Backpackerville: Yangshuo

By: Kelly

On our way back towards Eastern China, we had to make a one night stop over in Kunming, the capital of the Yunnan province. It’s a rather nondescript, fairly clean metropolis. We were able to get some snacks for our long bus journey, and see a few sights around our hostel (which was in a prime location for snapping a few pretty photos) before moving on the next day.

Ellie and I were really excited about our visit to karst-filled Yangshuo. We had heard so many wonderful things about it from other travelers and thought for sure it would be a highlight of our China extravaganza. We thought wrong. The problem with Yangshuo is the same problem as Bodrum, Turkey. Too many tourists on one tacky strip that’s chock-full of over-priced, poor quality pizza and burgers, tacky nightclubs and annoying touts selling souvenirs all on a street conveniently named West Street. People I would never anticipate to even own a passport had suddenly shown up on the streets of Yangshuo. American families eating at Mcdonalds, of which they have two right in the middle of this tiny town, British couples that look hung-over, overheated and completely agitated with the Chinese, Germans who are drinking their weight in beer and trying to chat up the Chinese girls who work in front of the nightclubs. It all seems sleazy, especially if you think about it in context with the gorgeous scenery that is the Yangshuo countryside.

Full of karsts that extend as far as the eye can see along the Li River, Yangshuo is easily pleasurable to the eyes once you get off of West St. We rented a bike from our hotel and headed out, looking to beat the heat and take a very touristy adventure on the bamboo rafts that ply up and down the Li. The countryside was breathtaking. I think we only got about 10 meters before stopping for photos of the water buffalo, farmers and idyllic quiet of the local manual laborers, slumbering under trees.

We got to the river and took a completely relaxing bamboo raft down where they loaded our bikes on the back of our own personal raft. We had a guy whose sole job was to row us back to town. It was pretty fantastic. We drank beer from women in other rowboats who sold it. We hopped in for a swim every time the raft had to go over a hill. It was a really nice day.

all the bamboo boats waiting to take us down river

The funniest thing was on the bike ride home. There was a woman with a two basket shoulder strap contraption that is ever so popular with vendors in Asia. She had a child in it and she kept telling me 5 yuan. I was silly enough to believe that she was trying to sell me a little Chinese child. Ellie later explained to me that she was only trying to sell me the right to take a picture of the kid in the basket.

Ellie took one anyway and quickly rode off when the woman demanded such extortionate payment.
That night, we met up with Annika and Lars in Yangshuo. We had some dumplings and some beer next to the river and then proceeded to walk up and down West St. to find something to do with our night.

All around us, bars were blasting bad Chinese pop music and sunburned tourists were cranky, spending their yuan on crappy plastic souvenirs. We gave up finally. They left for Xingping in the morning and we promised to meet them there in two days time.
We hated to stay in Yangshuo another day since we had already gotten out into the countryside but we had already tickets for the Impressions show by Zhang Jigang (the guy that choreographed the opening ceremony for the Beijing Olympics). “This is the world largest natural theater which utilizes the waters of the Li River as its stage, with twelve mist shrouded hills and the heavens as its backdrop. Mist, rain, moonlight, the hills and their inverted reflections in the river all become the ever-changing natural background. Its auditorium is housed on the natural islands of the river with the audience standing on the designed terraces, surrounded by green plants. The sound equipment here cannot be seen because it is in harmony with the natural environment. The valleys, the hills, the cool breeze and the gurgling streams are all elements contributing to the three-dimensional sound effect. Day by day, different weather offers different sceneries with the four seasons refreshing the performance as well, so you will have unique experience every time you watch it. This is really a new concept opera using nature as an integral part of its performers; hence its name – ‘Human’s Masterpiece Cooperated with the God’.”

Vodpod videos no longer available.

It was easily one of the most impressive shows I have ever seen. The backdrop for the show is stunning in a natural lagoon amongst the karsts. The idea of using nature as a backdrop was genius. The videos we shot didn’t do it justice, but it was really wonderful o see live. I don’t recommend Yangshuo, but I do recommend just camping out their one night to see this performance and do a little countryside biking.
The next day, we went to Xingping, which is a tiny little town outside of Yangshuo by about 45 minutes. We met up with Lars and Annika, rented bikes and then took a bamboo raft back down the river. It was our last night with them and we had a good veggie dinner and some beer before wishing them good-bye the next morning. We’re hopeful to visit them in Hamburg sometime!

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1 Response to “Backpackerville: Yangshuo”


  1. 1 scotttraveler June 19, 2010 at 5:21 pm

    some familiar haunts – super photos 🙂


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