The sublime and towering karsts of Yangshuo conjure visions of fantastical dreams. Rising into the clouds, the karsts of Yangshuo have become one of China’s premier destinations. For a long time foreign tourists held a steady monopoly on the city’s tourism, but China’s “second generation rich” have long displaced the status quo. Catering to the large influx of tourists means the city has something for everybody. A long line of foreign catered establishments provide the norm of western food and design. While West Street provides a long line of Chinese catered bars and clubs, along with overpriced overrated Chinese cuisine.
Due to the city’s location within karsts, there is little room for growth therefore everybody is tightly packed into West Street and Diecui Road. Much of the rest of the town is catered towards locals (which means you can find good and cheap authentic Chinese food outside the tourist streets). There are several peaks that can be climbed, while the TV tower is free although at a certain point it says vistors are not allowed. The Lijiang River that cuts through the karsts can be seen by boat. This isn’t recommended, because it is overpriced (you need to haggle off 50%) and the Yulong River is 100x better to take a ride on.
Besides peaks and food, getting out of Yangshuo is where the fun begins. There are many different roads you can take a bike down. This is better to just get lost in, although there aren’t any clear maps of the smaller roads and farmer trails. A popular route is just going straight east and rummaging the villages and farms. A second is to go to Dragon Bridge in the northwest. This is highly recommended and will lead you to fantastical views and the bridge is old and not reconstructed. The bridge is a worthwhile highlight, because it feels perfectly in place as something both to see and use. You can dive from the bridge as long as there are no boats underneath.
From Dragon Bridge a boat can be taken back down to 321 National Road which has a great view of the Yulong River and heads back to Yangshuo via Moon Hill and other interesting peaks. An alternative is to continue biking back, but this remains an issue because it is unclear where the bike path is. It is easy to get lost, as we did. This leads to the next attraction, which is west of Gaotianzhen. Here you will see the quietest and most obscure natural farming and karsts areas. Untouched by tourism and development this area will provide some of the best scenery, but also some of the longest and toughest biking opportunities. This is also easy to get lost in, especially if you don’t know Chinese.
You could easily spend over a week in Yangshuo, but the scenery may become overrepetive. For expats maybe the western food and clean air is worth the longer stay. There are many tourists traps around the area to attract local tourists, one being Shangrila which is a fake disney world village. Better steer clear, plus the high ticket prices don’t even make it something worth wasting time over. Overall Yangshuo is an incredible place, and far better worth to stay and see than its counterpart Guilin.