Our first destination in mainland China was a countryside town called Yangshuo in the Southern Guanxi province. We wanted to experience rural China and Yangshuo is seriously another world to Hong Kong. I came across it by chance flicking through an STA brochure and I’m now completely in love with the place – 3 nights really wasn’t enough time there and I’m already thinking about when I can go back!
Most tourists go to Yangshuo for the scenery firstly, and I can honestly say that the views of the Yulong River and surrounding karst mountains are worth travelling half the world for. It’s without a doubt the most beautiful place I have ever seen! And there are plenty of ways to enjoy the sights. You can take one of the walking trails and hike along the river which is really peaceful and and great for taking pictures. There are also designated routes to explore on bikes or mopeds which are available to rent from lots of different places along the river. The hotel we stayed in lend all their guests complimentary bikes so Jordan and I took a couple out one day and cycled along the river and around some nearby villages where we got to see local agricultural life in rural China.
By far the best way to see the river though is on a bamboo raft. It costs 200 Yuan for two people (about £25) and there are locals everywhere who will try and get you on their raft. We were persuaded by a woman sat at the side of the road who then somehow managed to fit us both on the back of her moped and speed us off to the start point! The bamboo rafts have seats for two passengers and the rafter stands at the back and pushes you along for a slow cruise down the Yulong. It’s really relaxing and the views are unreal – I can’t put them into words and I don’t think pictures do it justice either! The weather was perfect on the day we did this which made it even better. After being hit by a tropical storm for our last two days in Hong Kong we were really lucky with the weather for our whole time in Yangshuo. I think October is a nice time to visit; it was 25-30 degree heat every day so great for exploring the countryside!
We actually stayed about 15 minutes from Yangshuo town in a village called Chaolong, which I really liked because it was so quiet after the madness of Hong Kong and felt like we were right out in the Chinese wilderness. However this proved to be a bit of a nightmare to find. As soon as you cross the border from Hong Kong there’s little to no English spoken, and when we got to Guilin train station even though we had our hotel’s address printed in Chinese (a necessity in the mainland) nobody seemed to know where it was. We ended up in a taxi for literally hours with a driver who spoke no English and had no idea where to take us while I sat in the back crying and saying I wanted to go back to England… It may not sound scary now, but being lost somewhere so far from home without the language skills to ask for help, I felt terrified! I’ve never felt such relief as when we finally found our hotel. We stayed at the Yangshuo Outside Inn, a quaint old farmhouse which is just the nicest place EVER! The whole place is just gorgeous. The rooms are huge and luxurious, they serve great food and cheap alcohol, and the staff are so friendly and helpful. Plus there’s loads of chickens, cats and dogs running about the grounds – what more could you want! I basically had to be dragged out of this place kicking and screaming knowing that I had months of hostel hopping ahead of me.
Yangshuo town is a lot more built up than where we stayed in Chaolong and there’s lots to do there. The nightlife is really good, there are way more bars and clubs than I was expecting! The main strip is called West Street and there are several smaller streets leading off of it that are all full of them. The main street is most expensive but if you really look around you can find plenty of cheap places to drink. Our favourites were Monkey Janes and Bad Panda. Monkey Janes is on the roof of a hostel but anyone can go in and drink, it’s really laid back and has lots of bar games which everyone gets involved with. It was a bonus because we got the hostel atmosphere whilst still being able to go back to our huge comfy bed at the Outside Inn! Bad Panda is fairly similar, good music, cheap drinks and full of other backpackers. A few places in Yangshuo also sell weed behind the bar which I just found hilarious and unexpected being somewhere as conservative as China! Around West Street too there are stalls selling all kinds of delicious street food. It’s all very cheap; most of them do three items for 10 Yuan which isn’t much more than a pound. It’s a bit of a roulette as to what you might get as none of the vendors speak any English and the menus are in Chinese characters, but you just have to hope for the best and usually it’s fine. The best thing I had were these spicy oysters (at least I think that’s what they were)…
Our time in Yangshuo was so chilled out and exactly what we needed after five nights in Hong Kong. If I could do things differently now I would definitely cut the Hong Kong visit short to have been able to spend more time in Yangshuo. I would recommend it to anyone, the stress of getting a Chinese visa is so worth it for there alone. I’m already dreaming about applying again and going back! It really is a hard place to leave, but next time I’ll be making sure that I don’t have to rush off so fast.