Insider’s guide to Yangshuo, China

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Yangshuo is a small village on the Li River, set among the limestone karst mountains of southern China and looking for all the world like one of those misty Chinese bamboo paintings of mountain tops and clouds. The Chinese say “Guilin has the most beautiful scenery in China, and Yangshuo is even more beautiful than Guilin”. And it’s true.

This is not a town for party animals, although it gets a few of those by accident now and then. This is a town for romantics, for adventurers, for lazy days drifting on a bamboo raft while the Li River drifts by like a sheet of liquid silk and Chinese fishermen on pole rafts direct cormorants to their catch. It’s a town for staring endlessly into the jungle-clad mountain tops contemplating how the hell they ever managed to build a temple way up there. It’s a town for trying out the amazing street foods from all over China and sipping LiQin beer in small roadside bars. It’s a town for hiring a bicycle and riding along the banks of the river through jaw-dropping scenery. It’s a cheap backpacker paradise than nevertheless manages to have some pretty decent hotels and guest houses as well as a healthy does of what we like to call “the real China”.

How to get to Yangshuo

Backpackers have put Yangshuo well and truly on the tourist map over the last 25 years. It’s one of the classic stops on the hippy trail through Asia so there’s lots of options to get there.

map Guangzhou to Yangshuo
Yangshuo is about 400 km north-west of Guangzhou (Canton)

The most popular option is to take an overnight bus or a train from Guangzhou, near Hong Kong, to the nearby city of Guilin. From Guilin it’s easy to get a local or tourist bus to Yangshuo because that’s where all the western tourists are wanting to go. Yangshuo doesn’t have an airport, but you can fly in to Liangjiang International Airport in Guilin and catch an airport shuttle bus to Yangshuo for about 50 RMB.

Take the time to cruise to Yangshuo up the Li River!
Take the time to cruise to Yangshuo up the Li River!

If you have all the time in the world, do the romantic thing and take a Li River cruise boat from Guilin. It takes five hours to get to Yangshuo but you’ll arrive chilled out and ready to make most of this stunning jewel of southern China.

Best places to stay in Yangshuo

Because it’s so popular with western tourists, Yangshuo has no end of choices for accommodation. But they’re not all equal and you’ll have a very different experience staying in a backpacker hostel in West Street than you’ll have staying in a boutique hotel or resort just outside the town.

Yangshuo Tea Cozy

Yangshuo Tea Cozy
Yangshuo Tea Cozy is a home away from home in tranquil Yangshuo

This TripAdvisor Traveller’s Choice Award 2015 winner lives up to its name in every respect. You’ll feel the comfort and cosiness of this boutique 12-room hotel wrap around you from the moment you arrive. It’s one of the closest experiences you’ll ever have to the warmth and hospitality of old world China.

It’s located a little bit outside of Yangshuo but once you’ve been in the town for a day you’ll appreciate the distance and you’ll want to spend time just exploring the little country lanes and paths along the Yulong River where you’ll see local people harvesting rice and making hand-pulled noodles and tofu.

The food in the hotel is all organic, local produce and very delicious with lots of choices on the menu to keep you interested even on a long stay. The staff don’t have a lot of English but they get by and they’re always willing to help you with transport arrangements and planning outings to see the countryside around Yangshuo. Richard and Curry, who own and run Yangshuo Tea Cozy, are usually not far away if you need something more.

We recommend the King Suites on the higher levels (3rd and 4th floors) for maximum comfort and roominess. They also have a wooden spa tub to relax in at the end of the day, which is very nice. The beds are a bit hard, but that’s just a fact of life in China where kids grow up sleeping on boards with a sheet over them. There’s no lifts, so you’ll get fit going up and down the stairs but you won’t have to carry your own bags.

Rates: From around $200 a night
Bookings:
 www.tripadvisor.com to compare prices on multiple booking sites
Address: No.212 Xiatang Village, Baisha Town, Yangshuo , China

Secret Garden Boutique Hotel

Secret Garden Boutique Hotel
Secret Garden Boutique Hotel is a converted farmhouse outside Yangshuo

Also outside of the hustle and bustle of Yangshuo town, the Secret Garden Boutique Hotel is a stunningly converted country farmhouse, a veritable rabbit warren of passageways and garden paths hiding in the middle of a small village close to the Yulong River. Yangshuo is about 20 minutes away by taxi (60 RMB).

Feng Zi and Faye, who run the hotel, are delightful and very welcoming, with excellent English. The hotel itself is a bit of a work in progress with new bits and pieces being added on to keep up with the growth in bookings because the recommendations just keep on piling up from happy customers.

Your experience will vary depending on which room you end up in, but it will be unique regardless. Each room has its own little balcony or terrace overlooking the gardens with views out into the limestone mountains and beautiful blossom trees if you pick the right time of year (Spring).

Wander out into the village and you’ll soon find yourself strolling amongst rice paddies with water buffalo wandering up the road and farmers carrying huge crops on their backs. Or stick around in the village to take advantage of real Chinese cooking classes and traditional Chinese food.

Rates: From around $100 a night
Bookings:
 www.tripadvisor.com to compare prices on multiple booking sites
Address: Jiuxian Village, Yangshuo County 541900, China

If neither of these amazing options suits your style, check out the latest special offers for Yangshuo on TripAdvisor.

Best places to eat and drink in Yangshuo

Because Yangshuo is so popular with western visitors, you can find almost any food you can imagine in the streets of the town from traditional Chinese to Indian, western and fine dining. Here’s a few that are really popular.

Mood Food Energy Cafe

Mood Food Energy Cafe
Mood Food Energy Cafe – so good you won’t know it’s healthy too

If you’re into organic, healthy or vegan food, this is the place you’ll want to know about. It’s more a lifestyle experience than a restaurant because you can combine your dinner or lunch with a yoga class or meditation class with Yanzi, one of the owners, or even learn Qi Gong from the master himself, Daniel.

The food at Mood Food is very original, unique and inventive. The owners go all out to prove that healthy food doesn’t have to be boring food and that food is important for the mind, not just for the body. Do yourself a flavour and try their pizzas! You won’t even know you’re eating healthy!!

And if you’re just looking for a great cup of coffee, drop in and try the French Press coffee with some gluten-free pancakes!

Address: Furong Lu 8, Yangshuo County 541900, China 

The DMZ Bar

DMZ Bar
DMZ Bar

I can’t claim to be a big fan of North Korean beer but the DMZ Bar is a pretty amazing place. You really have to check it out. It’s a little slice of Kim Jong Un kitsch in the middle of rural China … and where else could you really get away with that.

You don’t come here to party, although they’ll probably let you change the music or even put on your own music and if you wait a while a party will start with our without you. But you really come here to chill out and watch the other people who also come here to chill out and just hang out.

The beer is icy cold and cheap, the crowd is good fun and no-one is in a hurry to leave. The staff don’t go home until the last guest goes home! If you get hungry, just duck next door for a nice feed of dumplings.

Address: Gui Hua Road, Yangshuo County, China

Bad Panda Hostel and Rooftop Bar

Bad Panda Bar
Bad Panda Bar

The Rooftop Bar at the Bad Panda Hostel is one of those places where travellers meet, swap stories and make new friends. It offers cheap beer, a game of foosball, plus some amazing views across Yangshuo and to the mountains beyond.

The owners, Will and Heather, are very friendly and that shows in the atmosphere of the bar. Head in between 6-8 PM for happy hour (two for one drinks) and to watch the idiots trying to down 10 shots in a row to win a t-shirt.

Address: 50 LianFeng Alley, West Street, Yangshuo County1234, China

Have you recently visited Yangshuo? We love to hear your thoughts about it, where you stayed and where you ate, what tours you took, etc. Please drop us a line using the comments field below or tweet to @asiantraveltips.