In spite of the obvious opportunities this tower karst region presents for climbing, the sport has only been around a few years in Guangxi, and is now really taking off. There are literally thousands of potential first ascents just waiting, but if you’re less of a superhero there are a few pegged routes to scale.
Yangshuo has a couple of climbing walls to get a bit of practice in (try the one at China Climb), and then when you’re ready there are a host of climbing outfits to help get you to the top of a real mountain.
Karst Café at 42 Xianqian Jie, is owned by Echo, a climber from Yunnan, who combines excellent local knowledge and expertise to offer safe and quality climbing trips. Expect to pay from ¥180-220 for a half-day guided climb and ¥300-400 for a full day. Prices include transfer, instruction and all equipment.
Another recommended company is China Climb. They specialize in tailor-made group trips and can arrange adventure packages, including transfers, accommodation and activities. It’s possible to climb year-round, although routes can be slippery during the rainy season. To meet fellow rock enthusiasts, head for one of the climbing cafés on and around Xianqian Jie – Karst Café, China Climb, Spiderman and Black Rock are popular hangouts.
Limestone is easily eroded and all this tower karst makes for a lot of caves to explore – almost every peak is thought to have one. Butterfly Cave is an easy and accessible option which is actually two caves linked by a bridge, halfway along the road between Yangshuo and Moon Hill.
For more adventure
you could try one of Yangshuo’s three water caves – ♥♥ Water Cave, ♥ Buddha Water Cave and ♥ Moon Water Cave, all of which are near Moon Hill. These caves offer an intimate (maybe claustrophobic) look inside a karst tower and are much more a voyage of discovery than the others. Inside you’ll find underground rivers, clear springs and mud pools to wallow in, along with the usual passageways and stalagmites.
Trips around the caves are guided and include a torch and protective helmet and you should wear clothes you don’t mind ruining and pack a bathing suit and a sense of adventure. The caves are best visited in summer when there’s more water around and it’s warm enough to swim and cake yourself in mud.
You’ll see the Buddha Water Cave signed off the road near Moon Hill and the Moon Water Cave and Water Cave have ticket offices here but you’ll need to take a minibus (included in the ticket price) for a couple of miles along the road to reach the actual caves themselves.
Branching off from the Li River, waterways are an obvious way to see the area and there are a variety of ways to do so, from cormorant fishing crafts to bamboo rafts, kayaks and tourist boats.
♥♥♥ Boat Trips
Tourist boats offer a fantastic way to see and experience the area, allowing you sit back and watch the majestic peaks drift by. In addition to the famous Guilin to Yangshuo cruise, there are a number of routes that operate around Yangshuo. One of the most scenic stretches is between Xingping (which President Clinton visited in 1998) and Yangdi . The return boat trip takes 1½ hours and passes through some of the most spectacular areas on the Li River.
Another nice option is to take a boat from Fuli downriver to Liougong (¥150-200 for a 10-seater boat), a journey that takes two hours round-trip. Buses run to both Fuli and Xingping from Yangshuo bus station. Another great way to travel on the river is by fishing boat. Although officially illegal, small local motor boats still take tourists out for early morning trips to Fuli and Xingping.
Trips usually leave in the early morning to miss the water police, last about an hour for the one-way trip (you can take a bus back) and cost ¥50 to ¥150 per person, depending on the number of passengers.
♥♥♥ Bamboo Rafts
A much more sedate view can be found by taking a ride on one of these slender craft along the Yulong River, a tributary of the Li River. There are various places where you can rent bamboo rafts for a short half-hour excursion (from ¥60) including the Mountain Retreat.
However the river can get busy at these spots and its far more tranquil to cycle out to the river at Chaoyang (30 mins), put your bicycle on the boat and then be punted for an hour and a half (¥150 for two people) down to Gongnong Bridge on the Moon Hill Road. From there it’s a 20-minute cycle ride back to Yangshuo. As you slowly punt along the shallows, you have the leisure to really soak up the scenery and a feeling for rural Chinese life. You can stop for a swim if it’s hot.
♥ Cormorant Fishing
While you can see this time-old method of fishing in many parts of China, it is particularly associated with the west and especially with Guangxi. The birds are excellent hunters and the fishermen use them to their advantage.
Their necks are constricted so that they can’t swallow any fish, and each time they make a catch they return to the boat where the fisherman collects the bounty. Why, you might ask, do the birds continue to serve their masters? Every seventh fish is given to the bird – just enough to keep them going.
Cormorants are prized possessions and fishermen select the eggs before hatching and then nurture, rear and train them – a process that takes years. A successful fisherman may have up to a dozen birds working for him, which can provide a healthy income.
Traditionally, the birds waited on the still bamboo raft and then darted in for the kill, but since the advent of motorboats, a new method where the cormorants swim ahead of the moving boat, catch their prey and then return to their perch, has emerged. In days gone by the fishermen were clad in reed rainproof clothing, but these days the only place you’ll see this is at tourist-oriented cormorant fishing shows.
Around Yangshuo, the majority of organized tourist trips are indeed just that and, while they show you how the process works, these fishermen make the bulk of their money from tourism, not fishing.
A typical trip costs ¥30, leaves at sundown and lasts an hour. Take plenty of insect repellent! If you want to see something more authentic, contact Light Travels (see p. 422) – trips cost ¥150 for a boatload of five; be aware that while the fishermen respect and care for their birds, their handling of them can seem a little rough.
♥♥♥ Kayaking & Inner-tubing
For more of an adventure on the river, you can arrange kayaking trips through a number of agents in town. While there’s no whitewater, seeing the landscape from your own vessel is an exhilarating way to experience the area. Trips typically last three or four hours and cost ¥150, including equipment and transfers to and from the river. The routes are generally easy, traveling downstream, though during the rainy season the currents are stronger.
Inner-tubing is another option, although it has been officially banned because of the danger posed by strong currents.
If it’s all too hot, then a swim could be in order and there are some beautiful spots to do this. One of the best of these is the Mountain Retreat, a couple of miles off the Yangshuo to Moon Hill road, where you can enjoy a meal or a drink after a dip in the river, as well as bamboo rafting.
Bathing in the clear, calm waters, protected from the flow of the river, and surrounded by a forest of peaks, including Moon Hill, is truly one version of paradise. If you don’t want to trek out into the countryside, there are also spots closer to Yangshuo – just walk north along the river, past the market and you’ll see a path leading down to the water.
On most days, the water here is crystal clear, but the current can be strong so follow the locals’ example – if they are swimming, it should be OK, but take care.
♥♥ In the Air
If you have a head for heights, then taking a hot air balloon is one of the best ways to see this magical and mystical landscape. Xaballoon is a local operator. Flights are dependent on weather conditions.
Yangshuo travel guide
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