imagined when dreaming of the landscapes around Yangshuo, you can’t visit without walking down West Street. I thought I’d hate it, but it’s quite the experience in itself.

Go early evening to see it at its peak when it’s full of people and food carts. There are locals selling the region’s speciality “beer fish” next to German beer gardens, strip clubs, and artisan pottery. It’s such a mix!

Don’t rush, just wander slowly and take it at face value.

Go climbing in Yangshuo

The karst mountain landscape means that climbers and hikers flock to Yangshuo and there are loads of climbing guides that’ll show the ropes. You can also have a go at the climbing wall which is set up for beginners on the main road into town. Yangshuo climbing has something for all climbing abilities so why not give it a go.

These rock climbing tours save you from having to pack your own gear, or are a great place to get started!

Hike up Laozhai Mountain

One of the best views of the Li River is from the summit of Laozhai Mountain in the town of Xingping.

There aren’t any signs along this trail but there are usually plenty of people around as well as English-speaking tour guides who can send you the right way. The trail isn’t maintained and so you’ll need to step carefully and there’s a steep, narrow ladder near the summit that you’ll have to climb too.

When you make it to the top of Laozhai Mountain there are incredible views from the pavilion. You can also climb (carefully) a small pile of rocks for a panoramic view of the surrounding area.

Watch the cormorants

cormorants on a boat in yangshuo china

If you head down to the part of the river nearest the town of Yangshuo you can watch the fishermen with their cormorants. These birds are incredible fishers and it’s fun to watch them from the river banks. I honestly think they’re one of the top Yangshuo attractions.

Cruise Down the Li River

This is many peoples’ highlights of a trip to Yangshuo. If you chose not to take a cruise from Guilin to Yangshuo, then you can still cruise down the river on a shorter trip. Take a minibus from Yangshuo to the town of Xingping and take a rafting trip along one of the most famous parts of the Li River. This part of the river is even featured on the back of the 20Y note!

You may have heard you should cruise on a bamboo raft, but these are no longer used on the Li River (but see below for bamboo rafting on the Yulong). Nowadays the rafts are made of PVC piping rather than bamboo. Still, cruising down the river is a nice relaxing activity.

You’ll need to buy an official ticket for the rafts and they’re pretty expensive overall. Each boat can hold 4 people and costs around 216RMB. If you’re not in a group of 4 you can usually buy an empty seat for about 25RMB. It’s often cheaper to book in advance and your hostel should also be able to help you when you arrive in Yangshuo.

Take a bamboo raft down the Yulong River

yangshuo china

While you can’t take a bamboo raft on the Li River, you can ride a bamboo raft on the Yulong River. So, if you’re set on riding a bamboo raft then head out to the Yulong River. These rafts are smaller than those mentioned above and hold 2 people. If you’ve driven or cycled to the launch point for the rafts, then you can hitch a ride back with the raft operators.

The banks of the river are lined with karst mountain formations and lush greenery which you can admire while travelling down the river. Whilst not very deep, there are a couple of small drops in the water but your oarsman will be able to navigate through them and keep you dry at the same time.

This area is still busy but tends to be a little quieter than the Li River stretch.

Book in advance with this 1-day cycling and bamboo raft tour.

Wander the nearby villages and ancient bridges

Yangshuo is surrounded by tiny picturesque villages. They’re great for a peaceful walk and there are also loads of ancient bridges crossing the river that are attractive in their own right. It’s not uncommon to see local couples getting engaged on these bridges which is fun to watch too.

Watch sunrise or sunset

sunset in yangshuo china

You’ll find many a professional photographer in Yangshuo. You’ll quickly understand why when you see the landscape for yourself! It won’t come as a surprise that sunrise and sunset are the most popular times of day for capturing photos of the area and they’re seriously impressive. Think orange and pink skies and a little bit of mist. It’s something you don’t want to miss!

One of my favourite memories was watching the sunset on our first evening in Yangshuo.

Best sunrise and sunset spots in Yangshuo:

  • Green Lotus Peak
  • Moon Hill
  • Xianggong Mountain
  • Laozhai Hill
  • Gongnong Bridge
  • Putao

Book a photography tour for sunrise in Yangshuo:

Watch the Impressions Lie Sanjie river show

The Impression Lie Sanjie river show is one of the best things to do in Yangshuo. During this Yangshuo light show there are over 600 performers on bamboo rafts who moving in perfect harmony on the largest natural amphitheatre in the world.

The show was created by Zhang Yimou who directed the Beijing Olympics opening ceremonies. It takes you through an artistic retelling of a famous Chinese folktale and gives you a glimpse into the history and culture of the local Zhuang people. There’s no traditional stage involved in the show, the stage is the Li River itself.

The performance is spectacular but also pretty expensive. If you’re travelling in China on a budget then this can easily be missed. But if you’re looking for a unique experience then it’s worth watching the lights, sound and movement.

Tickets cost around 190RMB and you can buy them in advance here.

Go cycling in Yangshuo

cycling in yangshuo china

The one thing you absolutely must do in Yangshuo is go cycling. There are dozens and dozens of places to hire a bicycle in Yangshuo and your hostel and hotel will be able to recommend somewhere if they don’t rent them themselves.  This is also one of the best cheap activities in Yangshuo. For budget adventure travellers like us, cycling was the ideal option. Just Y20 a day and the chance to explore the surrounding countryside at our own pace and add extra adventures such as trekking if we wished.

The reason you’re here is to see the landscape and seeing it by bike is ideal. At the slower pace of cycling, the karst landscapes become ever more surreal and otherworldly. They just out of the ground and they’re unlike any other mountains I’ve ever seen before.

Where to go cycling in Yangshuo

yangshuo china

There are endless opportunities for cycling in Yangshuo. The most popular area is the Ten-Mile Gallery, known in Chinese as Shili Hualang. This wasn’t created as a tourist route when we visited Yangshuo but we actually ended up cycling along some of this path anyway.

Along this route are loads of beautiful viewpoints of the surrounding scenery. It’s free to cycle through here but if you want to visit the attractions you usually have to pay an additional fee.

cycling in yangshuo map

img from travelchinaguide

Cycling to Yulon Bridge

We headed north-west out of Yangshuo in the rain and along the busy G321 up to Baisha and the famous Yulong bridge – a 400-year-old stone bridge. The road started off busy but then we took a diversion along a road that was still being built. There was no one working on it but there were also no cars or lorries which was just what we were hoping for.

As you approach the bridge you’ll be approached by touts trying to sell you a bamboo ride. We preferred to keep on cycling but if you fancy cutting the route short here you can strap your bikes to the raft. Each raft takes two people and two bikes and you can float down the Yulong River all the way to the Big Banyan tree (3 hours). From here it’s roughly a 20-30 minute cycle ride to Yangshuo.

Cycle around the villages

Our cycle after the Yulong bridge took us along the south side of the river where we got lost a few times and discovered some tiny village communities, farms and did some accidental off-roading. Getting lost in these villages and working our way out was one of the best parts of the ride. You don’t always need to follow a map when travelling (although having one as a backup is always a good idea!).

Yanghsuo China

Big Banyan Tree and Moon Hill, Yangshuo

After a while there we made it onto a cycle path running along the banks of the river at Chaoyang Wharf all the way down to the Big Banyan tree. Not only is the “Big Banyan Tree” more than one thousand years old, dating back to the Sui Dynasty (581-618) it’s a major scenic attraction with twisted roots and gnarled branches.

There’s also Moon Hill which is a hill with a natural arch in it which is worth seeing.

Towards villages of Aishan and Yong

The second day we headed out to the south-east following the road past the Butterfly Spring and out towards the villages of Aishan and Yong. This route was much more road based but beautiful nonetheless.

Cost of renting a bike in Yangshuo

We hired bikes from our hostel for Y20 a day for an old mountain bike. They didn’t have helmets or maps (you have to pay 5RMB for a map from hostels) so just be aware of this. They were also not in the best condition but they did the job!

We’d always prefer to wear a helmet so if you know somewhere in Yangshuo that does them let us know!

Cycling tours in Yangshuo

Best places to eat in Yangshuo

Yanghsuo China

There is an abundance of Yangshuo restaurants.  You can either opt to eat traditional fare or if you fancy something more Western, there’s pizza, KFC and McDonalds to keep you happy.

Breakfast in Yangshuo

For breakfasts, we ate at the same place three times – something we never do. We have our reasons; it was yummy, the owner was nice, it was close to our hostel (good when it’s raining out) and the breakfast deal was the cheapest we found in Yangshuo; at least for western food!

Our place of choice was ‘Lucy’s Café’. For 20RMB we had a coffee, two slices of toast and two eggs plus there was a very friendly dog that brightened up our mornings.

Lunches in Yangshuo

Lunch was always a bit of a strange one and mainly ended up consisting of fruit. Despite claiming that every country has some sort of cheese and ham in my how to save money whilst travelling post we were out of luck when it came to China. We made do with some weird, very sweet cheese toastie from a bakery, strangely flavoured crisps and lots of satsumas – the nicest I’ve ever had. We took these lunches out with us on our bike rides with plenty of water which was just as well as there aren’t many places to grab food when you’re out of the town.

What to eat for dinner

street food yangshuo china

On our first evening, we headed out onto West Street, the town’s main street, and sniffed out some street food. There were plenty of stalls with a lot that looked tasty and a lot that didn’t – here’s looking at you weird snails and unidentified meat. There’s tofu, roasted chestnuts, Chinese hamburgers and something delicious that we’ve not been able to identify (above). It was a doughy, sorta spicy veg and meat-filled roll. It was yummy – if you know what it was I’d love to know!

The other two evenings were at a restaurant right next to our hostel where we filled up on noodles, broth and chicken for just 16RMB. It was delicious, cheap and filling – what more could you want? It went even better with a little bar of chocolate from the supermarket for dessert.

Shelby Morrison

Monday 25th of September 2017

I'm getting ready to visit Yangshuo for a month next year so it's nice to see some info on it. It doesn't seem to be the most common place travel bloggers visit, so this was very helpful! I'll be helping out at a resort on the river. I hope to experience more of the small town aspect, as the news about it being pretty westernized is new and a bit disheartening. But it looks like you had a great culture-rich trip so I bet I will too!

Hannah Kacary

Tuesday 26th of September 2017

It is a bit westernised, but it's still so different from what I knew that it's amazing! I hope you have a great time!

Jane

Tuesday 17th of January 2017

Very interesting to hear how different your experience was from what you had read about the destination. It’s great you enjoyed the trip. It is important to take what you read on locations with a grain of salt. Whilst it is important to make sure you are prepared and have read up sufficiently on your destination, it is also important to ensure that you go to your destination with an open mind. Allow the country to place its own impressions on you.