Xingping (兴坪) and Yangshuo (阳朔) are two of the best destinations in China for photography. In this article you can find my complete guide on where to take the best photos.
In the previous article I wrote the complete travel guide to Yangshuo and Xingping. However, I have not talked much about the places where you can take the best pictures. That’s something I’m going to discuss in this post. If you need general information such as where to stay and how to get to the different place check out my previous post.
Best places to take pictures in Xingping (兴坪)
Xingping is one of the best places to take pictures in China. You can find the characteristic karst landscapes with the Li river Li and the famous cormorant fishermen. I recommend you to spend at least 2 nights in Xingping as there are at least two places to shoot the sunrise.
The cormorant fishermen
If you want to take pictures of the cormorant fishermen you have two options. You can try to organize the photo session by yourself, maybe asking for some help at the hotel where you stay, or you can rely to on one of the many local photographers who will take care of everything (in this case I recommend this photographer). The main difference is the price. The fishermen charge about 300RMB per session (400RMB if you want them to use the net as you see in the picture above). If you hire a local photographer to arrange the photo session you can expect to pay at least twice as much.
Pro tip: if you see another photographers while you are in Xingping you can ask him if he is interested in photographing the fishermen so that you will share the cost. That’s what I did. 🙂
Fishermen are used to work with photographers and most likely you won’t have to tell them anything but hiring a local guide can be helpful if you need to communicate with them (the fisherman I photographed, besides being almost 90 years old, was almost completely deaf so communication was quite challenging). The fishermen DON’T speak English.
You can choose whether to take pictures at sunrise or sunset. I chose the sunset because I had planned to shoot the sunrises in different location. The fishermen will stay at a short distance from the main pier of Xingping, so in the evening (towards sunset) there will be a lot of boats coming back.
It will probably happen that other photographers will try to sneak in and take some shots behind you but the fishermen will tell them to stop (quite aggressively).
Taking these pictures will probably not be the most authentic experience in the world, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth the effort and the money. Also keep in mind that this is the only place in the world where you can see these fishermen with the iconic karst hills.
Regarding the photography gear keep in mind that the sun sets quickly and having a camera that performs well at higher ISOs will make a difference. I recommend two lenses: something like the 24-70 for the portraits and a wide-angle lens for wider shots. I took all the pictures with an old Canon 70D (not excellent over 400 ISO) and with a 24-105 and a 10-22 lenses.
Sunrise at Xianggong Hill (相公山)
Xiangong hill is the most popular location to shoot the sunrise in Xingping and this means that you’ll find hundreds of photographers. The composition is quite forced but the landscape is still fantastic. Get ready to get up very early in the morning. I arrived an hour before sunrise and all the best spots were taken already.
As you can see from this photo there are several terraces (this is very common in China in places to photograph the landscape) and the best shot is from the top terrace. Obviously I was in the lower one…
To access the mountain you have to buy a ticket and it takes about half an hour to get to the top. The whole trail is made with concrete steps (this is also a very common thing in China) so I recommend to bring with you a bottle of water. As for the equipment you will obviously need a tripod and both a wide angle and a longer lens.
Sunrise in Damianshan (大面山)
Damianshan is “my secret place” and honestly it’s also the place with the best view of the Li river. Hardly anyone knows about it and if you decide to get there you will be
the only person (unless this article goes viral).
The main reason why it’s not so famous is because: it’s hard to find it and quite tiring to get to the top of the mountain. The best way to find him is to stay in this guesthouse owned by the man who built the path that leads to the top of the mountain (he spent his own money to do it and he doesn’t even ask to pay an entrance fee, unlike Xianggong Hill).
To avoid getting lost while still dark, I decided to hike the mountain the day before the shooting. Finding the path is not too difficult in daylight but in the early morning it’s not that easy. So my suggestion is to either do what I did or ask to be accompanied early in the morning by someone working at the hotel I mentioned before, but it might cost you up to 200RMB.
If you want to go on your own, once you arrive at the guesthouse ask someone working there to show you the beginning of the trail (about 5 minutes from there). Keep following the trail. For the first part you’ll be surrounded by pomelo and lime trees.
After about 20 minutes you will reach the end of the area where the pomelo trees grow and you’ll enter into a small grove. After 5 minutes you will get to the places shown in the picture below. Turn left.
You can’t get lost: about 50 meters after turning left you’ll see the beginning of the concrete steps that will accompany you until the top of the mountain. The path is very steep but entirely cemented: not too difficult but very tiring. Towards the end you will have to climb these iron steps:
It’s amazing to think that all this work has been done by hand
After about an hour from the beginning of the trail you will reach the top of the mountain. Continue until you get to the end of the path. You will find a concrete platform and in front of you one of the most beautiful views in China and, I would say, in the world.
The concrete terrace has no protection so be careful. If you don’t want to go for a walk in the dark waking up at 4:30 in the morning you can always consider camping on the terrace. I met a Chinese photographer who did it.
Regarding the camera and lenses to bring with you, you can follow the same suggestions I gave for Xinggong hill.
Sunset in Laozhai (老寨山)
Another great place to take photos at sunset is Laozhai (老寨山). The beginning of the path is easy to find, as it’s located just a few meters from the Xingping pier. It is an “unofficial” viewpoint and therefore the trail is quite challenging, especially if it has rained.
It takes about 45 minutes to reach the top. Once you reach the small temple I suggest you continue climbing on the rocks nearby so that you can reach the best position to place the tripod. Keep in mind that the descent will be completely in the dark so bring a torch.
For this viewpoint you won’t need to pay an entrance fee but it’s a bit more famous than Damianshan, which in my opinion remains the best place to take pictures in Xingping, so you probably won’t be the only photographer.
A huge thanks to Stefano Zaccaria for giving me this information.
Where to take the best pictures in Yangshuo (阳朔)
Yangshuo is another popular destination for those who love photography. Even if it doesn’t have the same photographic opportunities as Xingping there are still some really nice places to photograph. I suggest you stay in Yangshuo for at least two nights.
Sunset in Wuzhishan (五指山)
Wuzhishan is located about 40 minutes north of Yangshuo but there is no public transport to get there so you will have to pay a driver or a taxi. You can ask the hotel where you are staying (I recommend this one) and they will find you a driver. Wuzhishan is the name of a mountain from which you can take the picture you see above. Unsurprisingly you will find the usual very steep steps that, after about half an hour, will take you to the top of mountain where you’ll stand on a concrete terrace. Obviously you have to buy a ticket to access the mountain.
The mountain is located in the heart of the Chinese countryside, the authentic countryside without hotels and KTV and with people still living like 100 years ago. In retrospect I might have arranged to stay there for half a day. As in the case of Xianggong and Damianshan bring a tripod and the usual wide-angle and zoom lenses.
Fuli Bridge (副理桥) and villages along the Yulong river
If you read my previous article you know that I recommend to stay outside Yangshuo and to rent a bike to explore the area. You’ll will pass through many villages that are worth photographing. One of the most interesting things to see is the Fuli Bridge. It is a really beautiful stone bridge. It’s a bit touristy but at least you won’t have to buy any ticket and there are no stairs to climb… 🙂
Other places to photograph
There are many other places to photograph that are very famous such as the TV tower in Yangshuo (from where you can have a panoramic view of the city), the Moon hill, the rock called Elephant Rock and the Flute Cave.. I don’t mention them in this article because they are very popular but honestly are not that great especially compared to the places I wrote about.
If you have a drone you will have many more options to take unique pictures especially in Yangshuo. In this page for example you will find some 360 degree panoramic pictures I took in Yangshuo with the drone (here more info about international drone regulations).
This picture and the previous one were both taken with a drone
Surely there are other places I don’t know about. If you’ve been there please write a comment with some useful info and I’ll update this article. As a last tip remember that if your main goal is to visit Yangshuo and Xingping to take good pictures is fundamental to choose the right months. Statistically the months from November to January are the best: fewer overcast days and not much rain.
Here you will find more pictures I took in Yangshuo and Xingping and here is my complete travel guide to China, very useful if it’s your first time in the country. Last but not least don’t forget to get a VPN before you leave, or you won’t be able to access most of the western websites.