Posts Tagged ‘travel’

Yangshuo, not really China!

July 7, 2008

Bangkok is a dirty, hustling bustling city. Pollution is rife, it is overcrowded and noisy. However, if you have just spent 3 months on a beach lazing in a hammock, eating nothing but authentic Thai food then Bangkok is manna from heaven. You can catch up with your fellow travellers, bump into people who follow the same football team as you and get your fill of Western food, prior to your next venture off the beaten track. 

For anyone spending a considerable period of time in China then Yangshuo will fill the same holes for them as Bangkok does for those exploring the whole of South East Asia.
That said Yangshuo does not want to be the first stop on your China itinerary. Bangkok is not representative of Thailand as a whole and neither is Yangshuo representative of China.   




However if, you have spent the last 3, 6 or even 12 months trekking around China, being spat on, feeling confused, lost, isolated and ordering/receiving meals in restaurants and not getting what you expected – then Yangshuo is a lovely destination to break you back into the western world before you board your flight home.
Truth be told Yangshuo is not the real China. The real China is without doubt the hardest country I have ever travelled in, Yangshuo on the other hand feels like putting on your favourite jumper. Having spent the best part of 2 years in China myself, I put Yangshuo in my top 3 travel destinations.
The odds are you will have flown in to China via either Beijing or Shanghai – so you are going to be commencing your journey on the East coast, if you didn’t/aren’t then skip this bit.
 I would advise a route of either:
Beijing – Xi’an – Chengdu – Kunming – Yangshuo – Three Gorges cruise Chongching/Wuhan – Shanghai – Beijing – Home
Shanghai – Beijing – Xi’an – Chengdu – Kunming – Yangshuo – Three Gorges cruise Chongching/Wuhan – Shanghai – Home
Either way, which ever route you take, by the time you have wandered off the route numerous times to add on your own individual side trips you will have been in China long enough to appreciate Yangshuo by the time you reach it.
 And reaching itself is quite straightforward despite Yangshuo not having either train station or airport (they would only ruin it).

Most people en route to Yangshuo are going to take the train into Guilin, some 20 km to the South. You might choose to fly into Guilin, but if you are taking internal flights in China then one of the following three statements fits you:

·        You are on a very tight time schedule.

·        You have more money than sense.

·        You take reckless risks with your own life.

You will also be implored to stay in Guilin, after all it is the “most beautiful place in the world”, if you want to stay then stay as long as you like, but the second you arrive in Yangshuo you will realise every precious second you spent in Guilin was wasted time.

From Guilin you are going to either take a mini bus or boat to get to Yangshuo. If you chose the former the easiest place to catch them from is from the square outside the train station in Guilin. If you chose to take the boat, then don’t worry there will be people falling over themselves to sell you a ticket. Journey time 4 hours floating leisurely down the Li River.
I wouldn’t concern you with a schedule for the buses – like most buses in China, they leave when they are full. Expect to pay approx 15rmb don’t give anyone any money until the bus has started moving – a common scam is for people to get on the bus before it leaves and sell you a ticket for an inflated price. Journey time is about one and a half hours, there is a quicker bus that leaves from the Guilin bus terminal but by the time you find it etc. the journey time will end up the same anyway. 
 Another scam to watch out for is when the bus stops on the road outside Yangshuo, a guy gets on and tells everyone to get off as the bus is going elsewhere. You then end up paying them to take you the rest off the way and then end up staying at their accommodation too. The only place you should be getting off the bus is in the terminal at Yangshuo – which is an enclosed courtyard type of affair.

Despite the scams, my advice would be to take the bus. Firstly, you will have ample opportunity to take the Li River boat trip once you are in Yangshuo. Secondly, in winter the water level of the river drops and you can only travel the second half of the journey by boat anyway.

What to expect

Yangshuo is a very small town famous for its surrounding geography that gets 1.5 million visitors a year. The countryside is scattered with Karst hills – limestone hills eroded millennium ago when the whole area would have been under water. The beautiful Lijiang (Li) and Tianjila rivers run through it and nearby. Today the hills look as if some giant had haphazardly sown the hills whilst walking through the valley.

 The town itself was established in the Jin Dynasty (265-420AD) and has developed into one of the foremost tourist destinations in the whole of China. Unlike Guilin development, although rife, is more restrained in Yangshuo – buildings are not allowed to go higher than six storeys for fear of blocking out the view that makes the town desirable. Also taxis are prohibited from the central area.

Initially popular with foreign tourists Yangshuo is becoming increasingly popular with Chinese tourists – just look for the flag/umbrella waving tour guide at the front of the horde of day-trippers coming towards you to disrupt your serenity. Fortunately as late afternoon approaches the crowds disperse.

The central road map of Yangshuo can best be imagined as a ladder lain on the ground. With Die Cui Lu (the more authentic) and Xiejie (West Street) as the two main uprights. The Li River is at the bottom of the ladder and the rungs are represented by a number of smaller streets that join the two main thoroughfares. Of the two main streets XieJie is the one with most of the tourist traps.

Be warned West Street is unlike anything else you will find in China, having a more commercial South East Asian ambiance whilst on Die Cui Lu you will see cages full of dogs waiting for slaughter that may just upset you enough to put you off your food.

Between the two main streets runs a small inlet down to the Li River and a lot of the prettier, quieter bars and restaurants are situated around it.

Most visitors to Yangshuo arrive via the town’s bus station at the top of the ladder. Situated nearby is the People’s Park, which is a great place to watch the locals playing card, knitting etc.

If you are ever unsure about anything in Yangshuo head to Lisa’s Café and speak to Lisa…what Lisa doesn’t know about Yangshuo isn’t worth knowing.

Daytime Activities

Some people will use Yangshuo only as a base for exploring the locality and rarely be seen in town from one day to the next whilst others arrive in town and only leave West Street when they depart town.

Whichever mind set you possess there is ample to keep you occupied. Par example:

A boat trip up the Li River – don’t leave town without doing this. Take your camera. Go home afterwards and amaze your friends with some of the best photos you have ever taken. Most people take the boat up river and then cycle or bus home.

Rock Climbing – probably the second most popular activity in town. There are over 300 recognised climbs around Yangshuo all rated between 5.6 and 5.13. Yangshuo has 5 climbing shops and Yangshuo climbers even have their own watering hole just off West Street.

Tyre rafting – rent a tyre and float down river.

Canoeing – erm, rent a canoe and canoe up or down the river…maybe both.

Caving – Yangshuo has an extensive network of caves open for exploring. Be warned though some of the guides are amateurish to say the least. Talk to your fellow travellers before making your choice rather than just sign up with the first person that stops you on West Street.

Mud bathing – usually done as part of a caving trip.

Hire a hot air balloon for an hour – quoted prices seem to range from £65/ 700rmb to £100/1300rmb approx per person per hour, but by far the best way to view the region.

Calligraphy – take a Chinese writing class.

Chinese cooking – practice your wok skills at the Yangshuo Cooking School and also at Cloud9.

Acupuncture – get to the point, sharpish.

Foot reflexology – sort your bodies ill humours just by letting someone play with your feet for an hour or so.

Tai Chi – classes are given in The People’s Park each morning at 8AM. Otherwise there are also formal schools providing ‘drop in’ classes.

Volunteering — The Volunteer English Teachers program visits local schools to teach  children English.

Martial arts classes – classes are available in Tai Chi, Kungfu, Tai Kwon Do, and other martial arts at the Budizhen school at the top of West Street for ¥80 a day.

Café culture – gorge yourself silly on the local speciality “beer fish” or just grab a burger. Surf the net or just sit and watch the Chinese tour groups pass by.

Cycling – has to be the number one activity around Yangshuo. Expect to pay approx 20/50rmb for the day – get a map and off you go. Local attractions being: Jianshan Mountain, Moon Hill, Shutong Hill, Yangshuo Park, Xiongsen Bear & Tiger Mountain village. The lazier amongst you can upgrade to a scooter for 120rmb per day.

Shopping – Yangshuo is a copyright pirate’s paradise (like much of China) top up your CD/DVD collection for a tenth of the home price. West Street hosts a lot of interesting shops offering some nice pieces, but be warned – the majority will be counterfeit – don’t pay more than a third of any first price you are offered.

Night time activities

Many of the outlets that operate as cafes during the day become bar/clubs during the night. You might want to bear this in mind when picking your accommodation in the first place.

Other activities include:

Impression Liu Sanjie – is a show, which runs every night in the peak season and runs nightly during the high season. The show is set to music and is based on a film of the same name. The show is a son et lumiere with a cast of hundreds dressed in authentic costume. Like a lot of things in Yangshuo prices vary so be prepared to haggle. Some people do say the cheaper tickets offer a better/more panoramic view.

The night market – up by the bus station the market has lots to see and  any of the wildlife that you might have spotted during the day will make its way onto the menu here. Watch out for pickpockets though.

For something a bit different you can go out with a night fisherman and watch the ancient tradition of cormorant fishing – whereby the birds (with rings around their necks to prevent them from consuming their catch) are trained to dive under the water, catch a fish return to the boat and regurgitate it. Nice.

If West Street at night is a bit too noisy for you head on over to Die Ciu Lu where things are a little quieter.

Where to stay

I’m not going to single out any one particular place because good places go bad and vice versa. If you want someone else’s recommendation then get yourself a copy of the Lonely Planet. But unless you arrive on the busiest day of the year there will be countless accommodation options open to you ranging from budget places directly on West Street to some top end places just outside the town centre. 

For a guide to prices I would say expect to pay :  

Budget : 40 rmb for a room with shared facilities.

Middle :  50/ 120rmb private shower/Western toilet.

 Top  :  150rmb upwards. There are some excellent properties a bike ride from the centre – I’ll let word of mouth point you in the right direction.

NB At the top of West Street is the Paradise Hotel – I am going to do something I have never done and recommend against this hotel as it is exactly this type of mass tourism Yangshuo does not need. Apparently it is rubbish anyway and anything they offer there you can get outside its confines for half the price.

One last thing if you see THE little old lady, buy something and wish her well…you will know her when you see her…and if you tarry outside a café on West Street believe me, you will see her.