Recently I ticked off a travel destination that’s been on my bucket list for aggges – Yangshuo in China. China as a whole has changed so much in the last 20 years and after visiting Shanghai and the Shenzhen region I worried that most of China had been modernised and concreted over, so we were so happy to stumble upon a corner of the country knee deep in natural charm. The region around Guilin is dominated by Karst peaks that loom over green rice patty fields – truly spectacular scenery made all the more romantic by the mist of the wet season. Here’s a quick run down of this amazing part of the world in case you ever go.
Get there Fly to Guilin and travel the 1 hour to Yangshuo by bus, or be smart and book a transfer when booking your hotel.
Stay If you can, stay at the Yangshuo Mountain Retreat, out of all the hotels/accommodation we saw while we were there (and I think we saw almost everything on our wanderings) this is by far the best – boutique style waterfront hotel 8km out of the main town. In truth I’ve told my friends to plan around when there is availability at this hotel when booking a trip to Yangshuo, it’s that nice! We didn’t feel like we were missing out on much being away from the town – it’s qaint in some ways but quite touristy and there’s not a lot there. If you stay at the mountain retreat make sure you get a room with a view of the river – waking up to the sound of the water is a must!
Eat The same as anywhere in China, unless you’re really desperate, stick to the local cuisine as much as possible. The best meals we had were simple and local – it doesn’t take a genius to work out that ‘authentic Italian’ in China will rarely come close. The food at our hotel was simple style chinese and we loved hanging by the river, even if you don’t end up staying there it’s worth visiting for lunch and a relax.
Do A full day of cycling (or more) around the area is the perfect way to explore – stick to the back roads and small villages to get a feel for how people live in the area and to marvel at the landscape. If you’ve got a choice pick a mountain bike over a cute vintage one – not so instagram friendly but you’ll be happy when you’re riding through mud and on dirt paths. We cycled up to Dragon Bridge and then got a bamboo raft down the river part of the way before cycling back to the hotel – the perfect day! On that subject, you’ll see bamboo rafts everywhere – they’re worth trying although don’t expect to get anywhere fast. We also did a cooking class at Yangshuo Cooking School, and although we didn’t learn anything groundbreaking (having come from Hong Kong) it was a really fun way to get a feel for the locals – we had the sweetest teachers! As part of the class you do a visit to the local markets, but in aid of keeping our breakfasts down we bypassed the dog meat butcher, and the live poultry because, you know, bird flu.
Before you go Read up on China’s history – Wild Swans is one of my favourite books and is great for those of you interested in the lives of ordinary Chinese during the transition from a feudal system, to Mao’s communist regime to the communist/free market environment that exists today. The Painted Veil is a good movie to give you a glimpse of the amazing landscape of Yangshuo.
The view from Dragon Bridge / The dishes we made at our cooking class.
Rafting down the Li River, incredibly relaxing (my boyfriend got bored)
Waking up at the Mountain Retreat was the best part of the trip.
Cycling through small villages and peeking into tiny houses in the shadow of limestone peaks.
BBQ time in the markets at Yangshuo
Intricate details in Chinese windows.
Picking fresh produce for our cooking class.
Goodluck symbols on doorways
Preparing to raft at Dragon Bridge
We used a fair few of these in our cooking class!
Peak gazing / The perfect place for reading my book on the balcony of our hotel
Card game o’clock
Riding my bike taking photos – I’m sure these guys wondered what the hell I was doing.
Eggplant hotpot, scrumptious!
Raft men taking a breather (instagramming selfies perhaps?)
The lushest of landscapes
Rafting looks like hard work!
A glimpse into someone’s home in a small village / Local temple
The completely natural (aka trying not to fall off the front of the raft) shot.
Coveting this old lady’s tumbled down courtyard house
We cooked a feast (and it was delicious)