Guide to Yangshuo, and the Best Viewpoints

Foreword: this is the best guide to Yangshuo travel and the most #instagrammable vantage points around it, that you will find on the internet. So, if you are trying to get some sick shots for Insta to impress your 120 followers, then read on.

The Guilin/Yangshuo (桂林/阳朔) region of China in Guangxi (广西) Province is famed for its stunning karst landscape studded with limestone peaks jutting out of the earth, surrounded by rice fields and lush greenery. From afar, the karst peaks of the region look almost surreal, invoking my travel partner to even say that they look “almost fake”. If you are ever visiting China or living in China, Guilin/Yangshuo is a trip that you must make.

Since Guilin is simply the major city of the region but does not actually offer much in terms of proper scenery and natural tourism, this article will focus purely on Yangshuo and its surrounding area. However, Guilin will likely be your gateway and starting point to Yangshuo, since it has an airport and its train stations have direct connections to all the major cities in China.


Getting In

By Air: you will arrive at Liangjiang Airport (两江机场), a brand new airport on the southwestern outskirts of Guilin. The airport is quite new and relatively spacious for the amount of traffic it gets, and is a comfortable place to arrive and to wait. The airport has direct buses to Yangshuo that run every 1-1.5h, about 7 or 8 times per day. Each ticket costs 50 CNY (as of May 2019), and you can buy them at the bus ticket counter in the Arrivals hall. Note that there are several buses going to different places (Guilin North Railway Station, Guilin Railway Station, Liuzhou, etc.), so make sure you buy the right ticket to Yangshuo. If you need to wait for an hour or so for the next bus, there are a ton of massage chairs in the Arrivals hall that you can sit in and chill. The bus to Yangshuo takes about 1-1.5h depending on traffic, and is a relaxing and scenic drive on the new highway.

By Train: check elsewhere on the internet for the most recent information. The last time I took a train to Guilin was 2 years ago. Trains are for plebs anyway… Joking.

An old school overnight green train from Shanghai to Guilin

Yangshuo

Yangshuo’s layout is rather simple — you have the “Old Town” aka touristy and nice-looking pedestrian quarter, and you have the rest of the town which is standard Chinese county town stuff. The Old Town of Yangshuo is quite small and you can walk all of it in an hour or two, whereas the Old Town of a city like Lijiang for example is much larger.

Layout of Yanghsuo

The Old Town centers around “West Street” (西街), a wide pedestrian street dotted with beer fish (啤酒鱼) restaurants, street food, and shops on either side. If you are keen on trying beer fish, the local speciality, make sure to look at menus at different places before you choose one — they taste more or less the same at each place, but prices my vary depending on location.

Entrance to Yangshuo West Street

In the back alleys of the Old Town, you will find most of the Old Town’s hostels, some of them with “rooftop bars”. They are technically rooftop bars since they serve beers on a rooftop, but most of them are quite unkept and are basically just a rooftop with a couple of dusty tables and laundry being dried nearby. I went to Monkey Jane’s 2 years ago but now (in 2019) it is in much worse shape than the last time I saw it. If you are looking for a decent rooftop bar to take in the views of Yangshuo’s old town and the karst peak/Li River backdrop, my recommendation is ShowBiz Hostel. Search it in the 大众点评 app and you will find it. You can find Kronenbourg Blanc and Hoegaarden along with the local specialty Liquan Beer and of course, Tsingtao.

Rooftop beer in Yangshuo old town

If you are working on the go like I am and need a place with reliable WiFi, then the Starbucks in front of the pond is your friend. WiFi connection was stable there and it was never overcrowded — Starbucks really is the WiFi saviour in China. This particular Starbucks is extra nice because it has two sweet patios (2 floors) overlooking the open pond area of the Yangshuo Old Town, along with the nearby karst peaks in the background.

Yangshuo’s Starbucks has the sickest view and a very reliable WiFi

If you want local food (such as beer fish) for less elevated prices, then you can leave the Old Town and walk around the regular streets of Yangshuo. Note that there are several decent hostels in an alley directly across from the entrance to West Street (Wada, Hidden House, etc.), and I recommend this location for lodging — it’s away from the crowds of West Street but is only a bridge away from West Street itself, and these hostels are cleaner than the ones you’ll find in the alleys of Old Town.

All the local specialties — beer fish (top right), bamboo rice (top left), Liquan Beer (bottom left), and some standard braised veggies

Getting Out

The real treasures of the region are just outside of Yangshuo. I mean, the karst peaks and shanty roofs of Yangshuo town is already scenic enough for many, but some of the view points outside of town are simply NatGeo worthy. Luckily for you, there are plenty of places to rent mopeds (scooters) or bicycles so that you can go ride around the countryside on your own merit, and explore all that the beautiful region has to offer. Most accommodations in Yangshuo have deals made with bike rental shops already, so you can simply ask at your hotel/hostel desk.

As of May 2019, renting a gas scooter (125 cc) costs 100-120 CNY per day, with one full tank of gas included. Electric scooters are cheaper but they will not get you very far (usually no more than 30 km mileage) — better get a gas scooter if you plan a day trip. Alternatively, you can stick with good old muscle power and rent a bicycle — should be no more than 20-30 CNY per day, and you will never run out of power.

A Yangshuo fisherman with his cormorants

Going South

If you prefer a nice countryside ride on a bicycle, with few crowds and peaceful surroundings, then going south is the right day trip for you. Starting in the southwestern part of Yangshuo town, you can ride west on the one paved road towards Yulong River (see map below). Once you get away from the villages on the outskirts of Yangshuo, you will notice yourself being surrounded by serene countryside and karst peaks all around you. It is truly an incredible place to be on a warm sunny day.

Scenic points to the south of Yangshuo
View from the foot bridge crossing over Yulong River

When you hit Yulong River(遇龙河), there are two crossing points. One (the northwestern one near “Scenic Area”) is a small foot bridge, while the other one is actually a narrow section of the river that requires ferrying — locals will be waiting with their boats. Whether or not to cross Yulong River is up to you, but I recommend not crossing the river and just ride along it southeast towards the “Bridge Photo Op” labeled in my map above. You will pass through a couple of villages en route, where you can enjoy some decent local meals at inflated prices, before you reach the main road and return to noisy tourist zone. At the bridge, you will find one of your iconic Yangshuo photo opportunities (see below). But of course, since this bridge is over the main road and is in an area of main attractions, expect crowds.

Iconic bamboo rafts drifting down river photo, from the “bridge photo op” spot

After snapping your incredible culturally appropriate Instagram photo at the bridge, continue riding southwest along the noisy main road, and you will reach Moon Hill(月亮山). Park your slick ride at the parking area near the entrance, and hike up the mountain. You can get a great look of the Moon Hill itself from below, and you will also get breathtaking panoramic views from the top (with a little extra exploration).

Moon Hill, from the view point near the beginning of the hike

Once you have reached the public “top” of Moon Hill, which is the clear area under the big arch, look for a small path to the left side behind the arch. There should be a sign saying “DO NOT GO BEYOND THIS POINT”. Ignore it and go beyond the sign. You will hike up a narrow and rugged path followed by some rocks, and you will curve around and get onto the top of the arch. This is the real top of Moon Hill. From there, you can get panoramic views of either side of the mountain, and it’s stunning.

Looking northwest from the very top of Moon Hill

Be careful when you make your way down, and make sure not to leave any trace (trash, etc.) behind. Keep this forbidden peak area clean and untouched, so that it may remain accessible for all those who come after you.

Going North

North of Yangshuo there is a town called Xingping — it’s gotten famous quickly in recent years due to the presence of the “20 Yuan backdrop” at the Xingping section of the Li River. As well, a high speed rail station was built near Xingping town recently, and now serves the Guiyang-Guilin-Guangzhou high speed train.

The route for going north from Yangshuo to Xingping

You can take the minibus to go from Yangshuo to Xingping, but I recommended going by moped to feel that wind through your hair. The ride by moped takes about 30 minutes (roughly 25 km or so) and is a smooth ride on the main road all along, passing through Fuli town and some good countryside scenery.

The town of Xingping is very simple and does not have a developed touristic center like Yangshuo. The part of town along the river is crowded with tourists trying to get on boats and capture the “20 Yuan backdrop”. I personally skipped this area and drove across the bridge to the river bank just north of the river bend. There is a section of paved river bank there which is very relaxed, with a few fishermen cleaning their nets and children splashing in the overflowing water.

River banks north of Xingping, away from the crowds

The karst peak at the edge of the river in Xingping town is called Laozhanshan(老寨山). You can find the entrance just off to the left of the main road as it approaches the river and turns right. It’s a steep hike that takes about 30 minutes, and you will arrive at a rocky peak with a breathtaking panoramic view of the river bend and all the karst peaks around it.

Panorama from the top of Laozhaishan, with the muddy color of an overflowing late spring Li River

If you rented a scooter and find yourself low on gas after you’ve driven to Xingping, you can get your tank refilled at some local shops — just ask around. There are no gas stations in Xingping.

Enjoy Yangshuo, and show me some love by sharing!


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