Sites In Yangshuo
There is such a variety of things to see and do within easy reach of the Secret Garden Hotel that you are bound to find many ways to keep yourself amused. We’ve included a brief description of as many activities as possible. These are arranged according to activities we highly recommend; night time activities; other enjoyable activities; those we recommend if you have a lot of time to fill.
We highly recommend:
One of our favourite activities is to rent a bicycle and head off into the beautiful countryside. You can either hire a local guide to take you on a pre-arranged route or get a Yangshuo County map and make your own way. Motorbikes are also available, but these as they are not approved by the police and some routes are difficult if you are not a competent driver.
If you love Chinese food as much as we do you may want to learn to cook some Chinese dishes yourself. We think the best 2 cooking schools in the area are the Yangshuo Cooking School and Cloud 9 Cooking School. We have tried both and were pleasantly surprised by just how tasty the food we cooked actually was. Both schools offer quality cooking classes taught by local teachers who are fluent in English and have in-depth knowledge about the many nuances of Chinese food. They incorporate a tour of the local Yangshuo market and introduction to the ingredients you will use, as part of the course. Courses are hands-on, providing individual cooking stations and detailed explanations so you should be able to produce real Chinese food back home. Classes last 3 to 4 hours.
TAI CHI & CALLIGRAPHY CLASSES
If you would like to learn a few skills in other areas of Chinese culture, teachers are available to instruct you in the arts of Tai Chi, Kung Fu, calligraphy and watercolor painting. Most of these classes take place in Yangshuo and are available upon request. If you would prefer we can arrange for one of the Masters to come and teach you at the hotel. A class will typically last for around one hour. We recommend starting your day with some early morning Tai Chi or learning how to write your name in Chinese characters.
BAMBOO RAFTING ON THE YULONG OR LI RIVER
Relaxing on a bamboo raft is a great way to experience the beautiful local scenery. There are now many places offering bamboo raft rides, but we recommend the trip on the Yulong River from the Dragon Bridge to Xiatang (about 1km from our hotel), or the trip on the Li River in Xingping. It is now almost an essential outing amongst Chinese tourists, so we recommend early morning or late afternoon trips (also more comfortable in summer when midday temperatures can be high). A 2hr trip is usually enough for most people. Life jackets are supplied and laminated photos of your trip are available for sale. The rafts on the Yulong River are usually poled by hand whilst those on the Li River are motorized.
This 400 year old arched stone bridge is located in a beautiful setting on the Yulong River near Baisha Town. You can cover the scenic 4km trip from our hotel easily by bike or on foot. The route follows the Yulong River past fish ponds, rice paddies and farmhouses. Alternatively you can take a taxi or bamboo raft.
Night time activities:
LIU SANJIE LIGHT SHOW
The hour long Liu Sanjie show is well worth watching, not only for the costumes and performances of the local farmers, but also for the way in which the incredible local scenery is incorporated into the show. The song and dance spectacle, with a cast of 500, was conceived and directed by Zhang Yimao – also responsible for the 2008 Beijing Olympics opening ceremony. It is loosely based on a 1961 Chinese musical movie which told the legend of a woman called Liu Sanjie (third sister Liu) who had a voice so beautiful it could raise the dead.
Cormorant fishing is a tradition that dates back hundreds of years. The fishermen head onto the river around dusk on bamboo rafts with a small flock of cormorants. The birds are black and quite big, with long necks and a large wingspan and are impressive swimmers. They dive under the water to catch fish, but are prevented from swallowing any but the smallest fish by a piece of string tied loosely around their necks. They return to the bamboo rafts where the larger fish are retrieved by the fisherman and placed in baskets. Cormorant fishing isn’t for everyone as some people don’t feel the birds are treated very well.
LOCAL MARKETS & VILLAGES
We think a visit to a local market is a fascinating insight into the differences between Chinese and Western notions of shopping. Not for everyone, you may want to avoid the meat section. Markets are usually bustling with people and other distractions so you need to beware of pickpockets - we recommend storing your valuables in the hotel safe. Markets are held in different villages at different times during the month and people from surrounding villages travel to the market to buy and sell their wares.
Baisha market is about 4km away and the closest to the Secret Garden Hotel. The market is held on any day of the month that ends in 1; 4; or 7 (eg. 1st, 11th, 21st, etc.). Apart from the usual foodstuffs; plants; clothing and farm implements, you may also be able to spot basket makers, barbers, doctors or dentists. A visit to the market can be included in a trip to the Yulong Bridge.
Fuli market is about 8km east of Yangshuo (on the road to Xinping). The market is held on any day of the month that ends in 2; 5; or 8. Beyond the market, the old town still has lots of traditional houses, some of which are now used as painting workshops. Here you can see the various stages of production of traditional scroll paintings and fans and maybe buy a few to take home. Local villagers have tried to introduce an entrance fee to the village, but we don’t recommend paying this as it seems they keep the money themselves. If you cycle to Fuli you can leave your bike at the 3 Sisters Café on the riverbank, which is also a good place for a snack.
Xingping market is around 20km North of Yangshuo. The market is held on any day of the month that ends in 3; 6; or 9. Locals arrive early by boat, bus, truck,etc. The village itself has a long history and still has some lovely Qing and Ming Dynasty buildings. The scenery is also beautiful and featured on the Chinese 20 yuan note. Many boat cruises stop in Xinping village and there is also a 3 to 4 hour hike along the river between Yangdi and Xingping.
Yangshuo has a few daily markets, the most popular being not far from the bus station (on the opposite side of the road). It’s most active earlier in the day and sells mainly fruit, vegetables, meat, spices, etc. If you take part in a Chinese cooking class you will visit this market.
Apart from the market, other free attractions in Yangshuo include the Sun Yat Sen Square on the edge of the river (where ballroom dancing often takes place at night) and Yangshuo Park (where you may be able to watch early morning Tai Chi, cards, boulles, etc. or set you kids free in the amusement area).
BOAT CRUISES ON THE LI RIVER
Apart from the trip from Guilin to Yangshuo, most other boat cruises are not sanctioned by the government and operate unofficially.
KAYAKING ON THE LI RIVER
Kayaking is a fun and slightly more physical activity for 2 or more people on the Li River. The usual route involves being transferred to Fuli from where you can paddle to either Liugong (the 7km route takes about 2 hours) or Puyi (about 3 hours). From there you will be transferred with the kayaks back to the hotel, unless you decide to make your own way back. You should take sun protection; plenty to drink; and something waterproof to protect your valuables.
SWIMMING IN THE YULONG RIVER
If you fancy braving one of the local rivers for a swim, the water in the Yulong River is definitely cleaner than that in the Li River. In our opinion one of the best places to swim is in Xiatang, about 1km from our hotel. There is a walled off area next to the small concrete bridge where the current is not very strong and the water not particularly deep. If you do go swimming it’s best to leave cameras and valuables at the hotel unless you have someone who can keep an eye on them at all times.
Moon Hill is one of the region’s most visited karst formations. Named after the semi-circular hole in its top, Moon Hill is best photographed from afar. The hill has an old stone path and steps all the way up to the hole and can be climbed in around half an hour (depending on your fitness level). Since the path is a bit uneven you need to take care, especially on the way back down. Unfortunately we feel the once peaceful route is now a bit spoiled by local ladies constantly trying to sell drinks, postcards, etc. Views from the viewing platform through the arched hole and down the Yulong River valley are great. There are toilets, bicycle parking and a café at the base of the mountain and several restaurants in the nearby Moon Hill Village.
Yangshuo’s beautiful karst landscape is making it a world famous destination for climbers. There are currently hundreds of routes available with different levels of difficulty, catering for all skill levels from beginner to expert. There are a number of climbing centres in Yangshuo of varying standards, so be sure to select one that has experienced and certified staff who put safety first and not just opt for the cheapest price. Whilst climbing is theoretically possible all year, it can be dangerous during rainy weather. The best months to climb are usually March and August to November.
Water flowing underground has carved out numerous caves in the limestone mountains around Yangshuo. Some of the more accessible caves are amongst the most impressive in the province and offer a range of different activities.
Silver Cave is one of the more impressive caves as far as stalagmites and stalactites are concerned and is the one we recommend visiting. It is about 20km from Yangshuo on the road to Lipu. The network of caves has several levels with paths and steps that wind their way between the specific scenic spots, all illuminated with multicoloured lights.
Longmen Cave is interesting because you can take a boat on an underground stream in the cave as well as do some climbing. Most travelers love to take a mud bath if they visit the area in the summer.
Dragon Water Cave is one of the largest natural caves in the area – about 20 kilometers from Yangshuo. Apart from its natural beauty, the cave is also popular for its mud bath and hot spring in a natural stone basin. If you use your imagination you may be able to see the images of dragons in the stalactites.
Butterfly Spring is named after a huge stalactite in the shape of a butterfly. This huge cave is on the road to Moon Hill and can be easily spotted as it has a massive butterfly sculpture stuck to the cliff face. Inside the cave is lit (to dramatic or tacky effect, depending on your viewpoint) by artificial lights. There is also a large butterfly enclosure outside the cave.
Buddha Water Cave is close to Moon Hill. It is vast in size and full of unusual rock formations.
Assembling Dragon Cave is a nice small cave opposite Big Banyan tree that is popular with domestic tourists. You can take a small boat trip in the cave to view the stalactites and stalagmites.
If you’re staying awhile:
LI RIVER CRUISE FROM GUILIN TO YANGSHUO
A scenic but slightly overcrowded way to get from Guilin to Yangshuo. The scenery along the way is so beautiful that this 4 hour trip has become justifiably famous and hundreds of cruise boats now ply the route every morning. Not worth it if you’re in Yangshuo already as you have to head to Guilin very early to catch the boat. You’re better off doing a boat trip locally.
WHITE WATER RAFTING
The best place to go white water rafting is on the Longjing River, just outside Xingping. A transfer to and from Yangshuo, life jackets and helmets are all included. There are no paddles or instructors, you just climb into a 2 person inflatable raft and bump your way down the waterways from one small reservoir to another. It’s lots of fun if you enjoy getting wet.
BIG BANYAN TREE
The name says it all… it’s a big tree of the banyan variety. It is a popular stop amongst Chinese tourists on their way to Moon Hill since the tree features in the Liu Sanjie story.
GREEN LOTUS PEAK
Green Lotus Peak is located in the heart of Yangshuo, just behind West Street. There are paths to wander along and some pavilions to visit, but views from here aren’t that spectacular. The 30 Yuan entrance fee also tends to put a lot of people off visiting the site. If it’s views of Yangshuo Town and surroundings you’re after and you don’t mind a slightly strenuous climb, the TV Tower Hill is a better choice, but recently the gate at the top has been locked.
Not the mythical place of legends but a tourist site that’s about as mythical as a theme park. It incorporates some local architecture; a not-very-exciting minority show; a short boat ride; and a chance to buy local products. Not to everyone’s taste, it is one way to learn something about local minority groups if you don’t have time to visit Longsheng or Sanjiang, but it’s probably best enjoyed with tongue firmly in cheek.