Yangshuo is a small town tucked away in the Karst Mountains of Guangxi, yet it has become something of an anomaly in China. By ratio, Yangshuo boasts one of the largest populations of English speaking Chinese people and foreign expats in the whole country. As a matter of fact, some locals say it even rivals Beijing and Shanghai as an international hub. Nestled amongst the verdant mountains and beside the rippling waters of the Li River, Yangshuo is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places in Guangxi. It is an ideal place to start any tour of China, since the abundance of English speakers and balanced mixture of Western and Eastern influences makes it an easy introduction to the country.

The name “Yangshuo” derives from the Chinese words “yang” (阳) and “shuo” (朔). “Yang” is the well-known antagonist to “yin” in Taoist philosophy and symbolises positivity, masculinity and light. “Shuo” means “new moon” in Chinese, so the implication is that, night or day, Yangshuo is one of the brightest places on earth. Considering how modern Yangshuo has become, the town has a history that stretches back over 1,000 years. It was founded in 265 A.D., during the Jin Dynasty (265-420), and in 590, during the Sui Dynasty (581-618), the county seat was moved from Xingping to Yangshuo. It has remained the county town ever since, although it is still under the administrative control of Guilin city.

On top of the resident expat population, there is also a substantial constituency of native ethnic minorities, such as the Yao, Hui, Zhuang, and Miao people. This ethnic diversity means that the souvenirs, performances and cuisine on offer in Yangshuo are particularly varied. Stalls featuring Tibetan silver, Dong embroidered cloth, and Miao batik abound throughout the streets of Yangshuo. These little handcrafted trinkets make perfect souvenirs or mementos. There are two main tourist streets, known as West Street and Diecuilu, and they boast the majority of the souvenir stalls. Since the town is located deep within the countryside, there are also numerous fruit and vegetable farms in the vicinity. As you walk down the streets of Yangshuo, you’ll be met with a plethora of fresh fruits you may have never tried before, such as mouth-watering mangosteens, dubious smelling durian, and tantalising persimmons.

Yangshuo was first put on the map by Lonely Island in 1980 when they featured it in their travel guide. Since then, it has remained incredibly popular with foreign and domestic tourists alike. The landscape in Yangshuo has become so popular that it even featured in the movie Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith as Chewbacca’s home planet of Kashyyyk and also featured as a level in the landmark 1993 video game Doom. The image of the Li River on the 20 yuan note is also very close to Yangshuo and so, if you don’t fancy taking the long cruise from Guilin to Yangshuo, travelling directly to Yangshuo to visit the site is far quicker.

Not only is Yangshuo a perfect place to tour the Karst Mountains and the Li River, it is also a popular cycling and rock-climbing destination. As few public buses travel into the countryside, cycling is the ideal method of exploring Yangshuo County and visiting several of the tourist attractions, such as Moon Hill and Big Banyan. You can hire mountain bikes in the town centre for between 20 to 70 yuan (£2 to £7) per day depending on the condition of the bicycle. If you opt for one of the cheaper bicycles, we recommend you check the brakes and suspension before you agree to rent it.

In 1992, American rock climber Todd Skinner first popularised Yangshuo when he pioneered a number of the now established climbing routes, including the “Moonwalker” on the arch of Moon Hill. Nowadays there are plenty of tourist services in Yangshuo that focus exclusively on rock climbing and, with over 200 climbing routes in the vicinity, you’ll be spoilt for choice! Low Mountain, Twin Gates, Baby Frog, The Egg, Bamboo Grove and Wine Bottle Cliff are just a few examples of the scenic climbing spots on offer.

Thanks to the Western expats now living in Yangshuo, the town boasts a variety of Western-style restaurants, cafés and bars that you won’t find in other Chinese towns. The food on offer in most of these restaurants is of a good standard and can provide a much needed rest from Chinese food if you’ve been travelling around the country for too long. Although most places close around 2am, Yangshuo boasts some of the most exciting nightlife in Guangxi. Many hostels will have their own bars and, coupled with the established bars and nightclubs in the town, this makes for a lively and unique atmosphere in the evenings. These hostel bars provide a wonderful opportunity to meet other travellers and backpackers on your journey.

Since the town has been geared up for tourism, there are plenty of hostels and hotels in Yangshuo. Prices and standards can range greatly between them, so we recommend doing some research before you book one. In spite of its popularity with foreign tourists, Yangshuo is not the easiest place to get to. There is no airport or train station in Yangshuo, so you must travel there either by bus or by boat. A boat cruise from Guilin to Yangshuo can take upwards of 4 to 5 hours and is quite expensive, but is worth it for the spectacular views along the Li River. Otherwise, express buses run from Guilin Bus Station to Yangshuo every 10 to 20 minutes and take just under an hour. There are also buses running from Guilin Train Station to Yangshuo every 5 to 10 minutes but these take just under 2 hours.


In China, there is a popular saying which goes “the scenery in Guilin is the greatest under heaven” (桂林山水甲天下). So beautiful are the Karst Mountains around Guilin that, when the Song Dynasty poet Fan Chengda sent paintings of them back to his colleagues, they could not believe what they saw. The name “Guilin” (桂林) is comprised of two characters: “gui”, which means “osmanthus”, and “lin”, which means “forest”. “Guilin” can therefore be translated to mean the “Forest of Sweet Osmanthus” and the city is so named thanks to the prolific number of osmanthus trees that keep the streets and parks smelling so sweet. The lush Karst Mountains, blossoming osmanthus trees, and majestic Li River combine to make an ethereal paradise. It is no wonder people doubted its existence!

Guilin is a prefecture-level city in the north of Guangxi and is the third largest city in the region, after Nanning and Liuzhou respectively. The city has a population of nearly 5 million people. It is important to bear in mind that Beijing’s population is over double that of Guilin so, by Chinese standards, Guilin is a relatively small city. It is also home to 14 different ethnic minorities, including Zhuang, Yao, Miao, Dong, and Bai people, to name but a few. This thriving community of Han Chinese, non-Chinese and various ethnic minorities means that Guilin is one of the more culturally diverse cities in China. Surrounding the city, Karst Mountains loom up from 100 metres at their lowest to over to 2,100 metres at the peak of Kitten Mountain, the tallest peak in the south of China. This is the source of the Li River; a water-body so magnificent that it was deemed worthy to be printed on the 20 yuan note.

The Li River is not only a thriving tourist attraction; it was the very reason why Guilin was initially settled. In 314 B.C. a small settlement was established on the banks of the Li River. In 111 B.C., during the reign of Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty (206 B.C. – 220 A.D.), Shi’an County was established on what is considered to be the site of modern-day Guilin. Thanks to the Li River, this county town was developed into a transportation hub during the Tang (618-907) and Song (960-1279) dynasties, as the river was the only way to transport goods from Central China to South China at that time. In 1921 it became one of the main headquarters for the Northern Expeditionary Army led by Sun Yat-sen[1] but it wasn’t until 1940 that it was finally named Guilin. In 1981, the State Council listed Guilin, alongside Beijing, Hangzhou and Suzhou, as one of the four cities where the preservation of historical and culture heritage and the protection of natural scenery should be treated with paramount importance.

As you can see, on top of being an area of great natural beauty, Guilin significantly influenced the development of China, and its many attractions reflect this. Jingjiang Princes’ City, Guilin Art Museum, Guilin Museum, and the Li River Folk Custom Centre are just a few of the many places where you can learn about Guilin’s rich heritage. There are also a number of charming parks in the city, such as Black Hill Botanic Garden, Seven Star Park, and West Hill Park, where you can while away a peaceful afternoon and admire the many osmanthus trees. Aside from these wonderful local attractions, Guilin has become popular with tourists primarily because it is only a short trip away from some of the most magnificent places in Guangxi, such as Yangshuo County Town, Daxu Ancient Town, and the Longji Rice Terraces. From ancient transportation centre to modern-day tourist hub, Guilin has always been the heart of Guangxi.

[1] Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925): A Chinese revolutionary who played an instrumental role in overthrowing the Qing Dynasty, abolishing imperial rule and founding the People’s Republic of China.

Enjoy the fantastic land view in Guilin on our travel: Explore the culture of Ethnic minorities in Southeast Guizhou

Dragon Palace Cave

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The Dragon Palace Cave Scenic Area boasts a network of underground caves and natural Karst rock formations that are unparalleled throughout China. The area is so-named because the Dragon Palace Cave, or Longgong Cave, is so magnificent that it is believed to resemble the legendary palace of the Dragon King. It is home to the longest underground river and the largest underground waterfall in China. The attraction is separated into four main parts: the Rapeseed Lake, the Whirlpool, the Leech Pass, and the Dragon Palace. It is located in the Matou Township, about 32 kilometres away from Anshun City, Guizhou.

This magnificent underground cave system covers a colossal 60 square kilometres (23 square miles) and is made up of lakes, waterfalls, stalactites and stalagmites. The underground river stretches some 5,000 metres in length and flows beneath 20 hills, connecting over 90 limestone caves. Currently only about 1,000 metres (1 km) of the river is open to tourists. Tourists can enter the cave system by rowboat via the mouth of a cave on Heavenly Lake (Tianchi Lake). From there, they can enjoy a calming boat ride along the underground river and watch the landscape change as they go deeper and deeper into the caves.

dragon palace cave waterfallAt the entrance to the Dragon Palace Cave, you’ll find the largest underground waterfall in China: the Dragon Gate Fall. The waterfall crashes down directly from Heavenly Lake through a crescent-shaped hole and falls into a pool inside the Dragon Palace Cave. It is 38 metres high and 25 metres wide, forming a solid column of rushing water, and from the bottom it looks like a beautiful white dragon flying out of the cave. On entering the Dragon Palace Cave, you’ll be met with a stunning display of coloured lights that are used to illuminate it. The cave is full of huge stalactites and stalagmites, all curving up from below the water or down from the ceiling. They look strangely beautiful when lit up and add to the supernatural atmosphere of the cave.

The region surrounding this tourist site is home to the Bouyei ethnic minority, so a trip to Dragon Palace Cave provides anyone with the perfect opportunity to visit a few Bouyei villages and communities along the way. This region is also well-known for its towering mountains, crystal clear lakes and stunning rape flower blossoms. Due to the unusual shape of the Karst landscape, when the rape flowers blossom they create beautiful waves of yellow and gold across the mountains and plains. If you visit the Dragon Palace Cave in spring, you may even get to see some of the local Bouyei performances for the Rape Blossom Festival, which is celebrated between February and March every year. With its thundering waterfalls, glistening stalactites, and shadowy caves, the Dragon Palace Cave Scenic Area is truly a sight worth seeing, both inside and out.

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