Today was a day I wished I had learnt to take good photos and had a proper camera. It was the second day of our Southern China and Tibet trip. We were in Yangshuo, Guangxi region, famous for its dramatic Karst mountain landscape, and popular with locals and foreigners alike for outdoor recreation.
Having arrived the night before at the Moondance Hotel, we woke up to the mist and fog in Yangshuo. It was turning out to be a couple of rather foggy and wet days, which is not uncommon in this part of China.
I had booked a half a day tour today via the hotel, consisting of a rafting trip down the Li river and a visit to a nearby fishing village, Xingpingzen, about 32 km from Yangshuo. We had to leave the hotel early, in order to catch the raft by 0930. Li river around Xingping is closed for small rafts from about 1030 to 1300 (because this is when the bigger cruises from Guilin make their way down – see more about this below).
Although it was raining, we decided to risk it and head to Xingpingzen, the starting point for the rafting trips. The weather in this part of China is prone to change very quickly, so we were hopeful that it would take a turn for the better by the time we got to our destination. We were lucky. The rain had stopped by the time we got to Xingpingzen.
There were many rafts on the river, each made by tying many bamboo trees together and painted. The rafts are powered by a small outboard motor and there is sheltered seating for 4 people.
All the rafts were in good condition and there was a list of do’s and don’ts on each raft (in both Chinese and English) We were also given life jackets that had to be worn for the duration of the trip. The whole operation seem to be well managed and regulated.
There was no queue for the rafts, and soon we were on our way. The Li river and the surrounding mountains around the rafting station is famous as this is commemorated on the 20 Yuan note in China.
Although it was foggy and threatening to rain, the view was nevertheless beautiful and unlike anything I have ever seen. Being in the small raft, close to the water, gave us the chance to soak it all in.
The karst mountains were wrapped in mist, but this only added to the mystique. Every turn along the river brought us a more jaw dropping scenery. It very much reminded me of the scene in Lord of the Rings, where the fellowship takes the river from Lothlorien to Parth Galen.
We went down river for about half and hour and then the raft turned around and sailed back up the river. We finished the trip at the point we boarded the raft, and we then took a small electric buggy to Xingping town (As there is no convenient parking nearby, you get a complimentary shuttle ride to Xingping old town, with your raft ticket). We were due to meet our guide in Xingping old village.
Tip: There is a small viewing platform on the road between Xingping and the rafting station. Stop here if you would like a good photo of the 20 Yuan note scenery.
We spent the next hour and a half walking around Xingping old town, which used to be an old fishing town. The buildings in the town have been preserved, but most of them have been turned to cafes, restaurants and souvenir shops.
We had lunch (included in the tour) at the family cafe in Xingping, and the driver brought us back to to the hotel by 1330.
We spent a relaxing afternoon in the hotel, watching the river and the wildlife. In the evening, we went to see the Impressions: Liu San Jie show. Impressions Liu San Jie is a music, dance and light show with of over 600 performers, set on the largest natural theatre in the world. It was an incredible show, and shot straight to the top of my most amazing things I have seen list. I have written a whole post about it here.
We got back to the hotel about 2130 after the show, soaked to the bone (it had started raining just as the show finished). But we were soon able to warm up with drink in the hotel bar, complete with live music (in Chinese and English both).
Yangshuo: Things to Know
In the second half of this post, I want to share the few tips and things to know if you are planning a trip to Yangshuo.
Where to stay
Staying in Yangshuo, you have two options. Stay in or near Yangshuo town, where there are many cafes, shops and restaurants (and it is close to the Liu San Jie show). Or you can stay in a hotel in the Yangshuo National park area. These hotels are more relaxing, but can be pretty quiet in the evenings and other than the hotel, there will be no dining or entertainment venues. Yangshuo town is a car journey away.
Be aware that at the Yangshuo national park, there are motor vehicle entry restrictions during the day from 0800 to 1800. During these hours, only vehicles registered to residents within the National Park. We didn’t have any issues with drivers picking us up and dropping off, but most of the time they arrived before 0800 or after 1800. If your hotel is within this area, check with them if this is likely to be an issue.
Things to do
- Take a boat trip. See more details below.
- Ride a bicycle around the Yangshuo mountains. Most hotels have cycles for hire for a small fee. Some hotels also organise morning and evening rides.
- Go and see Liu Sanje – it will be worth it. I promise! See my post here.
- Have a look here for activities available.
- Book activities locally. Most activities in Yangshuo are entirely weather dependent, so it is better to arrive here, get your bearings and see what takes your fancy. Most hotels will be able to arrange tours at short notice.
Which boat trip to take?
If you come to this part of China, a trip down the Li river is a must. But there are several ways to do this. In addition to the motorised bamboo raft trip we took (see the first part of this post), there are two other options.
Li river cruise:
This is by far the most popular option with most tour groups, especially large ones. The cruise is a large boat with an upper and lower decks, holding several dozen people, with big sight-seeing windows. The trip starts from Guilin and ends in Yangshuo, taking in a total of 83 km along the Li river. It leaves Guilin about 0930 and arrives in Yangshuo at 1330. A set meal or a buffet is also provided on the boat.
Prices vary from about 70 USD (400 Yuan) to 130 USD (800 Yuan) per person, depending on the type of boat and if transfers are included or not (Please check prices before booking). The boat is comfortable, and as it is a large boat, it is less likely the cruise is cancelled due to weather conditions. But you are less close to nature, it is less authentic and in busy times you will be jostling with a hundred other people to take that perfect photo. Also as the trip start early morning in Guilin, you will need to spend the previous night in Guilin.
Yulong river drifting:
On the other end of the scale, is rafting down the Yulong river, in a non-motorised, 2 person raft. Yulong is a smaller, tributary river to the Li river and it goes through some of the best scenery Yangshuo has to offer. The boatman uses his bamboo-pole to control the direction and speed of the raft (similar to the Venice gondolas). It costs around 400 Yuan per boat for 2 hours (Please check prices before booking). According to the hotel no children under 3 are allowed on the rafts. As it is a small raft, the trip may be cancelled at short notice if the weather is bad. Overall, I would have preferred to take this option, but as we had a group of 3, it made more sense to go for the 4 person raft on the Li river.
Yangshuo is a resort town. The scenery is breathtaking, and the pace relaxing. You can choose to do as much or as little as you like, so my last tip is to save Yangshuo for the end of your trip in China. We of course, did it at the start of the trip, and I ended up wishing we had done the trip in reverse.
So, that’s our second day of the trip, where I saw some of the most amazing scenery China had to offer. In my next post, I will tell you about our trip to see the Long-ji rice terraces.