I counted this as my first proper trip to the mainland, I know I went to Beijing last easter, but you really don't get to know a place as well when you travel with a tour group. I got a good vibe when we went to Beijing, but this trip has really confirmed in my mind that the mainland is awesome! Friendly people, great food, unbelievable scenery. I would go as far as to say, I think Yangshuo is one of my favourite places I've been to. Here's why.
There's loads of hiking opportunities with incredible views
There are so many activities to do, from bamboo rafting down the River Li, to cycling.. well everyone cycles just about everywhere, and of course rock climbing. I read somewhere that Yangshuo is rated as one of the top places in Asia to go rock climbing (as you can see, there's no shortage of places to do it). I had never been rock climbing before, so here seemed like an apt place to start.
As none of us were particularly experienced climbers, they took us to a beginners climb, it must have been the most difficult beginners climb possible, however looking at that mountain scape I doubt there's many true 'beginners climbs'. Despite being thrown in the deep end, I loved it! I didn't make it all the way up, but I was happy with where I got to. I'll definitely do it again (maybe on an indoor climbing wall first, so I can at least get a better understanding of technique), needless to say I was aching for days afterwards. Definitely a great workout! I would highly recommend the company we climbed with black rock climbing, they made us feel very safe and even brought us caving and abseiling when we'd only paid for the rock climbing.
The icing on top of finding a place you really love, for me, is staying in a great place. I just love the hostels in Asia, I would always choose to stay in a hostel over a hotel, price regardless, just because I always find the experience much more enjoyable. There's just so much more personality to hostels and of course you meet the most interesting people. I think we definitely made the best choice in hostels this time, staying at the Beautiful Hutong (or DaHutong). A traditional hutong style dwelling just outside of the town, the owner Simon was ridiculously accommodating, giving us lifts into town in the evenings and even arranged for Ben to get back to Shenzhen by getting a lift with another guest! A beautiful, tranquil place. We met some great people there, one of whom is currently living on our sofa in HK while he sorts out visa issues! I love the randomness of travelling. This was a perfect place to stay for me, you do have to cycle/ get a taxi if you want to go to the town, this was perfect for me but if you want to be in walking distance of everything it's perhaps not for you.
Really, I could go on and on about Yangshuo and how great it is. So i'll try and tie it up quickly with a last few recommendations so you can get out there and experience it for yourself!
I have to give a mention to the lovely Minority Cafe, where we ate breakfast there most mornings (I loved the Chinese food in Yangshuo, but I draw a line at Chinese food for breakfast). For 35Kwai (as the locals call it), so £3.50, you got a main breakfast dish, I usually went for scrambled eggs and hash browns, banana bread, a side of muslei and yoghurt, fresh orange juice and a coffee! Unbelievably good value, and a great way to set you up for the day especially if you're doing lots of activities.
As for Chinese food, I found it all to be fantastic everywhere we ate. The ingredients are very fresh here and it's nice and spicy. They also have great street food here, my favourite thing was being able to buy passionfruit on the side of the street everywhere, I always feel passionfruit doesn't get the attention it deserves!
Finally, if you're looking to have a few drinks in the evening and meet both locals and travellers alike, as strange as it sounds the North Korean bar (yes, that's right) The DMZ bar is a great spot. It's owned by a North Korea travel company, it's genuinely a really cool bar and if you wish, you can book a trip to North Korea from there (I'm seriously considering this for when I go travelling at the end of the year). If you want to party late into the night Bad Panda and Monkey Jane's (which are actually hostels, just with great bars) are the places to go. Make sure you participate in a game of beer pong in Monkey Jane's!
There seem to be advertisements all over Yangshuo for English Teachers, where they provide food accommodation and a salary, the contracts start from one month. I'm really considering it, I'm going travelling in September and China is first on my list, this could be a very good place to end the China trip, earn a little extra money and a great opportunity to practice my mandarin... and maybe even end it with a trip to North Korea?
Yangshuo, I'll be back!