Difference between revisions of "Yangshuo"
Revision as of 16:03, 2 June 2008
Yangshuo (阳朔) is a very scenic, small tourist town surrounded by mountains and beautiful scenery.
Yangshuo is near Guilin and like Guilin, it has incredible karst scenery and a parade of Chinese package tourists who can be spotted wearing baseball caps and following a tour leader who carries a flag.
However, it isn't your typical Chinese town. Yangshuo has a reputation as a foreigners' village in Southern China. This town feels like one of the stops on the travelers' trail, with lots of the same people you'd expect in Katmandu, Sihanoukville, or Dali.
Many travellers use Yangshuo as a base and spend their time exploring the karst scenery and rivers, or checking out caves and local temples. Renting a bike and taking off into the countryside, with or without a guide, is one popular strategy. There is also a whole community of rock climbers enjoying hills and caves.
Others just take it easy in the many cafes and bars. While this certainly isn't the whole story, the town is in some ways a break from the rest of China. For this reason, it is very popular with foreigners who work in China.
Yangshuo has no airport. The nearest airport is in Guilin (airport code KWL). As yet, there are no direct buses from the airport to Yangshuo. There is an airport bus you can take into Guilin and then take a bus or boat to Yangshuo.If you book your accommodation ahead of time, most hotels in Yangshuo can arrange for a car you pick you up from Guilin Airport and take you to Yangshuo for around Y200 - Y250.
One of the best routes to take to Yangshuo if you wish to head there directly, is to fly to Hong Kong, cross the border to Shenzhen, then take a flight from there to Guilin. Both China Southern Airlines and Shenzhen Airways serve this route. Flying directly from Hong Kong to Guilin can be quite a bit more expensive and usually involves a stop in Guangzhou.
Yangshuo is not served by train and the nearest railway station is Guilin. Minibuses to Yangshuo conveniently depart from the square in front of Guilin railway station. For bus connections, see below.
From Guilin: There are frequent minibuses and express buses to Yangshuo from Guilin. All buses terminate at the bus terminal in Yangshuo. Minibuses depart from the square in front of the Guilin railway station (RMB 14 Buy tickets on the bus once it is underway - invariably touts will try to sell you a more expensive ticket before the bus departs, even coming onto the bus. The bes approach is simply to ignore them). The journey takes between one and one-and-a-half hours as buses stop along the way. Express buses (RMB 15. Buy tickets from counter inside terminal) depart every half hour from the Guilin bus terminal off Zhongshan Zhong Lu and take just an hour.
In Yangshuo, wait for minibuses at the exit of the bus terminal at Die Cui Lu; the first bus to depart will be at the head of the queue. Express buses depart half hourly from 7am from their allotted bay inside the terminal. Buy tickets from the glass counter.
Note scam: Beware that on the bus from Guilin, unscrupulous hawkers frequently stop the bus before the center of town urging you to get off while claiming this is Yangshuo and the bus will continue to another place. The bus conductor will often be complicit in the scam and even tell you that you've arrive at the bus station. The reason for this is to make you have to pay for them to take you to the centre of town and to their hotel.
From Guangdong: Overnight sleeper buses run direct to Yangshuo from Shenzhen on the Hong Kong border, from Zhuhai on the Macau border, and from Guangzhou. These cost around RMB 100-250 depending on which station in Shenzhen you want to go to and how new a bus you go on. The buses to the border in Shenzhen are the dearest.
From Nanning: Two daily buses go directly to Nanning, leaving Yangshuo at 8am and 9am. They go to Guilin first where they stop for just a short time to pick up passengers. Tickets cost RMB 110. In Nanning, the 8am bus stops in the Langdong bus terminal while the 9am bus goes to the Jiangnan bus terminal.
There are also boats down the Li River, slower and more expensive (RMB 400+) but a very scenic journey. You may be able to get these for about half that price by joining a tour group.
In the winter time, which is the dry season, the boats often only travel starting halfway down the Li river from Guilin. A tour company will inform you of this. It is still worth taking the journey. You will then travel part of the way by bus or private taxi, then join the boat where the water is deep enough (this may vary).
Yangshuo is a small place - the town can easily be covered on foot. There is an electric minibus network consisting 5 routes covering most parts of town. RMB 1 per ride.
The main tourist area is laid out roughly like a ladder. The two main tourist streets run more-or-less parallel up from the river to end at one of the town's larger streets. There are assorted smaller streets (rungs) crossing between the two larger streets. The street (ladder vertical) on the left seen from the River is West Street (西街 Xijie) and is the older more established tourist street, the real center of things. The other long tourist street is Diecuilu (畳翠路).
There's a small creek that runs down the center of the "ladder"; some of the prettiest bars and restaurants in town are on balconies near it. The street there is called Guiha Lu. At the "foot of the ladder" by the river is an open area with a large number of vendors hawking all sorts of tourist stuff, both from shops and from handcarts. Also a number of rather nice riverside hotels.
Across the "top of the ladder" is a major street (Pantao Lu) with many hotels. The town's main bus station is at the corner where that main street meets Die Cui Lu. The intersection has a large open area that becomes very busy at night, with dozens of restaurants and hundreds of diners. Do not expect English menus or non-Chinese dishes.
Near the top of West Street are three banks with ATMs — Bank of China, Agricultural Bank and ICBC — and there is a China Construction Bank on Die Cui Lu. Service in the Bank of China can be awful, but it has the only ATM that accepts foreign cards.
The post office is on Pantao Lu, opposite the top end of West Street. It's open from 8am until 9pm.
Into the countryside
If you're planning on walking around the many streets and caves around Yangshuo, a map is recommended. Artistic tourist maps are available for sale for around RMB 5-10 at tourist shops all over town, but the free maps are better for finding your way.
For those who want to wander a little further afield, or to check the attractions in the area, there are several options.
You can mix these modes of travel, for example taking a boat out of town and biking back or taking a bus upriver a ways to catch a boat tour.
Most hostels or hotels can arrange transport and a guide if you want one. Alternately, you can choose your own tourist guide; just work out a deal with one of the ones who will accost you on the street. Guides can also be found at 'Expat Services' on Chenzhong Rd, next to 7th Heaven. A guide may be very helpful for things like cycling tours.
Some local guides are simply savvy street wise individuals trying to make some money, whilst others are registered and take government examinations. Whilst some of the unlicensed guides can be very good at what they do, be careful that you are not simply being taken on a 'shopping' tour where you feel pressured into spending money you do not wish to.
Haggle over prices too. Tickets for the nightly Light Show can vary from Y150 - Y250 a head!
The area around Yangshuo is renowned throughout China, and probably the world, for its Karst landscape where there are hundreds of limestone hills dotting the countryside. The beautiful scenery here is a common subject of Chinese paintings as well as the inspiration for poetry. There are several popular areas for Karst landscape sight-seeing which can be covered by river cruises, bamboo-raft cruises, cycling, trekking and combinations of the various modes.
This stretch along the Li River is probably the most renowned and popular. There are river cruises available and in fact, the Guilin-Yangshuo boat ride passes through this area. There is also a 24km (5 to 6 hours) track for easy hiking along the Li river. The walk is a far more peaceful way to enjoy the Li river and mountain scenery than the loud noisy boat down the river. It takes you along the pebbly shores of the river, through many small villages, fields and bamboo forests. If you get tired, you can always rent a bamboo raft to float down the river. Getting there: There are various ways of reaching this stretch of the Li River. You can of course catch a direct river cruise from Yangshuo town. You can also get to Xingping by minibus (called xiao mian bao or "little bread loaves") from Yangshuo bus terminal, or cycle out there and then take boats or bamboo rafts to reach the scenic area. Again, combinations of the various modes are possible.
The pretty Yulong River valley is said to rival the Yangdi-Xingping stretch in terms of beauty. Besides rafting down the river on bamboo rafts, another popular way of seeing the valley is by cycling along riverside tracks. The journey will bring you through many farming villages and past several stone bridges across the river such as the Yulong Qiao and Fuli Qiao. Getting there: From Yangshuo town, you can access the Yulong River valley by turning west into a small road from the main Yangshuo bypass road just south of the Sinopec petrol station at the junction of Pantao Lu (there are road signs in Chinese). You can also access it by using the road to Jinbao from Baisha town 9km north of Yangshuo on the main road to Guilin. Minibuses from Yangshuo bus terminal to Jinbao go near Yulong village.
Another popular scenic spot south of town. The main attraction is a hill with a huge hole in the shape of a moon. The hills here can be climbed for spectacular vistas from the top. Getting there: Take a Gaotian minibus Yangshuo bus terminal. If you plan to cycle, Moon Hill is located about 8km south of Yangshuo on the road to Wuzhou. It's not an incredibly long trek to the top but the gradient and strange angle of the steps can do something strange to your legs on the way down. The Moon Hill Cafe at the base of the hill sells fairly mediocre food at ridiculously high prices, but there's no alternative and you may need something after the trek up and down.
Many people come to Yangshuo are so preoccupied with the surrounding karst landscape that they do not spend much time in Yangshuo town itself.
There is quite a bit to do in the town itself. Apart from shipping and haggling prices on the main tourist streets, there are a plethora of backstreets with all sorts of interesting eateries and little shops. Explore and be daring. There are Chinese tea shops where you can sample ‘ten year’ old tea, or even ’fifteen year’ old tea. It looks very black, but produces a very mild light looking and tasting tea, all served from miniature teapots into miniature teacups. Additionally, you can also sign up for Chinese cooking classes, experience foot reflexology or attend a Tai Chi class.
Tai Chi classes are given in The People's Park each morning at 0800. Otherwise there are also formal schools providing 'drop in' classes.
If you want some guidance as to what to do and to enjoy, two very helpful local guides are ‘Lisa’ from Lisa’s Cafe in West Street and ‘William’ from 7th Heaven. Both can provide you with ample information and are happy to do so as a service. They can happily tell you which ‘Massage Parlours’ are the real deal in terms of genuine Chinese Medicine or just cheap fronts for brothels.
The People’s Park just opposite the bus station is a great place to observe the locals playing cards, a national pastime so it would seem. You’ll also see groups of women sitting around talking whilst doing their knitting, some even walk along the street whilst knitting and chatting.
Beware of the fresh market. If you are sensitive, then cages full of dogs waiting for the slaughter may just upset you enough to put you off your food. There are plenty of stalls out on the streets where you can buy lots of fruits, no need to face the grim meat market.
Impression Liu Sanjie runs nightly during the high season. Set to the music from the movie of the same name (which in turn was based on an old Chinese story), it features a cast of 500 wearing traditional Zhuang, Miao and Yao dress, and a highly impressive light show. By far the best view is from the official seating area. Tickets are available from most travel agents or hotels in town for 188 RMB. Expensive by Yangshuo standards, but well worth it. You can see it more cheaply from a boat on the river, or even from across the river, but the view is not as good.
There are so many things to do here:
There is a huge amount of touristy stuff on offer:
Much of this stuff is lovely, really very tempting. However, quite a bit of it is fake and nearly all of it is available all over China and cheaper outside of Yangshuo.
Asking prices for such stuff in Yangshuo are horribly inflated. Here is a table showing one traveller's experience:
Getting the prices in the right hand column took hard bargaining, based on knowledge of prices elsewhere. Of course, even those may not be the best possible prices. Some tourists, having no idea of the real Chinese price, might be grossly overcharged. After all, even 120 RMB ($15 US) would be a great price for a nice pure silk tie back home.
Advice for tourists who have no idea what the Chinese price should be:
Also consider the classic mother-to-daughter advice "Men are like buses. You don't chase them because you know there will always be another one along." This applies very much to vendors of tourist goods in Yangshuo; if one is too expensive, or even if you are not sure the price is fair, try another.
See also How to haggle.
There are also a few things not usually available elsewhere:
You should also bargain on these, of course.
Other interesting things
On Die Cui Lu about half a block from the river is Nature House selling various rocks. Some are interesting geological specimens; others are carved and/or painted. Fascinating.
The Chopstick Shop is on West Street. Their factory is in Guilin and they sell wonderfully gift wrapped chopstick sets.
There is a used bookstore and reading room — with a large selection in English and some books in several other European languages — at Cafe Too, formerly on West Street, now in larger space at 7 Cheng Zhong Road. Prices are higher than at used bookstores in Western countries, but cheaper than new books. You can buy coffee and read them free. For people living in China and missing Western books, they have a web site  and mail-order service. Owner is Johnny Lu, email firstname.lastname@example.org, mobile 13237831208.
CDs and DVDs are available at several stores on West Street or nearby. Nearly all such products in China are unauthorised copies, but many in Yangshuo look real. General quality, especially the packaging, is far better than the usual. Many come with booklets of lyrics or artist biography. Some have full-colour advertising printouts for the label's other offerings; I cannot imagine a "pirate" duplicating that. Selection is also good; the English music is not all Backstreet Boys and the Carpenters. Prices are also higher, 15-25 RMB versus 6 or 8 for the cheap copies all over China.
Yangshuo is a great place to eat. There are dishes from all over the world and just about any region in China. You can eat cheaply in the markets with the locals or you can try comfort food in one of the many cafes in town. One word of warning though: on West Street the standard of the Chinese food is definitely hit or miss, as most of the staff expect their customers want Western food.
It seems almost every restaurant in Yangshuo offers burgers, shepherd's pie and a Western breakfast. Many of the staff in these places have reasonable English, a few excellent. Most of the food is quite good. However, there is much menu copying and some places serve rather bizarre impressions of Western dishes as prepared by Chinese chefs without the original recipe. Whilst the Chinese are known for their own superb cuisine, they are not known for their baking skills, so be prepared for odd looking and tasting bread and copies of western cakes and deserts.
On West Street itself, listed from up the hill down toward the river:
Along Xianqian Jie, off West Street near the river:
Along Cheng Zhong Road, perpendicular to West Street:
Along Guihua Lu, quieter street parallel to West Street:
Along Furong Lu, quiet street perpendicular to Diecui Lu:
Several of these offer free Internet access, but generally only have one machine so you may have to wait a bit.
Considering its size, Yangshuo has a pretty boisterous nightlife. Most restaurants along the main street stay open late and serve alcohol. Several have live music.
There are also several clubs located near the bus terminal, which sometimes stay open until 5 or 6 A.M. and other nights are shut by midnight. There doesn't seem to be a method to their hours, save going down and seeing if they're open. There should be no cover, and frequently there's an opportunity to see young PLA soliders from the nearby base in a decidely un-military context.
As with Guilin, the local drink is Guilin Three-flower Wine, although most residents seem to prefer a glass of Tsingtao or Baijiu.
There are many places to stay - from Y20/night for a dorm room, through to US$100/night for a luxury bungalow. Hotel touts are to be found around the main bus station but best avoided. Prices are very negotiable in the off season, and the asking price will be many times lower than that advertised on signs in the hotel lobby. Don't be afraid to negotiate!
One word of warning - Any place within a block of West Street will likely be very loud, as apparently every bar on West Street turns up their sound systems to the max until 2:00am. I can assume anything on West Street will be nigh impossible to sleep until after the bars close.
Yangshou has lots of pickpockets, especially on local minibuses. Be aware of who sits next to you - they sometimes operate by distracting you when its busy and even cutting open pockets with a razor blade.
Several tour operators in the area are also less then scrupulous. Beware when catching bamboo rafts - some of the tour operators will drop you off well before your intended destination.
Dr Lily is known by practically everyone in town. She provides Acupuncture Treatments, Chinese Herbal Medicine, Medical Massage and Foot Reflexology and can be a useful translator should you need to visit the local hospital. If you can't find her, simply ask at 7th Heaven on Chenzhong Rd or at Lisa's Cafe on West Street. The owners of both establishments know Dr Lily. As most medicines, including antibiotics are available over the counter in China without a prescription, it may be wise to seek a medical opinion before self diagnosing and medicating yourself.
Because Yangshuo is so dependent on backpacking tourists, you'll find a range of services and agencies not commonly found in China. There are ample places that sell plane tickets to all other provincal capitals and some international destinations. There are also bus and sleeper bus services available towards Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, and Kunming. Train tickets -- which will depart from Guilin -- are also available. There are tickets available all the way to Hanoi in Vietnam. These aren't easily available elsewhere, and can save quite a bit of hassle at the China/Vietnam border.