Even if you have never heard of Yangshuo (or it's neighboring big city Guilin), you may have seen the photos of the spectacular limestone mountains (karst). But let's get a few things straight from the start. Yes, Yangshuo is extremely touristy over the years and yes again, parts of it are very Western indeed. There are many reasons that this place is one of the popular destinations for foreigners in Southern China - English-speaking locals, all-night bars, marshmallow lattes but the main one is that it's bloody gorgeous !!! This is also isn't a place that you would want to leave in a hurry.
It has enjoyed a prime position on the backpacker trail, although these days it is often crammed with foreign and domestic tourists of all budgets and fills up even more in the afternoons when visitors disembark from the Guilin boats.
Despite all these, Yangshuo somehow manages to retain a riverside country town feel and for most tourists, it remains one of the most enjoyable destinations in all of China. The great appeal is the opportunity it provides to slow down, bike or hike and explore the Chinese countryside that it is otherwise only glimpsed from trains and buses.
I took the very popular Li River trip (paid around RMB 450) from Guilin to Yangshuo which lasted about four & half hours and included a wonderfully scenic boat trip to Yangshuo & a buffet lunch.
The boat journey was certainly a worthy tourist attraction in itself during the 4 hours + cruise down the Li River. The boat drifted at a snail’s pace, i planted myself on the top deck for spectacular, close-up views of limestone outcroppings.
The famous Li River 漓江 far surpasses what you'll see around Guilin. Classic rural scences of wallowing water buffalo and farmers tending to crops are dominated by an awesome backdrop of soaring limestone peaks. There are also a number of picturesque, ancient villages to visit.
Arguably the most stunning section of the long river ride is the location of a number of historic residences, some laid-back cafes and a handful of guest houses. I also witnessed farmers in conical hats work the rice terraces while on the river villagers fish from bamboo rafts using trained cormorants. This is the classic Chinese landscape familiar from so many scoll paintings and for many visitors, this region represents a quintessential taste of China.
Yangshuo West Street 阳朔西街 is the oldest street in Yangshuo with a history spanning 1,400 years. West Street has become, since the 1980's, a major tourist attraction, drawing visitors from all over the world.
For that reason it has become known as the biggest “foreign language center” in China. Besides the local dialect of Yangshuo, English is widely used and don’t be surprised if you hear even the elderly speaking some English words !!! Nearly every store on the West Street has bilingual shop signs and more than 20 stores have been opened by foreigners who have settled here.
When walking along West Street, you will be surrounded by a blend of traditional Chinese folk elements with modern international touches. Many souvenir shops, craft shops, painting and calligraphy stores, backpack inns, cafes and Chinese Kung Fu academies jostle for your attention. You may find a multitude of items, from embroidered silk cloth and wax-painted weaving, to the tiny shoes once worn by women who had their feet bound in pre-revolutionary China.
Whatever you are interested to buy from there, you really have to bargain your socks off !!
Shangri-La 世外桃源 is a theme park of sorts. It refers to "the worlds peach blossom garden" in chinese. It is a lovely place to go and a great photo opportunity. If you think the Li River is drop-dead gorgeous, that means you ain't seen nothing yet. The scenery along this smaller & quieter river is simply breathtaking.
Shangri-La 世外桃源 is a legendary story, a place where peach flower bloom all the year and a paradise for the people of China. The story is just a story. But in Guilin by the Guihua road from Guilin to Yangshuo, you can find a real Shangri-La, a beautiful place, which is more charming than the one descrided in the story.
It is an area with mountains, caves, bridges, rivers, houses, and people who practise delightful local customs, a place that will give you everlasting memories. The happinesss and the bitter mess of life can all be found at Shangri-La.
You take a mini-barge down the river and are shown some of the amazing culture that spawned on the edge of the Yangshuo river estuary. After this, they take you for a walk through all their shops and show you their handicrafts from 'block printing' to hand woven neck-ties and magnificent statues carved from wood.
There seems to be an old saying for just about every inch of China. Guilin and Yangshuo are no exception - Guilin's scenery is the best under heaven, Yangshuo's scenery is the best in Guilin. So there i had experienced it !! :-)