Insider’s guide to Yangshuo, China

Yangshuo is a small village on the Li River, set among the limestone karst mountains of southern China and looking for all the world like one of those misty Chinese bamboo paintings of mountain tops and clouds. The Chinese say “Guilin has the most beautiful scenery in China, and Yangshuo is even more beautiful than Guilin”. And it’s true.

This is not a town for party animals, although it gets a few of those by accident now and then. This is a town for romantics, and adventurers, for lazy days drifting on a bamboo raft while the Li River drifts by like a sheet of liquid silk, and Chinese fishermen on pole rafts direct cormorants to their catch. It’s a town for staring endlessly into the jungle-clad mountain tops contemplating how the hell they ever managed to build a temple way up there. It’s a town for trying out amazing street foods from all over China and sipping LiQin beer in small roadside bars. It’s a town for hiring a bicycle and riding along the banks of the river through jaw-dropping scenery. It’s a cheap backpacker paradise that nevertheless manages to have some pretty decent hotels and guest houses, as well as a healthy, does of what we like to call “the real China”.

How to get to Yangshuo

Backpackers have put Yangshuo well and truly on the tourist map over the last 25 years. It’s one of the classic stops on the hippy trail through Asia so there are lots of options to get there.

The most popular option is to take an overnight bus or a train from Guangzhou, near Hong Kong, to the nearby city of Guilin. From Guilin, it’s easy to get a local or tourist bus to Yangshuo because that’s where all the Western tourists want to go. Yangshuo doesn’t have an airport, but you can fly into Liangjiang International Airport in Guilin and catch an airport shuttle bus to Yangshuo for about 50 RMB.

If you have all the time in the world, do the romantic thing and take a Li River cruise boat from Guilin. It takes five hours to get to Yangshuo but you’ll arrive chilled out and ready to make the most of this stunning jewel of southern China.

Best places to stay in Yangshuo

Because it’s so popular with Western tourists, Yangshuo has no end of choices for accommodation. But they’re not all equal and you’ll have a very different experience staying in a backpacker hostel in West Street than you’ll have to stay in a boutique hotel or resort just outside the town.

Yangshuo Tea Cozy

This TripAdvisor Traveller’s Choice Award 2015 winner lives up to its name in every respect. You’ll feel the comfort and coziness of this boutique 12-room hotel wrap around you from the moment you arrive. It’s one of the closest experiences you’ll ever have to the warmth and hospitality of old-world China.

It’s located a little bit outside of Yangshuo but once you’ve been in the town for a day you’ll appreciate the distance and you’ll want to spend time just exploring the little country lanes and paths along the Yulong River where you’ll see local people harvesting rice and making hand-pulled noodles and tofu.

The food in the hotel is all organic, local produce, and very delicious with lots of choices on the menu to keep you interested even on a long stay. The staff doesn’t have a lot of English but they get by and they’re always willing to help you with transport arrangements and planning outings to see the countryside around Yangshuo. Richard and Curry, who own and run Yangshuo Tea Cozy, are usually not far away if you need something more.

We recommend the King Suites on the higher levels (3rd and 4th floors) for maximum comfort and roominess. They also have a wooden spa tub to relax in at the end of the day, which is very nice. The beds are a bit hard, but that’s just a fact of life in China where kids grow up sleeping on boards with a sheet over them. There are no lifts, so you’ll get fit going up and down the stairs but you won’t have to carry your own bags.

  • Rates: From around $200 a night
  • Bookings: to compare prices on multiple booking sites
  • Address: No.212 Xiatang Village, Baisha Town, Yangshuo, China

Secret Garden Boutique Hotel

Also outside of the hustle and bustle of Yangshuo town, the Secret Garden Boutique Hotel is a stunningly converted country farmhouse, a veritable rabbit warren of passageways and garden paths hiding in the middle of a small village close to the Yulong River. Yangshuo is about 20 minutes away by taxi (60 RMB).

Feng Zi and Faye, who run the hotel, are delightful and very welcoming, with excellent English. The hotel itself is a bit of a work in progress with new bits and pieces being added on to keep up with the growth in bookings because the recommendations just keep on piling up from happy customers.

Your experience will vary depending on which room you end up in, but it will be unique regardless. Each room has its own little balcony or terrace overlooking the gardens with views out into the limestone mountains and beautiful blossom trees if you pick the right time of year (Spring).

Wander out into the village and you’ll soon find yourself strolling amongst rice paddies with water buffalo wandering up the road and farmers carrying huge crops on their backs. Or stick around in the village to take advantage of real Chinese cooking classes and traditional Chinese food.

  • Rates: From around $100 a night
  • Bookings: to compare prices on multiple booking sites
  • Address: Jiuxian Village, Yangshuo County 541900, China

Best places to eat and drink in Yangshuo

Because Yangshuo is so popular with Western visitors, you can find almost any food you can imagine in the streets of the town from traditional Chinese to Indian, western, and fine dining. Here are a few that are really popular.

Mood Food Energy Cafe

If you’re into organic, healthy, or vegan food, this is the place you’ll want to know about. It’s more a lifestyle experience than a restaurant because you can combine your dinner or lunch with a yoga class or meditation class with Yanzi, one of the owners, or even learn Qi Gong from the master himself, Daniel.

The food at Mood Food is very original, unique, and inventive. The owners go all out to prove that healthy food doesn’t have to be boring food and that food is important for the mind, not just for the body. Do yourself a favor and try their pizzas! You won’t even know you’re eating healthy!!

And if you’re just looking for a great cup of coffee, drop in and try the French Press coffee with some gluten-free pancakes!

  • Address: Furong Lu 8, Yangshuo County 541900, China
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