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A sneak peek at Yangshuo, south China

2nd July 2012

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Two years ago I was lucky enough to live in China for several months. During my time there I had a chance to travel around and saw some amazing places. The most beautiful, and unexpected place was Yangshuo.

Karst Pealks

It is situated in the rural, green landscapes of south west China. Yangshuo is located in the surrounding area of the city Guilin. The first thing that strikes you about the area is the breathtaking landscape. Most people will recognise it from tourism pictures and a HSBC television advertisement was filmed here several years ago.

The area is best known for its iconic karst peaks. These are in abundance and are covered in beautiful greenery. My hostel was a two minute walk away from the beautiful Li River which you can swim in (although I don't recommend doing as I did and swimming in the river when it is in flood). Many of the hostels in the area host rooftop bars to make the best of the spectacular views. In the evenings the peaks are floodlit and with the sound of the river bubbling by it really is an experience not to be missed.

A must-see when visiting the area is The Light Show, which is heavily advertised. Do not, however, let the tourist influence affect your decision to attend this show and if you get the chance do take it in. The location of the theatre is on the river surrounded by the colourfully lit peaks in the background. The performance takes place on small canoes on the river between two pontoons. Hundreds of performers light up the river and create some of the most beautiful sights imaginably whilst telling a beautiful love story. I wish I could express the beauty of this show and the acrobatic tricks performed on the tiny boats…but my only suggestion is to save up, fly to China and watch the show yourself.

The town itself is relatively small so it is easy to walk around. Unfortunately, the area has been taken over by the tourist industry so you will struggle to get a feel for ‘real’ China here - but it is no less fun. The bars are cheap and buzzing and finding traditional Chinese food isn’t too much of a challenge.

However, the town only truly comes to life at night - during the day the tourists tend to be touring the local countryside and enjoying the activities on offer. These range from taking a raft ride down the Li River – the inspiration for the picture on the 20 Yuan note – to white water rafting or exploring the caves inside the karst peaks. One of the most exciting, and daring, activities is the the cave exploring with a swim in a mud pool at the end. This trip was…interesting. Firstly, we were taken out of the town centre on two or three different buses – the last one being really quite tiny. We travelled several miles down a very bumpy track road in this tiny van at approximately sixty miles an hour which was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life (but that is what you will have to expect from Chinese drivers). It was worth it when we arrived at the caves. You are put into a tiny canoe and row a little way into the caves. After this you then walk deeper and deeper in over rough rocks. Do not, as I did, wear flip-flops. They often recommend not taking a camera. This is so that they can charge you a fortune for professional pictures taken inside. So, take your camera.

The caves are filled with enormous, colourful rock formations which took my breath away. On reaching the deepest part of the cave we came across a waterfall and several natural pools which we had the opportunity to swim in. We were inside the caves for just over an hour and a half and ended our trip with a swim in a mud pool and hot water spring. There is no way this experience can be explained without photographs because it is so spectacular.

If you aren’t up for the hectic nightlife or exploring caves then the best thing to do in Yangshuo is hire a bicycle and explore the farms and houses in the surrounding areas. No doubt you will come across Dragon Bridge, a popular spot for tourists to dive into the river. Do it - I dare you.

The nightlife in Yangshuo was quite an experience. Our favourite place was Monkey Jane’s hostel which is run by a tiny Chinese woman who is quite simply crazy. Every night her rooftop bar is packed with travellers taking part in competitive beer pong tournaments. She also has on her bar the mysterious ‘Snake Shot’. This is one very large jar of mysterious liquid holding several dead snakes. One shot will set you back 10 yuan (about £1) but of course you’re not going to pass up the chance? I did indeed sample a snake shot and love to tell people that I have drank alcoholic snake juice.

Whatever you choose to Yangshuo, if it is sitting beside the river, browsing the markets or enjoying a cheap massage, you will never ever forget it. The landscape took my breath away every morning I was there and whenever I am feeling the pressure I wish I could open my eyes to that amazing view in the morning. 

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