Yangshuo (阳朔) and Xingping (兴坪) are two of China’s most iconic places. In this article, you will find several useful information to organize your trip there.
In this article you will find my travel guide to Yangshuo and Xingping and in this post, I wrote a travel guide focused more on photography. Hopefully, it will be useful especially for those who plan to visit Xingping. You’ll also find directions to get to a “secret” place where you can take the picture you see above.
Guilin(桂林) when is the best time to go
This part of China is extremely hot and humid, especially in summer. This means that it’s also very difficult to find clear skies (here you find all the weather-related data for Guilin). I visited the area in November and the weather was perfect: clear skies and not a cloud. In addition, November is the season of the Pomelos harvest: a very interesting thing to photograph.
If possible it’s better if you avoid the summer season entirely: it’s really hot and humid and it’s also the high season, so there will be really a lot of tourists. The best three months to go to Guilin, Yangshuo and Xingping are November, December, and January but be careful to avoid the weeks around the Chinese New Year which is usually between mid-January and mid-February.
Guilin(桂林) vs Yangshuo (阳朔) vs Xingping (兴坪): a bit of clarity
On this trip, I chose to NOT visit Guilin (mainly because I didn’t have much time) and I stayed instead in Yangshuo and Xingping. Each of these three cities is in its own way interesting but if you really have to choose one I suggest you stay in Yangshuo. Below you will find some detailed information to clarify the main differences between these three cities and what you can do and see in each one of them.
Guilin(桂林) travel guide
Guilin is the most famous city in the area and the starting point for most of the people who want to visit Yangshuo. But it is also very touristy and honestly has not much to offer in terms of landscapes. Almost all the photos that you find on the internet with the typical karst hills are taken in Yangshuo or Xingping and not in Guilin.
Guilin: top things to do
Having said that, there are some interesting activities to do even in Guilin. You can take the cruise on the river Lijiang (漓江 and that has nothing to do with another Lijiang, 丽江 one of the most famous destinations in Yunnan province), visit the Reed Flute Cave (芦笛岩), or see the famous rock formation called Elephant Trunk Hill. Guilin is also the starting point for those who want to visit the Rice terraces of Longsheng (龙胜梯田) also called Longji (龙脊梯田). Here’s my guide.
Compared to Yangshuo and Xingping, Guilin is the city best connected with the rest of China. In addition to an airport at the moment, there are three train stations: the north station called Guilin Bei (桂林北站), the west station Guilin Xi (桂林西站), and the main station Guilin (桂林站). On this site, you will find a detailed guide about the train stations in Guilin.
If you have time you could spend a day in Guilin otherwise I suggest you go directly to Yangshuo or Xingping.
Where to stay in Guilin
Xingping (兴坪) travel guide
Xingping is the most beautiful place among the three and strangely enough at the moment the least touristic. In Xingping you’ll find the place portrayed in the 20RMB banknotes. In Xingping the Li river has the most spectacular part and always in Xingping you can find the famous cormorant fishermen (you will find more detailed information about them in the next article).
Most people do a day trip to Xingping while staying in Yangshuo. I recommend instead staying at least two nights in Xingping.
Xingping: top things to do
The city of Xingping doesn’t have much to offer and at the moment it’s basically a huge construction site with a lot of buildings undergoing renovation and new hotels popping up everywhere. But those who visit Xingping certainly don’t do it for the city.
One of the most famous destinations in Xingping is the hill called Xianggong hill (相公山 )from where you can watch the sunrise. If you plan to go there to photograph the landscape with a tripod be prepared to face a crowd of photographers.
When I visited the rice terraces of Yuanyang years ago I experienced what it means to compete with hundreds of Chinese photographers for a spot to place the tripod. I was therefore psychologically prepared but unfortunately, I arrived in Xianggong hill a “bit late” (“just” one hour before the sunrise) and all the best spots were already taken. Keep it in mind if you have a tripod.
The best option to get to Xianggong hill is to ask the hotel where you are staying to arrange for a driver to take you there and back. Expect to pay at least 150RMB round trip. You’ll also have to pay an entrance fee to climb the very steep stairs (built by a local man years ago) that in 30 minutes will take you to the top of the hill.
Another activity for those who visit Xingping (especially for the Chinese) is the cruise on the Li river, which I don’t recommend: the experience is not authentic and also overpriced.
Xingping is divided into two by the Li River and to cross it you can take a small ferry (at the cost of 5RMB) that in 5 minutes will take you to the other side. If you are not planning to do the cruise, the ferry can be a very cheap and short alternative.
If you love photography, in Xingping you can organize a photo session (for a fee) with one of the fishermen who (used to) use the cormorants to fish. I don’t want to get into a debate about how morally correct or not is it to promote this practice but it is part of the cultural heritage of these people, whether you like it or not.
How to get to Xingping from Guilin
The train station called Yangshuo is actually located in Xingping which is regularly connected to Guilin by fast trains. It will only take you 20 minutes to get there. Alternatively, you can take a bus or a taxi from Guilin but I don’t recommend it: the bus takes too long and the taxi is too expensive.
Where to stay in Xingping
Xingping is rapidly developing and it will become increasingly touristy in the future. If you want to avoid tourists I strongly recommend staying in this guesthouse. It’s located on the hills just outside Xingping and it’s like going back in time. The host is a fantastic person (also a very good photographer) who will give you many tips on what to see in the area. His wife is an excellent cook and you’ll love her food. The only downside of staying in this guesthouse is that it’s located in a place not accessible by public transport so you’ll have to ask the owner to take you down to Xingping if you plan to visit the city.
The owner of the guesthouse built the path to the mountain from where I took the first photo of the article. It took him over a year and he spent his own money on it. So far he doesn’t charge people to get to the mountain (unlike Xianggong hill).
Yangshuo (阳朔) travel guide
The city of Yangshuo is rapidly developing and is surrounded by spectacular mountains. It’s probably one of the most characteristic cities in China due to the unique karst hills surrounding it.
Yangshuo : top things to do
The center of Yangshuo is West Street where you’ll find all sorts of things you can expect to find in any other tourist city in China: Starbucks, Bubble Tea shops, fast foods, and an endless amount of souvenir shops as well as many hostels and hotels to suit all budgets. In the evening, many bars turn into nightclubs. This contrasts very much with the surrounding landscape and is one of the reasons why I chose to stay outside Yangshuo.
About 8 km from Yangshuo there is the famous Moon Hill, a hill with a hole in the middle that resembles a crescent moon. You can get there by bike (it costs between 10RMB and 20RMB per day) and it takes about an hour. Alternately you can get there by taxi. To access the path (with over 800 steps) you will have to pay a ticket.
What I recommend to do in Yangshuo is to rent a bike. The ideal starting point is from the hotel called Tea Cozy (which I recommend later in the article and that on the map is marked with the letter F). Then keep riding northwards with the Li river on your left side until you get to the bridge called Fuli (副里桥) (marked with the letter C).
I suggest you stop for lunch in the restaurant/hotel Secret Garden. All the staff speaks English and you will find both Western dishes (which you will start to crave after a few days in China) and traditional Chinese dishes cooked really well. The building is also located in a very characteristic village where there are not many tourists.
From the Secret Garden continue north to the point shown on the map where you will find the Fuli Bridge. Keep in mind that Google Maps is not very accurate in China. The Fuli Bridge for example is not present but I still marked the village where it’s located. You will also find directions along the way. From the Fuli bridge start riding back until you get to the area marked with the letter D (Yulong Bridge Scenic Area) and then cross the river. From that bridge onward keep riding south, staying on the west bank of the river. You will pass through many villages and characteristic areas where you will most likely be the only tourist.
Most of the route runs along the Li river and you’ll see that a lot of Chinese tourists choose to take a “cruise” on one of the bamboo rafts. Personally, I found them quite boring and also expensive: about 300RMB. If you want to try it, you can ride your bike north until you get to the pier, leave the bike there and get on the raft. The bike will be returned to the other pier at the end of the route.
How to get from Guilin to Yangshuo
Yangshuo is well connected to Guilin. If you think to get there by train be careful because as I said before the station called Yangshuo is located in Xingping (just to make life more difficult for foreign tourists) and NOT in Yangshuo. If you are not interested in visiting Xingping this option is not the best since, once you’ll arrive at the station, you will then have to get to the bus station and take a minibus to Yangshuo. It will end up costing you too much and you will waste a lot of time. Here you can book the train ticket.
The best and cheapest option is to take a bus from Guilin Central Station (about 10 minutes from Guilin Main Train Station 桂林站). There are two types of buses: the direct buses and the local buses (that take longer because they make several stops) The buses leave approximately every 20 minutes. In about an hour and a half (by direct bus) you will reach your destination.
If you want to get to Yangshuo from Guilin airport (which is located almost 30 km from the center of Guilin and about 80 km from Yangshuo) there are direct buses that depart about every hour and a half from 9:30 to 22:30. It takes about an hour and a half to get to the Yangshuo bus station. If you plan to travel between Guilin and Yangshuo with a private driver you will spend at least 350RMB.
Yangshuo is also well connected to Xingping (about 30 km away) by minibusses that you can take from the Xingping bus station until 18:00. It will take you about 40 minutes and the ticket doesn’t cost much.
Where to stay in Yangshuo
Yangshuo has no shortage of hotels. You’ll find options for every budget. I recommend staying outside the city at the Tea Cozy, a really nice hotel in the Chinese countryside in a village called Xiatang (夏棠寨) just a couple of kilometers from Yangshuo. The hotel is located in the heart of the Yulong He River (遇龙河), also called Little Li River, a tributary of the Lijiang River in the Yulonghe Scenic Area (遇龙河景区). The entire area is closed to traffic for non-residents.
Useful tips to visit Yangshuo and Xingping
- In the whole area of Guilin and Yangshuo taxis cost a lot (at least compared to the rest of China). Expect to pay 100rmb for a few kilometers ride. If you want to save money you can use the taxi service Didi (the equivalent of Uber) but if you don’t live in China it can be difficult to make the app work. Alternatively, contact the guesthouse I suggested in Xingping. The owner is very helpful and he found me a private driver who saved me about 30% compared to the normal fees. In simple terms, if saving money is your priority don’t be afraid of asking around.
- As I wrote at the beginning of the article, pay attention to the season in which you decide to visit Yangshuo. It rains a lot and it’s hot and humid for most of the year. If you can choose, I suggest you go there in November.
- Before visiting China don’t forget to download a VPN as I explained here. Without a VPN you will lose access to all Western social media and Google (including Google Maps). There are several options and I recommend this one.
- If this is your first time in China here you will find my complete travel guide.
Here are some more pictures I took in Yangshuo and Xingping. If you are looking for other places to visit in China here you will find all my articles. Here’s my list of the tops things to see in Tibet.