One of my only travel regrets while on this trip was only booking two nights in Yangshuo, just 90 minutes outside of Guilin in China (home to the famous Reed Flute Cave). Like many things, the scenic beauty of Yangshuo is something I can’t just put into words and is easily in my personal top 3 places I’ve ever been to. I would never have guessed that my wish would have been granted, as I was in Yangshuo on the biggest China travel holidays of the year (known as Golden Week) and couldn’t get a bus to leave on my final day.
Personal accounts of the city seem to make Yangshuo out to be this sleepy mountain town that is overrun with foreign tourists. Dealing with the fact that there would be hundreds of Westerners, I never expected that the national holiday would bring in about 10 times more Chinese tourists than any foreigner present in the city. West Street, the main tourist hub of the town, was practically unwalkable and shoulder to shoulder tourists for the full stretch of road the entire walk through well into the night.
Still, Yangshuo blew my mind with its activities that are available a short hop outside of the city. Activities, such as kayaking and mountain biking, so amazing that each one will get its own post when I get back, just to encourage everyone to come here while in China (and for much longer than 2, make that 3 nights, like I did).
There are two major rivers in Yangshuo, and hundreds of karst mountain peaks surrounding both. Even from crowded West Street, a dozen mountains could be seen looming over the buildings (and the bar on my hostel, Monkey Janes, had the absolute best view, and cheapest booze. Coincidence?) But to really experience the city, it is worth getting out to nature and doing some activities, be it a lazy bamboo boat ride, 3 hour kayak trips, to a 9 hour massive bike trip.
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To keep things brief and save for a later post, biking in Yangshuo is not the easiest of things. The trails are easy, however signage and map quality is completely awful. Getting lost is something to be expected not once, but multiple times, and our 5 hour trip ended up exceeding 9 hours by the end of the day. As I was originally told buses would travel back to Guilin by midnight, I had not worried about pre-booking a ticket. I was horribly wrong.
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Departing from Guilin has three options: private bus (faster, cheaper, and assigned seat), public bus (free for all and slightly more expensive and slower), and taxi (yea.. right). Arriving at 6pm to the bus station during national holiday met me with a blank look from an attendant and someone translating that they were all sold out and running on a 2 hour delay anyway. Sad and dejected, I bought one for the next day and went back to the hostel. Of course, they forgot to mention the public bus is the one that runs late, and not until midnight, but to 10 pm. Rather than have a final dinner with friends, it was off to the station.
Hundreds of people had the same idea, as the hoards for the public bus made it impossible to get on, let alone load a bag into the storage compartment first. Bus after bus would arrive and depart, with people over flowing in the aisles, and the crowd only seemed to grow. An hour of waiting, and it was a sad walk back to my sold out hostel that I was not a tenant.
It was only to my good fortune that Monkey Jane’s had a spare room they do not rent out and is primarily used for storage, and 100 yuan later got me in ($14.71 US Dollars). If it weren’t for their hospitality, I would have been completely screwed, and was later told that everyone trying to get a bus likely was turned away from other hotels as well, and trying to head back to Guilin the same way.
As my body gave out from the 9 hours of biking, several other travelers piled into the hostel, also without rooms and either arriving or heading to Guilin. Some tried to get the taxi at horribly inflated prices and get scammed, others were given 50 yuan foam mattresses to sleep on the floor in the side building that my room was located. But one last trip to the roof top bar to have a bite of food made it all better, because the view was fabulous. I may have got my extra night in Yangshuo by means that weren’t the most pleasant, and I am out about 100 yuan for the room, but if I had to choose anywhere in the world to be stranded for 12 more hours, Yangshuo would be it.
I must give massive thanks to Sally and Jane from Monkey Jane’s for letting me convince them to stay on the spare bed in the storage room. Overall the original dorm I had was not good in the slightest, but them saving my butt on the final night shows how wonderful they are and I would gladly put up with the foul squat toilet in their second building just for them saving me.
If you are ever in Yangshuo, please go the hostel off West Street and drink yourself silly while spending a bit of money at their rooftop bar. It is not only the single cheapest bar in town during happy hour (6-midnight), but also has an amazing 270 degree view, morning, noon, and especially night, where the mountains are lit up with bright spotlights.