"China's hidden gem" - Martin Yan
A 2-hour bus ride south from Guilin, nestled against the bank of the Li river, lies the small town of Yangshuo - a town that Yan called China's hidden gem. Surrounded on all sides by karst mountains, Yangshuo is no longer as hidden as it once was as photographers and hikers from all over China and beyond descend on the area every weekend in order to experience the unique views and fill their memory cards with absolute stunners.
I was fortunate enough to grab one of the final seats on the train from Shenzhen a couple of weekends ago (as I'm sure you've seen from instagram - which *cough cough* go give us a follow here!!), and, with less than 36 hours in Yangshuo there are definitely things on the traditional trail that I missed and will have to go back to see, but by getting two sunrises and a sunset, can't really complain!
Anyway, here's a short piece on how to make the most of Yangshuo in less than 48 hours!
That said, if you are planning on hiking around Yangshuo for sunrise and sunset, please do take a torch and some sturdy footwear. A lot of the paths are no more than a mud track that requires ducking and diving under tree branches and can get hairy if it has been raining.
Honestly, Radio Mountain may be the one star that Television can't kill. (Massive tip of the hat if you understood that reference. If not then ask your parents) sitting opposite West Street, on the other side of Pantau Road, Radio Mountain is a Karst hill with a radio antenna station on the top. Due to this, you do have to pay a 'bribe' of around 5-10 Yuan to get in, but it is so worth it. The back of the station faces east for the perfect view of the sun rising above the Karsts, while the height means that you can still see the morning mist swirling underneath their peaks. While the place is open all day - just shout out and a guy will come to open the gate - I'd definitely recommend going for sunrise as a lot of hotels seem to organise tours there for sunset which could ruin your view!
Ride a couple of kilometres into the Yulong National Park and you'll be faced with a big rock that has what looks like a chunk of it missing. As with Radio Mountain, the security at the gate is happy to let you in a fair while before the official opening time (he told me 5am when I asked) for you sunrise enthusiasts. The real gem about Moon Hill though is the by-now not so secret path to the tip. Heading under the arch at the top you'll see a track on the left with a sign that says "keep out". Just ignore the sign if it's slippery underfoot and head through for a full 360 degree panorama of the area.
Probably the easiest site to reach purely because of its location right next to West Street, Bilian Peak is the classic photographer's jaunt. Better known for sunrise because of being able to see the sun rise with the river in the foreground, the peak is just as cool at sunset and often has other foreigners enjoying a drink at the top if the main entrance is open. The problem is that, at the time of writing, the entrance appeared to be closed due to a damaged path or something. So, instead, head up West Street, turn left onto Pantau road and, follow the road until you come across a little massage parlour with some stairs (think its one of the last buildings before the road bends around the hill just fyi). Take the stairs and you'll soon find yourself on a path to the peak!
Westerner, meet West Street
West Street: I know, super imaginative with the naming of their roads out here in Yangshuo. No, this street is not named because it's on the western edge of town, but rather where a lot of westerners tend to congregate. The presence of western fast food chains like McDonalds, KFC, and Pizza Hut, as well as all of the trinket shops you could ever hope to find and more than the occasional bar has made this a popular haunt of the travelling foreigner. Here, everyone will be able to say more than a few words in English so if you need some comfort food and drinks after a crazy day of hiking, then this is definitely the place to go. Just be sure to haggle in those stores to not get completely ripped off.
How to get around
Yangshuo town is a small area so, if you can cycle, I'd 100% recommend that as your primary form of transport with everything from West Street to Moon Hill easy in range. The only problem would be going to Xingping or any of the more far flung areas where a car or bus would be the more time-saving option. Bikes can be rented from most accommodations for around 20 yuan (about £2/ £2.50 or so) a day, while mopeds can be picked up without a driver's licence from all over town so just keep an eye out if you prefer something that requires a little less physical exertion.
Head further afield!
Due to just general bad planning on my end and booking my train from Shenzhen the night before (I know right. Me? Leaving things last minute? Never...), I only had about 34 hours in Yangshuo so didn't really get a chance to do anything beyond the immediate area. That said, everyone recommended spending a night in Xingping for the bamboo raft fishermen, the classic 20 yuan note view, as well as Xianggong Mountain so if you're there then definitely head over that way for a day!