The lost world of Yangshuo, China – 阳朔县, 中国

As some friends and I had several days off, we chose Yangshuo’s county (Yáng shuò) to spend the holidays and see what’s the buzz about this town and its countryside.

DSC_1141

The days off were because the first week of October is a national holiday throughout China, known as the Golden Week for the National Day (the other ‘Golden Week’ is for the Chinese Lunar New Year). People would usually go back to the office on Saturday to work 7 days straight, unlike western countries, where normally we would take the weekend off too. Lazy foreigners… 😉

Holiday in China mean insane travel activity, endless crowds fighting for a ticket on the next bus or train, to put their bag on board and themselves too. It looks like an authentic swarm, all trying to reach their parent’s home at any price (as it is customary), despite the endless hours in an uncomfortable bus/car/train/tiny motorbikes, crammed with other people in the same situation, with luggage, farm animals, and of course, non-stop crying children.

But when landing in Yangshuo’s county, everything slows down and any sense of time disappears…

..DSC_1317Yangshuo's karst mountains most iconic spot

These are karst mountains surrounding Yangshuo and its countryside along the Li River, creating a famous landscape with hundreds upon hundreds of these limestone hills dotting the skyline. This beautiful scenery is a common topic in many Chinese paintings, poetry, old tales, money (20 kuài bill) and even cigarette brands:

Yangshuo's karst mountains

Luckily for us, tourism in Yangshuo is still domestic, so prices are fairly low… it feels more like being in any other crowded Chinese city. Besides the stunning views and river-related activities, the city itself is absolutely charming. Getting lost should be one of your first activities as soon as you unpack!

Street tofu cart

West Street, also called English Corner or Foreigners’ Street, is one of the main places to do so. It’s basically full of Western-themed restaurants, sometimes managed also by foreigners, all kind of trinket shops, street beggars, pubs where to have fun at night (Chinese-style), street food hawkers and an endless list of things to see, eat, drink, and do, enjoy the beat of the city, which starts its party mood at 6-7 night, when all the tourists get back from their activities in the county and the neon lights are lit.

West Street view, Yangshuo

After the dark, the city changes completely. The narrow streets cannot contain the affluence of people, and most of the time you’ll be drifting with the crowd and occasionally stopping to bargain over some trinket. Clubs and pubs with live music don’t stop until 3-4 in the morning. There are places for all the tastes, so don’t hesitate to have a shot at them all!

Yangshuo's town lake at night

Recommended

  • Cooking classes. Is a different and fun activity, specially reserved for rainy days…! Book them at 9th Cloud Restaurant or the 7th Heaven Café.
  • Get lost in West Street and its surroundings, both by day and at night.
  • 7th Heaven Coffee and 9th Cloud Restaurant. Heavenly (pun intended) breakfast and amazing menu. Good views from West Street from both of them, and rooms to rent, by the way:

View on West StreetLittle pan rice with steamed chicken

  • Yulong and Lijiang River drift. Don’t expect a pleasant, alone ride. The rivers are overcrowded too, depending on the time of the year you’re going. So it can be more like a NY highway during the rush hour with dozens of the same boats you will ride and hopper barges in both directions, than a lonely and romantic boat ride. Anyway, beautiful.

  • Rice terraces. A 3 hour bus trip is nothing when you see the scenery. Breathtaking. Be sure the rice is sown, by the way!
  • Hire a bicycle or a motorbike and explore the countryside,. For a few kuài, you can hire not only the bike, but also a guide. Electric bikes are available too, but if you’re searching for fuel-powered bikes, you need either a Chinese driver’s license or a driver itself.

Tourist traps

  • Impression show. What the hell.
  • All the caves. No matter how happy the people in the promotional posters look. They were under the influence of a hard drug or the toxic fumes from a cave. Cold waterish mud. Remember this three words.
  • Meyou café. Poor menu, tasteless dishes, expensive, nice paraphernalia on the walls though… no wonder how Lonely Planet Guide recommends it: it is mainly made for foreigners who don’t dare to go for a McDonald’s but won’t dare aswell to try something local.
  • Old fishermen with cormorants. If they’re not performing the traditional show, it’s worthless. When they are not in the river with their boats, they’re asking for money on the streets to take pictures with them. If you are the typical tourist looking to have a picture saying “look at me! I’m totally in the Chinese culture” wearing a traditional hat and a stick with a cormorant in each end, it’s not a trap at all for you.

I hope you will enjoy the city and its county!

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