After a couple of days in Guilin we took a boat to Yangshuo. There is no way to rent a private boat, you have to go on a boat that is full of tour groups. And they are quite expensive, the boat we took was a cool RMB 420 per person. But that’s the way it is when a city discovers tourists, and I am sure prices will keep on rising. Why? Because the boat trip is absolutely stunning, and it is one of the things that you must have done at least once if you visit this part of China. If you have the chance to go here, do it.
Yangshuo itself has become pretty touristic as well. More tour groups than backpackers nowadays, but it still has the laid-back feeling. One of the very few places in China where East truly meets West, and where the Chinese go to look at the foreigners, instead of the other way around. To describe it in terms of other places, a mix of Ubud (Bali), Hanoi (Vietnam) and Lang Kwai Fong (the bar street in HK), maybe with a bit of Houhai (Beijing) thrown in.
The best time is early morning, when the tour groups from Guilin have not arrived yet. Having a coffee and a banana pancake in an almost deserted Xi Jie (West Street) is very relaxing. Around 1 PM the place becomes alive when the first boats from Glin arrive, and it does not get quiet anymore until late at night. Lots of bars with cheap beer and wine, and decent (but not great) food.
But there is much more to do than just relax with a good cup of coffee or a beer. I did not bring a Lonely Planet, but that did not matter much. In every bar you find people with the latest information about what you should (and should not) do. What you should absolutely do is rent a bike. A 18-speed mountain bike sets you back only 5 RMB, a normal bike is double the price (this is something I cannot explain – isn’t a mountain bike much more expensive?). But you get what you pay for, because my mountain bike broke down 7 km out of town (with a broken back axis – never happened to me before). Luckily my wife had saved the phone number of the bike shop in her phone, so the owner could pick us up.
You can buy a local map, but don’t depend on it too much. The map is not very accurate, and sometimes roads are just completely missing. But if you don’t mind turning back every now and then, it is a good help. Another solution is to rent a personal guide (for between 50-100 RMB per day) who will ride with you and show you the hidden gems of the Yangshuo countryside. The must see’s: some of the old bridges over the Yulong river, the beatiful scenery with rice fields in the foreground and mountains in the background, and the moon hill (a mountain with a hole in it in the shape of the moon, you can climb to the top in about 20 minutes). If you want to do some climbing or cave exploration this is also the right place.
There are plenty of hotels in Yangshuo, from backpacker hostels for 30 RMB per night, to the 4-star Paradise Resort. We stayed at the Yangshuo Regency with a top location (at the end of Xi Jie), a great view from our balcony, and an unbelievably huge king-size bed. I can recommend this hotel, but make sure you get a renovated room (right now that means a first floor room, the old ones do not get good reviews, but they will be renovated soon), and make sure it is on the Xi Jie side of the hotel, otherwise you won’t have a balcony, nor a view of the mountains. We pay RMB 298 per night (listed price is over RMB 600 but nobody pays that), a very good price for this kind of room.
If you do not want to spend time in Guilin, you can also take a taxi from the airport directly to Yangshuo. This should cost you around RMB 200, and takes about 90 minutes. Taxi vans in Yangshuo can be rented for about 30-40 RMB per hour, for trips into the countryside.