When you're dreaming about China destinations, you're probably thinking the Great Wall (because c'mon...the Great Wall!) or you're picturing Ethan Hunt jumping from rooftop to rooftop in beautiful Shanghai (Mission Impossible III anyone?).
Yes, those are famous must sees. But...if you're an experienced ILP volunteer in China, you've already gotten the insider tip about Yangshuo. With all of the incredible sites in China to choose from, Yangshuo is consistently one of THE favorite vacation spot among ILP volunteers.
Why is Yangshuo a must see?
We could write pages pages about this single question, but we've narrowed it down to the absolute highlights:
- Outdoor adventures like biking, hiking, mud caves, & rafting
- Beautiful, traditional Chinese landscape like the "Dr. Seuss Mountains"
- It's SO affordable
The biggest problem you will run into is not having enough time to do everything you want. Seriously. Yangshuo is packed with outdoor adventure like bamboo rafting on the river, biking through the countryside, hiking to gorgeous lookouts ... you're going to want to do it all!
So many volunteers have said that this was "the best weekend of their life." If you can swing it, we recommend at least 4 days here - minimum.
Where is it?
Yangshuo is a town located outside of Guilin in the Guangxi region of southeast China. If you're an ILP volunteer in Zhongshan, you're heading northwest, but most ILP groups will head south to get here. If you're teaching English at one of ILP's northern schools, we promise the trip is worth it.
How do I get there?
Make a stop in Guilin:
Guilin is larger city than Yangshuo, meaning if you're coming from other parts of China your route will likely take you here first. There is both an airport and railway station in Guilin, which is about 40 miles west of Yangshuo. Most volunteers take the train as you can get really affordable tickets. Once you arrive in Guilin, buses run regularly from the South Railway Station to Yangshuo.
It'll take you a little over an hour to get there and as always, transportation is cheap. Some like to stop for a day in Guilin because there are beautiful rice fields to see here. You can actually even take a boat ride down the river from Guilin to Yangshuo if you want to!
Go directly to Yangshuo:
You can also avoid Guilin altogether and go directly to Yangshuo via buses or train. Depending on where you're coming from, consider taking a sleeper bus and getting off in Yangshuo before it continues on to Guilin. There is also a fast train from Guangzhou which makes stops in both Yangshuo and Guilin (perfect for our volunteers who live in Zhongshan!).
You'll want to use the Guangzhou South station and it'll take you about 2-2.5 hours for $18 (each way). The perk of living in Zhongshan is that you can go to Yangshuo pretty much any weekend you want! I mean ... if I were you I'd go back more than once. For sure.
Where should I stay?
May we recommend a favorite hostel or two?
- 11 Youth Hostel. Located right in town, so it's really close to the shopping street, plus it's so cheap (about $5 a night in the shared dorm room).
- Yangshuo Sudder Street Guesthouse. If you're looking for a poolside view of Yangshuo, this is your hostel.) You're a bit of a walk away from town, but that just means that you're staying out in the countryside that you came to visit anyways. This place has been a favorite to stay at. You'll spend about $5 a night here if you stay in the shared dorm, so not bad if you ask me.
- C Source. This is a hotel, rather than a hostel. We're usually huge fans of traveling cheap (hence the hostel recommendations above) but if you're wanting to spoil yourself for a couple nights (especially you married couples out there) ... this is where we recommend. It's a beautiful, luxurious hotel for about $47 a night (for two of you). It's also located right on West Street so all of the action is right outside your door. If you're ever going to splurge on a hotel, we love this one.
There are lots and lots of good hostels in the area, so feel free to hunt arond and find a spot that works best — Hostel World is a great place to find hostels where you can check location, rating, and price, all in one spot.
Taken at Sudder Street Guesthouse
What is there to do?
Yangshuo is a cute little town - REALLY little. You can walk around the town within 30 minutes (and it's pedestrian only in the main part of town) so it's really nice to not have to worry about getting from here to there. It's full of little souvenir shops and yummy restaurants. The main street is called West Street - it used to be that everything was located on West Street but it's grown so much over the last few years that now the surrounding streets have plenty to do as well, but West Street is still the most popular.
There's also incredible scenery surrounding Yangshuo and that's where the magic is at. We'll get to this below.
If you've only got 2 days in Yangshuo, you can still hit the most popular activities (marked with a * below).
All of these activities listed below are generally arranged through your hostel either the day of or the day before you do it, so don't worry about figuring out the details before you arrive. Talk to the owners of your hostel about what to do after you arrive and they'll likely be able to get you tickets and transportation or directions - this is why we really recommend finding a hostel that says they speak English. Chances are they can direct you on where to go to join in on these fun activities. They've usually got a free map of the area, too. If not, there are lots of guides that hang out around West Street and are happy to help you get to where you want to go (for a price).
-- Activities OUT of Town --
*Bamboo raft down the Li River
*Rent a bicycle
Rent a bicycle in several places around town or your hostel (usually around 15-20 yuan or about $3 for the entire day!).
There are a few different bicycle routes that are very popular that will take you to beautiful places around the countryside, along the Li River, and even through nearby villages if you're up for a longer route. If you're doing this in the spring you'll likely find fields of colorful flowers just off the side of the road or you can even find spots to go swimming in the river! Ask your hostel for a map and suggested routes and just spend a day admiring the prettiest mountains in China.
*Go on a hike
There are several incredible hikes around the area that you can choose from.
TV Tower: This hike is conveniently located within walking distance from West Street, so we love that. The only con is that it's a little tricky to find, but don't worry because we put all the directions here.
Xing Ping: This hike is HIGHLY recommended because of the incredible views. It's trickier to get to because it's in another nearby town called Xing Ping. If you're heading Xing Ping anyways you'll want to check out this hike (and these directions ... it's a bit tricky to find, but so worth it!) .
Moon Hill: This is a classic one for Yangshuo. It's an arch in the rocks that you can see from a far distance and is very easy to find because it's on every map of Yangshuo. You can ride your bike out here pretty easily (it's on the same road as the caves we mentioned above). If you're not sure which way to go, just ask the front desk of your hostel. It takes about 45 minutes to hike up and back, but it is pretty much straight up so it's pretty hot on a sunny day. Make sure to bring water and bug spray! It used to be a really popular spot for climbing but that has since been shut down.
Hot Air Balloon Ride
Yes, there's even hot air balloons in Yangshuo! There's a few things to know before you jump on this activity though.
Hot air balloon rides used to be huge in Yangshuo up until about 2009 when 4 tourists were killed. Yangshuo was quickly becoming discovered at the time and locals could see that tourists loved the air balloon rides. So, without much expertise business were popping up offering rides. It had a reputation for being dangerous, but it wasn't shut down completely until the 2009 accident.
In 2017, a company started offering rides again after a long hiatus of no balloon rides in Yangshuo. There are restrictions now though - and the main one being that the balloons must be tethered to the ground. So, you're not taking a ride around the countryside - you're essentially just going up about 80 meters and then coming straight back down. They'll tell you it's about a 5-10 minute ride, but in reality it's usually 5 minutes TOPS and costs 98 yuan (or just under $20 USD). They also offer paragliding for around 300 yuan and again ... you're in the air 5 mins. So, it sounds cool to do a hot air balloon ride, but you're not up there very long and it's one of the more expensive things you'll do in Yangshuo.
If you ask me, you'll get a much better view from one of the hikes listed above.
-- Activities IN Town --
If you have any downtime where you're not sure what to do, just walk around town. There's so many cute corners, yummy treats, and it's just a fun place. Go see what's available. You don't have to worry about getting lost because it's so small.
Eat alllllll the food
Around West Street you'll find restaurant after restaurant and they're all really good. You'll find everything from Chinese food to Italian and American food (think nachos, pizza, etc). You will even find American restaurants like Starbucks, McDonalds, Pizza Hut, and of course KFC. Restaurants are lined up so it is not hard to find a yummy place to eat here. We especially recommend an Indian restaurant (if you're walking around it's pretty easy to find just off of West Street). The owners are from India and it tastes pretty legit, so if you're in the mood for some naan check them out.
If you're looking for the yummiest noodles in China, there's a shop just a 5 minute walk from West Street where they serve hand pulled noodles AKA Muslim Noodles. It's a whole experience just watching them make the noodles! They don't speak English as most tourists aren't coming here, but there is some English on the menu so just look for a dish that says "hand pulled noodles" and you can't go wrong.
It's easiest to find by clicking the link above and keeping Google maps open on your phone (it doesn't come up on Apple maps). If you don't have data or Google maps though, just walk from West Street to Pantao Road. It's easy to find Pantao road - it's just the main road where cars drive that is perpendicular to West Street. Walk towards the round-a-bout and cross the road and turn left. It's close by, just a few shops down right on Pantao Street. The front of the shop looks like this...ENJOY!
Some of our favorite treats are colorful popsicles, fried potato chips on a stick, and if you like mangos you HAVE to try the mango drink. It is SO good and really popular here.
Also be on the lookout for mangosteen if you're there in the spring. You'll usually see ladies selling it on the main street (the one with the cars) where more locals are. This is my favorite fruit in all of Asia if you haven't tried it yet.
Take a traditional cooking class
If you're not so much the thrill seeker, take a traditional cooking class in town and meet other travelers from around the world. Oh, and you'll always get to eat what you cook afterwards - bonus.
Shop for souvenirsWalk around the town exploring and shopping for souvenirs. Go at night too; All of West Street lights up with glow in the dark trinkets and food vendors.
Send a postcard
One of the cute cafes/postcard shops on West Street called Send Future offers the option to actually mail the postcard that you purchased there. You can also choose the date it gets mailed (so if you wanted to mail yourself a postcard one year from now to remember your favorite weekend in Yangshuo you totally can). If you're walking on West Street, head away from Pantao Road and you'll see this shop as one of the last ones.
Get a fish pedicure
Ever tried one of these? It's hugely popular in China. Essentially you're sticking your bare feet in a fish tank and they nibble on your dry skin for about 10 minutes. Beware if you have ticklish feet, but it's an experience you gotta try. There are shops on West Street so just be on the lookout — get more info (and see pictures) of those fish pedicures here.
Go to the movies
There's a newer theatre in Yangshuo, so check out movie times. You can often find a movie that is in English with Chinese subtitles.
It's located by the Starbucks, so just walk up the main stairs nearby and explore back in that area and you'll run into it.