With its limestone mountains, beautiful rivers and lush countryside, Yangshuo has unsurprisingly earned the nickname, “paradise under heaven.” The stunning landscape has inspired poets and artists alike for thousands of years. Is this the best backpacking destination in China? We think so. Located just 65 kilometers southeast of Guilin, the beautiful town of Yangshuo seems unaware of its reputation. Nestled amongst stunning karst peaks, it really is a backpacker’s dream. A sleepy farming village up until the 1980’s, Yangshuo has since become a popular destination for cyclists, rock climbers and backpackers alike. Despite drawing in plenty of tourists, it still retains a rural feel whilst offering great food, lively bars and exciting activities.
What to Know
Located in South West China, Yangshuo is situated in the beautiful Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, which shares a border with Vietnam. While it may not have the same multicultural heritage as other cities or be of particular economic importance in China, Yangshuo still has its own unique history. A large amount of Yangshuo’s income comes from rice farming, and the views over the rice paddies are completely stunning. Although it is outshone by its neighbour Guilin, often referred to as the most beautiful city in China, Yangshuo still attracts tourists with its natural beauty and many daredevil activities available.
Summer temperatures in Yangshuo can reach 40°C, and May and June can see some pretty heavy rains. Late summer is not as wet but still hot, so remember to take a fan or bottle of water with you when you’re out and about!
What to Do
Floating down stream on a bamboo raft is perhaps Yangshuo’s most iconic activity. Take in the stunning karst scenery from a different prospective as you meander down the river between the mountains. Here the local fishermen use a traditional fishing technique refined over thousands of years with the aid of cormorants. The bird dives down into the river and returns with a fish, in this ancient fishing method. It truly is a unique piece of Chinese culture that is best experienced on the Li River.
Feeling adventurous? Well Yangshuo has plenty of exciting activities to enjoy. Take an eco-bike ride to underground caves for a mud bath and even try your hand at deep water soloing (rock climbing over a river – without the ropes-season dependent!). Sip snake liquor at a rooftop bar and get to know your fellow Dragon trippers over a game of beer pong whilst soaking up the view.
Moon Hill, a small peak with a crescent moon shaped hole through the centre, is symbolic of the region and a popular place to cycle and climb. With over 800 steps to conquer it can be tiring, but don’t be deterred – the outstanding view over the mountainous landscape that greets you at the top will be reward enough. On your way down (or up), don’t forget to stop by the thousand year old Big Banyan Tree for a photo.
After all the activity in Yangshuo, a visit to a Chinese doctor might be exactly what you need to relax. Cupping is a traditional Chinese medicine treatment that is supposed to expel toxins from the body. A treatment that is becoming increasingly popular in the West, it sees cups heated by a flame placed tactically on the back. As the cups cool a vacuum is created, resulting in a sucking sensation. The blood and muscles are bought closer to the surface so they can be more easily dealt with by the body to release toxins. It may sound (and look) gruesome, but cupping is a painless treatment: most people say that at most the sensation is uncomfortable.
What to Eat
Due to its abundance of rice paddy fields, Yangshou boasts a large variety of rice based dishes bursting with mouth watering flavours. Yangshuo Baba is made of glutinous flour steamed with many different ingredients, such as water chestnut and sometimes stuffed with black sesame or chestnut pastes to form a sweet snack. For something a little more savoury, Guilin rice noodles sees a bubbling bowl of broth with meat and vegetables. What makes this hotpot stand out is the exotic toppings used to decorate- from chillies to peanuts.
Beer fish is perhaps the most famous of traditional dishes in Yangshuo. A fresh carp is fried whole before being stewed with plenty of seasoning and vegetables all in a wok full of – you guessed it – beer. Once you enjoy it alongside a spread of other local delicacies such as brewed field snails, braised pork and taro, and of course a steaming bowl of white rice, it will be clear to see why food in Yangshuo is so well-received. If you are looking for a highly recommended restaurant to enjoy these dishes, Cloud 9 is a very good option. While the food may not be the cheapest in town, your enjoyment of it might be heightened as you sit on the balcony, watching people go about their daily lives on the bustling streets below.
Despite Yangshuo being a quiet rural village, tourism has brought in several options for anyone not tired out by the evening. At a hostel called Monkey Jane’s you can start the night with a few rounds of beer pong against the bar maids. They may look innocent but don’t be deceived – they will beat even the most seasoned of players. Once you’ve got the party started at Monkey Jane’s, head down to the popular West Street for some refreshing cocktails and noisy nightclubs. If you’re looking to stay out longer, visit Kaya Bar, which is popular with the expats who live in Yangshuo. This reggae themed bar is usually open even after the clubs on West Street close.