Beijing Getaways: Yangshuo Guide
Hanging Out in Yangshuo: Southern China's limestone paradise
Located in southern China's Guangxi Province, the area around Yangshuo contains some staggeringly beautiful panoramas. An almost extra-terrestrial topography of towering karst fingers and peaks dominates the skyline, intersected by the Li and Dragon Rivers, whose waters reflect their surroundings in picture postcard splendor. Whenever you see a Chinese scroll painting portraying mountains and rivers, the chances are it will be a scene from Yangshuo.
Like Lijiang, Yangshuo is a popular backpacker hangout, and another great place to kick back for a few days. Temperatures are mild in winter and hot in summer, and there are a host of sights and activities to keep visitors occupied all year round. Located on the banks of the highly picturesque Li River amid an awesome cluster of limestone pinnacles, there is still enough of the town's charm remaining to make it a good base from which to sample some of Guangxi's finest karst landscapes.
West Street (Xī Jiē), bisecting Yangshuo, is the pulsating heart of the town, alive with a huge range of restaurants, cafes and bars. It is also lined with numerous small shops and stands selling souvenirs and street snacks, and cheap, comfortable hotels (even cheaper in the winter). Chinese teenagers mingle with a young laowai (foreign) crowd in internet cafes, feasting off apple pie, T-bone steaks, ice cream sundaes and other hard-to-come-by staples of the Western diet.
Although light years away from representing the real China, and scorned by many for its lack of authenticity, West Street is undeniably a good place to relax, satisfy any cravings for high-calorie Western dishes, and also sample some local Chinese food. Beer fish (píjiǔyú) is a Yangshuo specialty, and tastes far better than it sounds. In such an "East-meets-West" environment, don't be surprised if you're greeted by schoolkids in English, and there are a number of language schools where those with a slim wallet can pick up some extra RMB taking classes.
Yangshuo is a place to enjoy the outdoors and soak up the natural beauty of the surroundings, and getting mobile is pretty essential mountain bikes are cheap and available for hire in many hotels. After an essential check for roadworthiness, just pick up a map, fill a rucksack, find a trail and head off. There are also options for those who like to keep two feet on the ground local geology makes Yangshuo the caving and climbing capital of China, with plenty of shops for purchasing or hiring equipment, and picking up local guides.
A cruise along the stunning Li River is recommended, and a bamboo boat ride along the smaller but equally scenic Yulong River is a quieter and more private way to appreciate the dramatic splendor of the environment. The Chinese word "Yulong" means to "meet a dragon" - local legend has it that a dragon from the East Sea strolled across the Yulong River and, feeling at home in the scenic landscape, settled down to live.. The villagers living on the river bank saw the dragon several times, and therefore named it the Yulong.
The banks of the Yulong River have numerous tourist attractions. The slow-moving river is surrounded by picturesque rice paddies and typical Guangxi villages, which contrast beautifully with the green bamboo forests and limestone peaks. Other natural spots along the river that should not be missed, and that are easily reached by bike, are Big Banyan, Moon Hill, Five-Finger Hill, Lion Hill, Dragon Pool, Butterfly Spring, Tianping Greenland, the Eight Immortals Caves, Rhinoceros Pool and Chaoyang Village.
Located about an hour's bus ride from Yangshuo, Xingping is one of the oldest towns in the area, and is renowned for its dramatic scenery along the Li River. Xingping has a history dating back more than 500 years - founded during the Ming Dynasty in 1506, the town contains numerous traditional residences that are remarkably well-preserved. Special features include blue brickwork, black tiles, sloping roofs, horse head walls, cornices and carved windows, and the houses represent classic examples of Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) Dynasty architecture.
Those who can drag themselves out of their Xingping hotel bed early enough should definitely head down to the Li, where fishermen sometimes still head out onto the water just before dawn to catch fish with cormorants. With the rising sun illuminating the jagged karst peaks and the fishermen's lanterns casting a warm glow over the surface of the water, it really is a spectacularly beautiful scene.
There are regular daily flights from Beijing to Chengdu's Shangliu airport (1000 1500 RMB), and short flights from Chengdu to Jiuzhai Huanglong Airport, near the park (less than 500 RMB). Those who prefer to keep their feet on the ground can take the trains from Beijing to Chengdu (26 hours, hard sleeper approximately 450 RMB), and then the bus from Chengdu to Jiuzhaigou, a tiring, yet ultimately spectacular 10-hour journey through high mountain scenery (100 RMB).
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