The beauty of Yangshuo
When I first got my job at G Adventures I knew right away that my first trip with them was going to be to China. I had never visited Asia before (apart from a brief stop in Istanbul) and I was keen to explore a part of the world that had very interesting cultures, cuisines, architectures, etc. Out of all the potential countries to visit, for some reason China was the one that stood out me. I can't really explain why, but for some reason I was drawn to visit what I believed to be a secretly amazing country.
When I came upon the trip that I would eventually end up taking, I knew that it was the perfect trip for me to go on. In just a few short weeks, this trip would take me from the magnificent skyscrapers overlooking the Bund in Shanghai, to exploring the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square in Beijing. I would be able to finally see the Terracotta Warriors firsthand and even hike up along the Great Wall, like so many conquerors have throughout our history.
I was also excited to see the countryside, but I would be lying if I said that I expected it to be one of the highlights of my trip. I had heard good things about Yangshuo and apparently it was becoming more and more of a go-to destination for backpackers in China, but beyond that and a little bit of research, I did not know much about what was apparently one of China's hidden gems.
It might come as a bit of a surprise then that in a country with so many iconic sites, that Yangshuo may have actually been the favourite part of my trip. That may have been because it exceeded my expectations more than any other place in China, but at the end of our trip, nearly everyone in my group was adamant in saying that Yangshuo was their favourite place in China.
I have heard and spoken to people who have argued that Yangshuo is becoming too popular and that the influx of tourists has made the area too touristy, taking away from the local charm that Yangshuo used to have. That may be true to a certain extent. In reality it's a problem that will always exist in this world. The more popular a place becomes, the more people flock there, which makes it easy for that place to turn into a "tourist trap." I believe that Yangshuo is far away from turning into something like that (if ever), but even as the town becomes more touristy, the true heart of Yangshuo lies in its countryside.
Exploring through the karst landscapes and along the Li River is one of the most exhilarating and peaceful experiences I've ever had. Everywhere you turn, you're surrounded by karst peaks that stretch as far as the eye can see. To stumble upon such a picturesque area, especially in a place like China where developments are popping up everywhere, was something that I never expected to happen. Unfortunately we were only able to spend 1 full day in Yangshuo instead of our supposed 2, but thanks to our CEO, that day was packed with enough experiences and memories of Yangshuo to last me a lifetime.
The best way to explore the countryside is by biking it, which is exactly what we did. We started off early on our day in Yangshuo and left the town to spend the day biking through the countryside. Being able to explore the countryside in a different way (as opposed to driving through) was a refreshing change of pace and it really allowed us to connect with our surroundings and experience first hand how beautiful Yangshuo truly is.
Of course biking all day can only happen if you take enough breaks, and our CEO made sure that even our breaks showed us Yangshuo's beauty. One such break was when we stopped off in a little market area near the Li River and hired a bunch of locals to take us down the river in old-school bamboo rafts. This may have been my favourite part of the day as it allowed us to see Yangshuo in a different way and interact with locals along the way. In addition to our bamboo raft "captains," we would periodically pass photo booths or mini restaurants/bars that locals had built in the middle of the river to sell food/souvenirs to us. Normally this would have been extremely touristy and annoying, but under those circumstances, it was actually a fun experience that made my time in Yangshuo even more memorable.
So we biked and relaxed on bamboo rafts, but we also put our bodies to work as we hiked up to the top of Moon Hill. Most of the karst peaks in Yangshuo aren't distinguishable, but Moon Hill is a separate story. A naturally created arch, Moon Hill stands over Yangshuo and offers stunning views of the countryside. It did take a little while to hike up (the 800 or so steps take about 20-25 minutes), but once we got to the top, we quickly realized that the views were worth it. Standing up there you get a real sense of how huge Yangshuo is and how beautiful the entire countryside is.
So there it is. I had an amazing time visiting China and all of the other places we visited were unbelievably exciting and memorable. Of course it's pretty easy to assume that you'll enjoy the Great Wall or the Terracotta warriors. Yangshuo is somewhere that I never expected to fall in love with, but looking back on it now, I can't imagine how I didn't expect anything else. There aren't many serene places left in China, but compared to the hustle & bustle in the rest of China, the peacefulness of Yangshuo is something you have to experience.