View over Yangshuo
Last weekend I spent in Yangshuo, the small backpacker town on the Li river in Guangxi province. I had not been there since 2006 (see this post and this post) and I looked forward to going back and see the changes. I went together with Danny Wilms Floet, my best primary school friend who by pure coincidence now lives in the same street in Shanghai. It’s a small world!
We left Friday afternoon and flew to Guilin from where we took a taxi to Yangshuo (a 1.5 hour drive). We stayed in the Rosewood Hotel on West Street in Yangshuo, because it had great reviews on TripAdvisor and other sites. However, it turned out the hotel was not as nice as I had hoped, with slow and grumpy staff and damp rooms without windows (only my bathroom had a window).
But the biggest problem was that it’s so extremely loud outside that you can’t go to sleep before 2 AM (which was a good reason to stay out late!), and even after that I woke up a few times because of people walking through the hallways and closing doors (rooms are not well isolated). Anyway, they did provide free earplugs and we did not visit Yangshuo to sleep, so it was not a major deal, but because of this I would not recommend this hotel to anybody.
View from my hotel room balcony
Danny and I decided to have a pizza in the pizzeria downstairs (owned by the hotel). We ordered a bottle of Italian Cabernet Sauvignon (Cielo), which took them about 20 minutes to bring (and only after asking the waiter 2 times where our wine was). I took one sip of the wine and realized we were fooled: this was not an Italian Cabernet Sauvignon but likely a cheap Chinese wine that someone (the hotel? the distributor?) put into Italian wine bottles. I know this regularly happens in China, but you would expect a hotel to try their own wines before serving them – unless they are in on the deal of course.
Our bottle of fake wine…
We checked the bottle for signs of tampering and soon realized that the bottle had been reused: the label was a bit torn off in some parts (meaning other people had had this bottle on their table before) and the cover over the cork was not straight like it shoud have been. I did not drink another sip and changed to mineral water instead. I started to seriously regret my choice of hotel even before the weekend had really started… Later during the weekend we checked some other bottles of Cielo that the hotel had in stock and none of the labels was completely clean, confirming our suspicion. Well, this is China, so you can’t do much about it.
Danny & Marc having a beer at Lucy’s
Because the pizza was rather small and we did not want to spend another Chinese Yuan in this restaurant we moved on to a different place, Lucy’s. To our surprise the place served Dutch french fries (“Patatje Oorlog”) which tasted pretty good with local beers. We had a few more beers and then walked around town a bit. We ended up at another bar in West Street around 11 PM and by that time the street was still extremely crowded. Much more busy than it had been 6 years ago, and with 99% Chinese tourists instead of the many backpackers that had still been here during my last visit. West Street used to be a nice place to hang out with a lot of Western style bars, but now it was full of Chinese bars blasting out loud cheesy music and shops that were all competing with ever louder announcements to get the tourists in. A pity, the old atmosphere was completely gone.
Beer pong at Mojo
Eventually we ended up at rooftop bar, the Mojo, at the end of West Street close to the river. That was the kind of bar I had been looking for (or at least, the kind of bar that I remembered from a few years ago), with decent music and full of backpackers drinking beers and playing Beer Pong. An added advantage was the view over town and the surrounding mountains, this place is probably the highest bar in town. We stayed there until it got more quiet on the streets around 2 AM and then walked back to our hotel.
On my beautiful pink ladies bike
We had breakfast at 9 AM in the hotel (nothing special) and then rented bikes. We wanted mountain bikes, but were told that they were not available and we ended up with the worst kind of transportation for the dirt roads in the Yangshuo countryside: pink ladies bikes without suspension or gears. At least they were cheap at about USD 2 per bike per day. We first rode around town, looked at the river and drove through some of the backstreets, and then went into the countryside.
I still remembered most of the roads from 6 years ago and that was a good thing because we did not have a map. We made a long ride through the Yulong river valley, a beautiful area surrounded by karst mountains. Close to Yangshuo we still saw a few people, but after about 5 km the roads were almost deserted.
When we crossed the Yulong river, however, we suddenly saw all the Chinese tourists again. It turned out that as part of the tour group packages they all get to make a trip on bamboo rafts. Not sure what the fun of that is if you are surrounded by hundreds of other rafts, but I guess I am not the target group. Touts tried to get us to join as well but we kindly refused.
Danny looking at some of the hundreds of rafts on the river
We continued our trip and eventuallly rode about 50 kilometers on our pink bikes (luckily none of us got a puncture on the bad roads). Danny managed to get into an accident with a big motorbike on a small road up a mountain. The motorbike drove down rather quickly and had to brake hard to avoid hitting Danny. The motor guy then slipped and his motorbike fell partly on him. We helped the man to get himself and the bike up again, and then continued our ride. I probably should have taken a picture, it was just so funny to see a motor bike floored by a pink ladies bike on a slope in the middle of nature.
Not much later the road ended at the river. I had hoped for a bridge, but there was none. Luckily a guy on a raft was willing to take us to the other side. It was a bit wobbly with 2 bikes on the bamboo boat, but we managed without getting wet. We then had some drinks at Giggling Tree, a Dutch owned hotel/restaurant in a nice location close to the river, before climbing Moon Hill a few kilometers down the road from there. Around 5 pm we were back in town, took a shower and had a cold beer on a balcony overlooking West Street.
Moon Hill, Yangshuo
At night we had dinner before going to the 9 PM showing of Impression Liu Sanjie, an impressive light show with a cast of over 600 people. I had seen the show before, but it was still impressive. After the show we strolled through town and again ended up at Mojo where we finished most of their stock of Heineken beer (the waitress remembered us from the night before because we were the only ones not drinking the cheap local beer!).
West Street late at night, extremely noisy and busy with Chinese tourists
On Sunday we decided to rent better bikes and ended up at Bike Asia, probably the best place in town to rent mountain bikes. And not expensive either, we paid just RMB 70 per bike (USD 10). Service is excellent and they even give you a decent map!
Bike Asia, the best place to rent bikes in Yangshuo
We first crossed the Li river to check out a hill that I had considered buying in 2006. It was now a resort and we had some drinks on the terrace overlooking the surrounding mountains and the village of Yangshuo below us. We then drove to the north on the west side of the river and had drinks at the Secret Beach, close to the place where the boats from Guilin land. A nice place and we were the only guests. At 4:30 PM we were back in town, got our luggage and took a taxi back to Guilin airport.
Drinks at Secret Beach with Danny Wilms Floet
It was a great trip with lots of exercise and lots of beer. Yangshuo has changed a lot, but it’s still a nice place as long as you stay away from West Street during the evening. If I should ever come back I will for sure not stay on West Street anymore (nor in a place owned by the Rosewood Hotel, the place that sold us the fake wine), but there are many decent hotels within a few minutes walking distance from West Street.
West Street, Yangshuo
I put some of the pictures that we took during the trip on Flickr, you can see all of them here.