Yangshuo: The Hidden Gem of China
Every now and then I like to feature a guest post from aspiring or up and coming travel bloggers. When an email dropped into my inbox from Olivia Lace-Evans, she immediately reminded me of myself 3 years ago, writing for her uni newspaper and trying to build up a killer portfolio. Olivia is a freelance writer and Travel Editor for Epigram, the University of Bristol’s student newspaper. She has worked with The Observer, The Sunday Times, Rough Guide and The Telegraph and has created her own travel blog, Liv A Little. Her two greatest ambitions are to become a travel journalist, and to try and visit every country in the world – or at least a fair chunk of it. Here is her story about how she fell in love with Yangshuo, China…
There are few countries in the world that can parallel the vitality and diversity of China. It is a country of conflict, where modernity grapples with a deep-rooted and rich cultural history, and the ever-expanding cities wrestle the countryside for space. As a result many people don’t know where to start, and often find themselves limited to the sprawling urban centres of Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. However, if you’re looking for somewhere that is utterly unique and truly shows off how spectacular China’s countryside really is, I think I might have found the place for you: Yangshuo.
It’s difficult to come up with the words to describe the beauty of Yangshuo. Imagine yourself surrounded by towering karst mountains, gliding down a river on a bamboo raft, with only the sound of the water rippling past you to break the tranquility. As soon as you arrive it feels almost as if you’ve stepped back in time. Farmers languidly follow their bulls as they plough the fields, women in hats can be seen uprooting the rice from the paddies, and the only traffic you’ll need to dodge is the occasional chicken running across the road. Yangshuo is unlike any other place I’ve been in the world, and remains one of the best places I’ve ever been lucky enough to visit.
Most people travel down the Li River from Guilin, where you’ll arrive in the town of Yanghuo itself. The town itself isn’t anything particularly special – there’s a market, couple of bars and restaurants and a few shops to peruse – but the real reason you’re here lies beyond the town itself. Make your way out into the countryside, stay in a hostel or hotel that is nestled in between a couple of peaks and then start exploring.
The best way to get around is by bike, they’re cheap to rent and allow you to weave your way through the paddies and along the narrow, dusty paths that follow the river. After a day of pedaling along dusty tracks your legs might be a bit stiff, so make your way up river towards Dragon Bridge. Not only is it a mesmerizing place to stop and soak in the scenery, but there’s also the opportunity to hop onto a bamboo raft and float your way back down stream. A group of local fishermen, complete with cormorants as fishing companions, will happily put your bike on the back of their rafts. All you need to do is sit back, and watch the mountains glide past and the reflections of the sky ripple and flicker across the water.
If that doesn’t sound like your idea of heaven – although I’d be rather surprised! – then there are plenty of opportunities to explore the surrounding caves and mud baths hidden beneath the towering peaks. We went to the Moon Hill Caves, where we were led into the heart of the mountain and guided around the steaming hot springs and slippery mud pools. It’s as if you’ve stumbled upon a rustic spa, except you’re situated in a steamy, cavernous mountain and you have to scrabble through small crevices and holes to reach it … A little bizarre, but an absolutely incredible experience.
After a few days of cycling and slathering yourselves with mud, take the time to enjoy the amazing hiking and rock climbing opportunities. One of the easier routes, hiking up to the ‘Lost Plateau’, is the ideal place to start as it’s a simple trail and the views are like those you might see in Jurassic Park. Be warned, you will probably get lost (I think there are a couple of farmers in rural China who were a little sick of us circling around their farm over and over in an attempt to find the pathway), so make sure you as for clear directions before leaving – turns out instinct and general pointing from local residents isn’t as reliable as we thought, and our broken Mandarin wasn’t particularly helpful.
Across my travels, I have been lucky enough to see some extraordinary places. However, despite the years that have passed since my time in Yangshuo, there are few places that can parallel this spectacular region and I cannot wait to return and explore the area further. So, if you’re looking for somewhere that combines adventure, the great outdoors and the chance to truly escape the hustle and bustle of modern day life, then hop on a plane to China and make your way to the little village of Yangshuo. With its charm, tranquility and astonishing beauty who knows, you might never want to come back!
To read more of Olivia’s incredible travel adventures, make sure you follow her on Twitter at @OLaceEvans