I used to work for a travel agency in the 1990s and the owner travelled to China from time to time to lead bicycle tours around Yangshuo because of the beautiful rural landscape. This was at a time when travel to China wasn’t common but has now become a hotspot for international tourists.
By the time I finally managed to take a trip to China with my husband, Max, and two friends, Frances and Peter, it was September 2012. We decided to visit Yangshuo and the Dragon’s Backbone as I had heard so much about it and was eager to see what all the fuss was about. I must say, I wasn’t prepared for the stunning beauty of the region and I believe it’s a favourite with photographers from all over the world. This county in southern China is known for its dramatic karst mountain landscape and gobsmacking scenery. The town is set amid pinnacles and surrounded by picturesque, rural countryside.
We flew into Guilin and took a transfer to Yangshuo which was arranged for us by the owner of the Li River Resort where we stayed for 4 nights. It was about 2 km from the town centre and basic 2.5 star accommodation but it’s location on the Li River was spot on. We enjoyed our time there and it helped that the owner was an Aussie (who had married a Chinese lady). I Googled it a few months ago as a friend was interested in visiting the region and I noticed that they had done a major renovation, including the addition of a swimming pool. The cost of a room had risen considerably.
While I was doing some research on Yangshuo, I came across great reviews about a local girl who did her own tours, so I decided to contact her for a quote. Feng, also known as Amy, grew up in the Yangshuo area so knows it well. She spoke English and we had no difficulty communicating. I provided her with some options as to what we wanted to see and do and she came back with a suggested itinerary. Amy turned out to be a fantastic guide – friendly, punctual and very helpful. I have no hesitation in recommending her and if anyone needs her contact details, let me know as I’ve discovered she’s still doing the same business.
Below is our tour and the two days with Amy (Day 2 and 3) cost us around $80 per day total for the four of us. It’s been a few years and I would image that her prices may have risen since then. It’s really not necessary to book an organised tour as it’s quite easy to do it yourself and hire someone like Amy to show you the sights. Much better!
We arrived at Yangshuo and after exploring our “resort” and freshening up, we took a walk into town via the covered bridge. Yangshuo is a beautiful, charming town full of pretty, ancient buildings. It had a nice vibe about it and there were plenty of shops and restaurants. We did some shopping and had a meal at a vegetarian restaurant before heading back for a good night’s sleep in readiness for a busy day.
Amy arrived in her van and took us back into town to pick up our bicycles. They don’t provide helmets but we weren’t too concerned as we were doing a cycling tour of the countryside and there wasn’t going to be much traffic. We had purchased Chinese conical hats the day before and they came in very handy, especially as the day would become warm and humid.
We finally set off and after passing through the town, we reached the countryside, eventually crossing the Yulong River, riding through small villages and watching people busy at work, stopping here and there to admire the breathtaking scenery and taking lots of photos. We were surrounded by paddy fields and beautiful karst mountains.
After a couple of hours, we arrived at Jiuxian Village and the 500 year old Dragon Bridge. The view from the bridge was simply amazing – the beautiful karst mountains, the river and of course the famous bamboo rafts. We stopped for lunch over the bridge at a little restaurant with views of the river.
After lunch, we set off again however about 30 minutes into the ride, I began to lose my energy as it was just too hot and humid for me to continue so Amy stopped a farmer and we hitched a ride on his truck! Shortly after, the heavens opened up but thankfully stopped by the time we reached Chaoyang Dock for the bamboo rafting part of our journey. We floated down the Yulong River for about 15 kms, crossing 6 weirs. It took 1.5 hrs and I would have to say it was one of the best river trips I’ve ever done. After the rain, the air was cooler and as we drifted along, we enjoyed the tranquility and amazing scenery. In the middle of the river was a refreshment stop if you were in need of a drink or snack. Reaching our destination, we got off and resumed our cycling trip back into town.
Cruising the Li River is one of the most popular attractions in the area. Amy recommended we do it from Yangdi to Xingping as it was the most scenic part of the river and she thought it was better to do it early. So at about 7am we set off for Yangdi for our 23 km boat ride down the river. It took about 2 hours. Again, you’ll be amazed at the scenery and the serenity. Besides the karst mountains, you’ll see water buffalo, refreshment stops and even a vege market in the middle of the river. Amy pointed out the scene which is depicted on their CNY20 note.
We arrived at Xingping, an ancient village built in about 580BC, where we stopped for breakfast. I should mention that during our entire trip in China, we thoroughly enjoyed the food (no sweet and sour pork or honey chicken on the menu thank you very much!) and none of us succumbed to the dreaded Bali Belly (or should that be China belly?). After breakfast, we walked to Laozai Hill and if you have the energy, there are 1159 steps to take you to the top for amazing views of Xingping.
Xingping was followed by a drive through villages and a stop at the beautiful Silver Caves which are about 11 km from Yangshuo. We also stopped at Moon Hill for more views but not with quite the same impact as Laozai Hill. Unfortunately, the hike to the top was spoiled by local women who were beside you every step of the way harassing you to buy bottled water.
Afterwards, we travelled on to Liugong Village which sits on the banks of the Li River and has an 800 year old history. We enjoyed a leisurely lunch, after which we did another short boat trip back to Yangshuo.
Today was all about relaxation and we visited the town again for another look around. In the evening we attended a spectacular light show which is said to be the largest natural theatre in the world. The first light show was held in 2004 and the waters of the Li River set the stage. It features over 600 locals, mainly from the Zhuang minority, including farmers, fishermen and young girls singing and performing simultaneously while mist, rain and moonlight alter the set of the stage.
TO BE CONTINUED …
- Image 1 – Sam Beasley on Unsplash
- Image 2 – Joshua Earle on Unsplash
- Rest of images – author’s own (except the last which is by Frances)