I’ll admit it, China and I got off to a bit of a rough start, but once I reached the Guangxi province and swapped tall buildings for karst mountains and traffic jammed avenues for bamboo rafts on a river, my outlook on China changed. Yangshuo proved to be the highlight of my time in China and here are just a few reasons why I liked this place so much:
It still has a small town feel
Even though Yangshuo is a very popular tourist destination with foreigners and Chinese alike, the old part of the city still maintains a bit of a small town feel. Yes, there may be a McDonald’s and plenty of international dining options, but there are also historic buildings with ancient roof tiles, cobbled streets that have been smoothed over by centuries of pedestrians walking over them, quiet temples by the water’s edge, and you’ll even spot the odd man transporting his goods aboard a bamboo raft. Yangshuo may be booming with tourism, but part of what makes it so appealing is that its small town charm hasn’t been entirely lost.
The lively night markets
West Street is the main pedestrian road in Yangshuo and the place really comes to life once the sun goes down. This is the place to sample lots of street food, plus you can also find lots of quirky souvenirs: combs made out of ox bone, stamps with your name carved in Chinese characters, and fake Chinese passports (I was kind of tempted by those!)
Biking through the countryside
On our last day in Yangshuo, Sam and I decided to rent some bicycles and bike out to the countryside. Maneuvering our way out of the city was an adventure in itself – imagine a mixture of scooters carrying live ducks and toddlers riding shotgun – but once we reached the outskirts of town, it was desolate dirt roads for miles on end. Seriously, if you come to Yangshuo, you need to hop on a bike and explore what’s out there!
Fun hostels that are budget friendly
I ended up staying at Monkey Jane and what I liked about this place is that it really catered to budget travellers. Say you are a backpacker travelling on a dime, well, this hostel was advertising free room and board in exchange for some of your time. Care to re-paint one of the dorm rooms? Don’t mind bartending for a couple of hours at night? Willing to carry crates of beer up to the 5th floor? Monkey Jane was willing to strike up a deal. While I personally didn’t take them up on that offer, I can see how this would be appealing to many travellers.
My only advice: don’t stay on the 4th floor if you’re hoping to get some shut eye. The bar is right above and I could hear everything from Ricky Martin’s “Livin’ la vida loca” to the Bloodhound Gang classic “let’s do it like they do on the Discovery Channel”. Amusing? At first, but not at 3 a.m. when the party is no closer to being over.
The rooftop views
Every rooftop in Yangshuo has breathtaking views like this one. Need I say more?
All the international food!
Going out for food in Yangshuo was like country hopping. My first afternoon there I found myself having lunch at a German restaurant. Cheesy Oktoberfest tunes with lots of accordion were playing overhead, while a waitress clad in a dirndl took my order. I was happy to see that the meals on their menu were hearty and authentic, and I was beyond pleased with the Käsespätzle (egg noodles smothered in cheese) I ordered. Das ist gut!
Another favourite of mine turned out to be Cafe Mimosa which specializes in Israeli food. (Yes, Israeli food in China!) The women running this place sure knew what they were doing – thick, fluffy pitas always baked fresh, hummus with a garlic kick, and the best chicken shawarmas I’ve had in a long time. This was my go to place, and they had a pretty great view to boast.
Morning exercise in the park
The Chinese really value their health and nowhere is this more obvious than at the local park. I got up really early one day to find that several groups were gathered at Yangshuo Park for their morning exercise routine. On one side of the park a group of seniors were doing tai chi, while over on the other end another group was working on a ballroom dance (satin shoes and twirling skirts included). Not to mention the people out roller blading, riding bicycles and jogging. And those who weren’t exercising were chatting with friends or playing cards.
The day trips
As beautiful as Yangshuo is, part of the appeal of this region is that you can take plenty of day trips to nearby towns and villages. If you are willing to put in a bit of hard work and climb uphill, then the town of Ping’An which is home to the Longji rice terraces and the Long Hair Red Yao Tribe is worth the visit. On the other hand, if you are looking for something a bit more low key, cruising down the Li River aboard a bamboo raft is a relaxing way to take in the scenery.
The EngRish signs
Another thing I enjoyed about China were the EngRish signs! Have a look at some of these – they really made me chuckle. (The toilet EngRish was my favourite.)
And that was Yangshuo! My week in China flew by, and it was hardly enough time to even begin scratching the surface of such a vast country, but in spite of the little hiccups I may have had a long the way, I look forward to exploring more of this country one day.
Have you been to China? What was your favourite place?