Our Chinese Escape to Yangshuo

Posted by on Jul 8, 2013 in China, Featured | 3 comments

While mapping out our 10-day trip to China, we already knew a few things: we were flying into Beijing, departing from Hong Kong and really wanted to see Shanghai as well as some traditional Chinese countryside in between. All of this in such a short amount of time seemed extremely daunting. Since neither of us had much Chinese geographical knowledge outside of a few major cities, we knew that finding the right rural escape would require some research.

Friends and a few other connections began suggesting places such as Xian for the famous Terra Cotta Warriors, Lijiang for it’s natural sightseeing and Himalayan backdrop, and the Gobi desert for ancient cave paintings. While all of these piqued our interest, we eventually decided on another recommendation: Yangshuo. With the Li and Yulong Rivers weaving in and out of tiny Chinese villages and massive karst mountains (similar to those jutting out of the water in Halong Bay), Yangshuo proved to be the perfect Chinese retreat.

Yangshuo is small by China standards with a population of 1 million people. It seemed more like a large town after visiting Beijing and Shanghai. We based our stay at the Yangshuo Outside Inn (5 km from downtown), situated among traditional villages. Here, skyscrapers were replaced by towering cone-shaped mountains, heavy traffic was replaced by quiet, country roads and smog was replaced by bright blue skies (and the typical afternoon downpour). This was an entirely different world. It was great to see what I imagined as the old way of life – farmers working on rice paddies, locals getting around on rickety old bicycles, and friendly smiles passing by. Yangshuo was the natural China we were looking for. 

The roads around Yangshuo are relatively flat making it a very leisurely area to bike. We spent at least three hours every day, taking in the natural sights by riding through symbolic villages, around beautiful karst mountains, and along the region’s two main rivers. The locals seemed much friendlier and more receptive of foreigners compared to those in our first two China stops. On our last day, we biked up to Dragon Bridge, a popular spot to take a bamboo raft down the river. After refusing multiple requests for the river ride, we decided to take a rest and enjoy the area with a couple Tsing Taos (the everyday Chinese beer) before heading back on our bikes. As we prepared to leave, I couldn’t manage to open our bike lock. At first we were helped by the bike parking attendant (yes, there are designated bike parking areas in Yansghuo and, if not obeyed, can result in fines), but as the situation became more and more dire, additional do-gooders came out of the woodwork. Five grown Chinese men, zero English, two pairs of pliers, one hammer, and a bench later, our bikes were freed. We had just let these people down for the equivalent of $30 USD by electing to bike rather than raft our way home, and here they were, spending close to an hour with us, making sure we weren’t forced to somehow carry our bikes (or throw them on a raft for the commission they’d secretly been hoping for). This dilemma-turned-funny-story is just an example of how Yangshuo’s (and the countryside’s) people gave us a totally different impression than their big city counterparts. 

To us, a lot of China’s history (and it’s true identity) seemed masked by it’s growing fascination of and influx into its big cities. Yangshuo gave us a glimpse into simple Chinese life – one that doesn’t come with an ego or lack of interest in visitors. The area’s pure natural beauty is well-complemented by friendly people that make it a great place to visit. Our time in Yangshuo gave us a greater appreciation of this massive country and we know that if we return to China someday, it will be to areas like this.


  1. Peaceful, quiet times are good for the body and soul. Love and miss you both!

  2. Looking at the Yangshuo pictures on the “best of…” picture roll was impressive. Almost more naturally beautiful than NZ?

  3. Wonderfully descriptive. I can’t wait to have a long visit with you to hear more. I only have knowledge of life in China from novels I have read and it will be interesting if the perception I have after reading Lisa See’s books is different than your actual experience. Be safe! love Grama Mary

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