The Top Things to Do in Yangshuo

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top things to do in yangshuo li river sunset

Yangshuo is located in Guangxi province, about an hour south of Guilin. This sublime little town is a bit of an anomaly because it has a vibrant backpacker community; something rarely found in China.  Often times traveling in this country, you’re the only non-Chinese person.  In Yangshuo, however, there’s an abundance of youth hostels as well as backpackers from all over the world.  Being the only foreigner is an awesome experience in its own way, but connecting and sharing experiences with like-minded travelers was a nice change for us.  There is so much to see and do in Yangshuo, it can feel overwhelming at first.  The area has amazing food, amazing culture, and most of all:  jaw-dropping scenery.  To make sure you don’t miss a beat, here’s a guide to all of the top things to do in Yangshuo.

Arriving in Yangshuo feels like stepping into a painting.  Flocks of white herons fly overhead and local fisherman paddle along the Li River.  Not to mention the stunning karst rock formations that surround you in 360 degrees for as far as the eye can see.  Calling Yangshuo “scenic” would be a bit of an understatement: its bona fide jaw-dropping.   It’s the kind of place you get to and then immediately fall in love.  We spent a week here but easily could have spent months wandering down dirt paths and country roads.  Ultimately, most of the top things to do in Yangshuo involve different ways of getting lost in nature.

Top Things To Do in Yangshuo

1. Bicycle through the countryside

cycling in yangshuo top things to do in yangshuo bicycle countryside

Biking along the Yulong river.

The best way to experience the beauty of Yangshuo is on two wheels.  Hop on a bicycle and head out of town in any direction.  It won’t be long before you’re surrounded by stunning rock formations, lush farmland, and rolling countryside.

We biked through the Yulong River Scenic Area and I had to stop myself from drooling in awe on multiple occasions.  As you bike through the countryside you see farmers working meditatively, cows lazily grazing along the river.  All the while you’re encompassed by these incredible karst formations that fade off into the mist like something out of Avatar.  The scene was totally surreal.

Biking is a really popular activity here, there are countless shops where you can rent a bicycle for 20-40RMB ($3-$6USD).  When you rent a bicycle, ask for a tourist map, they outline the popular bicycle routes in the area.  The map gives you a general idea of where to go, but it’s not exactly drawn to scale.  For this reason, I would recommend downloading the offline Google maps, or using maps.me to help guide you on the road.

Most of the bikes I saw were in pretty good condition but be sure to take it for a test ride before paying.  The rental shop owners will happily inflate the tires and lubricate the gears for you, but if the brakes and/or gears don’t work, ask for a new bike or try a different shop.

2. Go hiking

top things to do in yangshuo hiking in yangshuo

Blazing trails in Xingping.

Yangshuo is ideal for hiking enthusiasts.  There are numerous trails in close proximity to town.  It’s amazing how quickly the town gives way to raw, natural landscapes.  You might only be an hour away from your hostel, but it feels as though you have traveled days from civilization.  There’s a wide variety of trails suitable for hikers of any fitness and ability level.  No matter what kind of hike you’re looking for, you’ll be able to find it!

The surrounding area is best viewed from above.  From the top of the karst formations, you’ll get true sense of the scale of these unique geological formations.  These mini mountains seemingly pop out of nowhere and then continue for as far as the eye can see.  The hikes up are steep, but usually don’t take more than an hour, and the views from the top are totally worth it.

Some popular hikes close to town are Moon Hill and Green Lotus Peak.  The nearby town of Xingping has some amazing day hikes as well.  I even met a group that was trekking from Xingping back to Yangshuo.  The hiking and trekking opportunities in the area are endless.

3. Explore West Street

top things to do in yangshuo explore west street

West Street is the beating heart of Yangshuo.

No list of the top things to do in Yangshuo would be complete without mentioning West Street.  It’s the buzzing epicenter of town.  The origins of West Street date back over 1,400 years, walking its cobbles streets feels a bit like going back in time (except for the KTV bars and beer gardens).  The walking street consists of one main road and numerous adjacent alleys just begging to be explored.

West Street is an eclectic mix of East and West.  Here you’ll find the highest concentration of restaurants (both Western and Chinese), bars, and youth hostels, along with traditional performers and shops selling local handmade goods (along with some selling the traditional tourist junk).

 It’s the perfect place to meet other backpackers, enjoy a beer, and try some Chinese food, (or take a break from it if you’re experiencing jaozi-fatigue).  One word of warning, it gets a little chaotic at night.  Chinese techno blares from the numerous nightclubs and the street is packed shoulder to shoulder with Chinese and foreign tourists alike.  Because of this, we recommend exploring West Street are in the morning or afternoon when it’s much calmer and quieter.

4. Watch a sunrise/sunset

top things to do in yangshuo sunrise

Watching the sunrise from Laozhaishan Peak.

Professional photographers from all over the world flock to Yangshuo to capture the dramatic scenery.  Sunrise and sunsets are especially popular times, and it’s no wonder why. Sunrises or sunsets around here are seriously epic.  The karst mountains are often shrouded in mist and the orange light from the rising or setting sun makes for an incredibly picturesque view.

Top Spots to Watch a Sunrise/Sunset

  • Green Lotus Peak
  • Xianggong Mountain
  • Laozhai Hill
  • Gongnong Bridge
  • Moon Hill
  • Putao

5. Relax

top things to do in yangshuo relax on li river

View from the rooftop of This Old Place Hostel.

Days of hiking, biking, and exploring got you worn out? No worries, one of the top things to do in Yangshuo is chill and unwind.  There are so many places just outside of town where you can kick back and enjoy the peaceful beauty of the countryside.

If laziness is your leisure, I recommend hopping over to the little town of Xingping.  About an hour away by bus, this tiny town sits right on the Li River and is perfect for a quiet getaway.  If you make the trip, stay at This Old Place Hostel.  Its rooftop overlooks the river: the perfect spot to laze the day away with a cold Qingdao in hand.

6. Eat, Eat, Eat

Spicy tofu quickly became our go-to snack in Yangshuo.

There’s a major convergence of cultures in Yangshuo.  As a result, it’s a great place to get a bite to eat.  The town caters to Chinese as well as foreign tourists, so it’s a particularly good spot to sample cuisine from all across China.  You’ll find everything from Shanghai soup dumplings to Beijing’s Peking duck.  Two local must-tries are spicy tofu and beer fish.

Yangshuo is big on late-night food.  We had no problem finding street barbecue and noodles at 2 o’clock in the morning.  I strongly advise you to try barbecued eggplant.  They cut it in half, press it flat, and grill it with garlic and other spices.  It’s sooo delicious!

7. Watch the Impressions Lie Sanjie river show

Imagine over 600 performers on bamboo rafts moving in perfect harmony on the largest natural amphitheater in the world.  That is impressions Lie Sanjie.

The brainchild of Zhang Yimou, director of the Beijing Olympics opening ceremonies; Impressions is an artistic retelling of a famous Chinese folktale and gives a glimpse into the history and culture of the local Zhuang people.

The stage is the Li River itself.  Hundreds of performers on bamboo rafts float in and out of different patterns and formations in an artistic representation of the Zhuang ethnic minority’s synchronistic relationship with the river.

Be warned, while the performance is spectacular, Chinese audiences can be…quirky.  Don’t be shocked to see people with their phones out videoing the entire show, taking selfies, and even face timing friends and family.  The night we went, half the audience decided to get up and leave in the middle of the show for no apparent reason, it was totally bizarre.

The show is a bit expensive, a ticket costs 190RMB (about $30USD).  If you’re traveling on a budget, you may want to give it a miss.  But for the price of admission, you get to experience a dazzling display of light, sound, and synchronization on a scale unparalleled perhaps anywhere on Earth.

Top Things to Do in Yangshuo: The one thing to miss.

“Bamboo” rafting on the Li River

This is often listed as one of the top things to do in Yangshuo, but our experience left us severely disappointed.    What we imagined would be a scenic float down the Li River was in reality far from it.  First of all, the “rafts” aren’t even bamboo.  They are motorized boats made of PVC pipe. Second, it’s really expensive.  It costs 120RMB/person (about $20US) for a 45-minute boat ride and you have to pay a fee for any empty seats on your raft (each one holds four people).  And third, it was totally packed.  Your raft is one of hundreds floating up and down the same stretch of river, making the whole scene far less picturesque.  It ultimately ended up feeling life a tourist trap just trying to funnel as many people on and off the river as possible.

This was a classic highly touted tourist attraction that left us with a sour taste in our mouth.  We could have missed out on this and been none the worse for it. A much better option is to hike the same stretch of river on the Li River Trail.

top things to do in yangshuo bamboo raft

When in a tourist trap, do as the tourists do. 

If you’re craving an authentic rafting experience, you can float down the nearby Yulong river on a traditional bamboo raft. In contrast to the noisy motorized boats on the Li River, these are actual bamboo rafts pushed along by a long pole.  The scenery is just as majestic, and you won’t have to deal with the chaotic atmosphere of the Li River boat tours.

How to get there:

1. Airport Shuttle

  • Direct buses from the Guilin airport leave every couple of hours and cost 50RMB ($8US)

2. Bus

  • If you are coming from Guilin, there are frequent buses heading to Yangshuo that depart from both North and South train stations as well as the Guiling bus station. Tickets are approximately 25RMB ($4US).

3. Train

  • There are frequent trains heading from Guilin to Yangshuo, tickets are between 20 and 30RMB. The Yangshuo train station is a bit outside of town so you would have to take a bus or local motorbike taxi into town from there 
  • If you’re coming by train from outside of Guangxi province, there several daily trains from Guangzhou to Yangshou, tickets are around 120RMB ($20)
  • You can find train times and buy tickets on trip.com

Where to stay:

Yangshuo Sudder Street Guesthouse: This charming hostel is tucked away in the countryside just north of town.  It’s the perfect place to immerse yourself in nature.  They also have a nice pool in the back to escape the summer heat.

Showbiz Hostel: Showbiz is located just off West Street, right in the heart of town. Rooms are cheap, and it has a great a rooftop overlooking the river.

This Old Place Hostel (Xingping): This is by far the best option if you’re going to Xingping.  It has a great location right on the river.  There’s a nice rooftop and they serve delicious wood fired pizza.  The staff can help give you more information about things to do around Xingping as there is little information on the internet.

Yangshuo Backpackers:  Located right across from the Yangshuo Trasport Terminal, therefore it’s a great option if you are getting into Yangshuo late or leaving early in the morning.  The owner is really nice but speaks limited English.  We bought tickets to the Lie Sanjie show and they gave us very little information about where to go and when to be there.  In the end, it all worked out fine. But the language barrier added some unnecessary stress.  All in all, it’s a great place for a quick layover.  We weren’t there for it, but once a week they do a big family beer fish dinner that is supposed to be the best in town.

Final Thoughts

These are the top things to do in Yangshuo.  If you’re planning a trip here, give yourself at least 3 days. I’d say that’s the bare minimum.  That will give you a day to bike, a day to hike, and a day to explore around town.  To fully experience all the beauty of the area, you need a full week or more.  We stayed for a week and I desperately wished we could have stayed longer.

This region is insanely beautiful.  I cannot adequately describe it in words.  If you are planning a trip to China, Yangshou absolutely needs to be on your travel itinerary. Follow this guide and you won’t miss a thing!

For more specific detail on some of the activities listed above, check out our related posts:

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