The southern Chinese city of Yangshuo has transformed in recent years. Thanks to additional high-speed transport links opening up the scenic town, an influx of local and foreign tourists are flocking to the once-peaceful village for a glimpse of their iconic jade-colored karst peaks.
The bullet train from Shenzhen, for example, cut a 13-hour overnight journey to just a three-hour ride. And while its surreal scenery remains some of the most serene and unspoiled in China, it’s Yangshuo's river rapids, mountains and nightlife that make it an action-packed spot.
Since American free climber Todd Skinner came to Yangshuo in the 1990s and developed the area, the rock climbing scene has exploded: today there are more than 800 climbs mapped out on its mountains, for all difficulty levels. Beginners can start on the Swiss Cheese Crag, or try the brilliantly named Tortoise Climbing up the Hill, while more advanced climbers should scale White Mountain or The Great Arch Area.
Zip-lining and rappelling
Slightly less taxing, but no less thrilling, ways to explore the mountains are rappelling and zip-lining. Hikers can head up to Treasure Cave mountain, where they can fly over a canyon created by two limestone karsts. Alternatively, climb the 800 steps up Moon Hill, famed locally for the semi-circular hole in the middle of the mountain, and rappel 100m down from its peak.
Longjing white water rafting
If you embark on this 45-minute adventure, which is also known as the Longjing Washing Machine, prepare to lose control and get very wet. A creek off the Li River has been dammed into segments and, from April to October, visitors can ride two-person rafts down the white water for between 4km and 6km. There are lots of rocks and bumps, and no paddles, although attendants are on hand to assist in the event of a wipeout.
Fuli to Page Boy Hill bike ride
But Yangshuo isn’t just for adrenaline junkies. Countryside biking is one of the best ways to connect with nature, while enjoying the breeze through your hair.
Skip the crowded bike routes from West Street towards the Yulong River and Moon Hill and begin your cycle at Fuli, the birthplace of the traditional painted Chinese fan, about 8km out of Yangshuo. From the ancient village’s jetty, catch a bamboo raft over the Li River (with your bikes; available for hire in Yangshuo) to Dutou Village.
Once you’re over the water, make a detour up the mountain path on your right to reach an amazing viewing point that overlooks the Li River. Once you’ve descended back onto the cycling track, turn left and head past tri-coloured ponds, karst caves and Guangxi farmers to the 500-year-old Mushan Village, and Page Boy Hill from where you can catch a bamboo raft back over the river, and watch the cows bathing in the water. The 14km route should take about three hours.
Paddle in the Li River
Summer in Yangshuo is hot, and taking a dip in the beautiful Li River is the perfect way to cool off. At sunset take Binjiang Road out of Yangshuo—just after the covered walkway, you’ll see a series of stone steps leading down to the water.
Those on bikes, however, can press on past the Li River Retreat and take the first major road on their right—this becomes a dirt track which eventually crosses a stone creek: around the bend from there, on the left, is a “secret” swimming spot with a pebble beach, where you’ll share the water with few others.
Adapted from an original piece published on the SCMP.