Set on the banks of the Li River, Yangshuo is a scenic resort town in southern China’s Guangxi region, known for its extraordinary scenery. So much so that it appears on the 20 Yuan bill! Think dramatic limestone karsts, magical caves, rice paddies, meandering rivers, and enchanted bridges – in Yangshuo, it’s a reality.
Whether you’re hoping to explore the landscape on foot, by bike, backpacking, or rock climbing, take the time to soak up the beauty of the area. From discovering its quiet valleys and bustling streets to seeking out its butterfly gardens and astonishing underground caves, there are plenty of things to do in Yangshuo.
10. Water Caves
Yangshuo is famous for its epic water caves filled with stalagmites and stalactites, underground mud baths, waterfall pools, and hot springs.
Explore the reflective ponds and extensive underwater pool that stretches into the depths of the Dragon Cave, indulge in a mud bath in the Real Water Cave or Gold Water Cave, or soak in the hot spring in the three-layer Buddha Water Cave.
Don’t miss the Moon Water Cave, one of the largest and best-known underground river caves in Yangshuo, which runs through eight mountains and offers a secret underground pool hidden behind a waterfall.
The boat-in Longmen Water Cave is the largest underground karst cave, with labyrinthine passages running through three mountains that were used as a refuge during World War II. This water cave is the only one that’s not illuminated, so bring a flashlight.
9. Fuli Bridge
Everyone knows about the Dragon Bridge, but not many know about the just-as-beautiful Fuli Bridge just a little bit further upriver. This stand-alone single-arch bridge is tucked along a quiet stretch of the Li River and surrounded by wild countryside. It still boasts most of the original stonework.
Because it’s not as well-known and there are fewer crowds, Fuli Bridge is a popular location for wedding photoshoots. During peak season, however, it’s one of the main bamboo rafting spots and packed with people, so the best time to visit Fuli Bridge is in the early morning.
8. Guilin Butterfly Spring
Named after a butterfly-shaped stalactite found in a grotto inside the park, Guilin Butterfly Spring boasts some of the most picturesque landscapes in Yangshuo. Home to thousands of free-flying butterflies, it’s the largest live butterfly garden in China.
As you may already have guessed, everything inside the park is butterfly-themed. A huge Monarch Butterfly model on a cliff beside the entranceway is a major drawcard for rock climbing enthusiasts, while a cave offers a fascinating mix of butterfly-shaped stalactites. The Exhibition Hall is home to over 10,000 butterflies from 300 different species – including the Papillon, one of the most beautiful butterflies on Earth.
Other highlights include a stroll through the Butterfly Garden, a walk over the Butterfly Bridge, and a climb to the top of Butterfly Hill for a spectacular view. Don’t miss the Honeybee Garden, where you can taste fresh wild honey!
7. Guilin Laozhai Mountain
The Guilin Laozhai Mountain was once just wild and rugged terrain until a Japanese tourist climbed the mountain and discovered the potential of the area. He built a pathway and two pavilions to provide access to the top of the mountain, and he opened it for everyone to use free of charge.
The Guilin Laozhai Mountain is now one of the most popular viewpoints to catch a glimpse of the sunrise and sunset over Xingping Town in the Yangshuo Valley.
If you’re planning a visit yourself, allow at least an hour to climb the 1,149 stone steps. The views from the top are truly worth the effort; you’ll have a bird’s eye view over the iconic limestone karsts, rolling valleys, river, and villages. Don’t forget your camera!
6. West Street
Tucked within the heart of Yangshuo, West Street is a popular pedestrianized street that’s known for its impressive architecture and souvenir stores. This S-shaped road is paved with local marble and dates back over 1,400 years!
Yangshuo West Street, also known as Foreigner’s Street, is an excellent blend of east and west in China, and a trendy backpacker’s destination. In fact, it’s one of the most visited tourist spots – three times as many tourists visit West Street each year than locals (around 100,000 every year!)
There’s always something happening on West Street. It’s the biggest foreign language center in China, and the street is overflowing with everything from craft shops, calligraphy stores, and Chinese Kung Fu academies to stores selling embroidered silk cloth, wax-painted weaving, and embroidered shoes.
West Street is particularly bustling at night with its foreigner-run bars and cafes. Have a taste of typical Chinese cuisine here, such as Ciba (a Chinese-style rice cake), and the rice noodles of Yangshuo.
5. Silver Cave
The Silver Cave is the largest karst cave in Guilin and a pure example of the typical karst scenery in southern China. This magical, multi-level cave winds its way through 12 peaks and up 16 stories. Split into three – the ground-level cave, the main hall, and the upper-level cave – it features glittering crystal stalactites hanging from the roof; their magical silvery color is what gives the cave its name.
The extraordinary stalactites and stalagmites inside the Silver Cave have been formed by water slowly dripping into the cave over thousands of years. They come in all shapes and sizes, from columns and towers to waterfalls and even human shapes!
Don’t miss the Three Wonders, which includes the Flying Waterfall of Snow Mountain – a snow-like wonderland, Wonderland in a Jade Pool Fairyland with its ever-changing multicolored lake, and the Music Stone Screen, where you can create music by tapping on the different-sized stones.
The Three Treasures are also a major highlight here. Check out the Preaching Buddha, the Single Pillar, and the Hunyuan Pearl Umbrella. As the cave is cool in summer and warm in winter, it’s the perfect destination for visiting all year round.
4. Xianggong Mountain
Xianggong Mountain, also known as Hebao Mountain after the village located at its foot, is a scenic hilltop nestled between Mural Hill and Yellow Cloth Shoal in Xingping Town.
Once simply an obscure karst hill, it was made famous by a local Chinese photographer who entered his photographs into an international photography competition. Since then, the mountain has been inundated with photographers and tourists hoping to catch a glimpse of the sensational view for themselves.
The word ‘Xiang Gong’ refers to a government official in ancient times; perhaps you’ll notice that the mountain is shaped like a man wearing the official hat and dress of feudal China.
The top of Xianggong Hill offers the best views over the Li River and its fishermen, endless rice fields, bamboo rafts, and the surrounding karst peaks of Yangshuo. The hike is steep but short, with handrails and viewing platforms along the way. Allow at least 15 minutes to get to the top. For the best view, aim to climb the hill just before sunrise!
3. Moon Hill
Moon Hill is an arched mountain in Yulong River Park on the outskirts of Yangshuo. Forming part of the Guilin Mountains, it’s famous because of its unusual moon-shaped hole-in-the-hill that attracts hikers and rock climbers from far and wide.
A total of 800 marble-paved steps, known as ‘Appreciating Moon Path,’ lead up to the ‘Moon Palace’ – the hole at the top of the hill. Here, you’ll find a smooth wall and various stalactites hanging from the ceiling, three of which resemble a fairy, a rabbit, and a woodcutter.
There are 14 rock climbing routes on the north-western side of Moon Hill, offering plenty of opportunities for both novice and professional rock climbers. The Annual Yangshuo Climbing Festival, one of the best in Asia, is held here in October and attracts thousands of climbers from all over the world.
Another highlight on the calendar at Moon Hill is the August Mid-Autumn Festival when locals light lanterns made of grapefruit on the grassy slopes at the foot of the hill and then launch them into the Li River at midnight for good luck.
2. Yangdi-Xingping Scenic Area
There aren’t many places as ruggedly beautiful as the Yangdi-Xingping Scenic Area. Characterized by meandering rice paddies, limestone karst mountains, quaint villages, bamboo groves, scenic caves, and patchworks of farmland, it’s truly photogenic.
The Yangdi-Xingping Scenic Area is most famously enjoyed with a leisurely float on a bamboo raft down the Li River, between Yangdi and Xingping.
For those who would prefer to explore the area on foot, there’s also a hiking route between Yangdi and Xingping. Keep an eye out for the Nine Horses Painted Hill, believed to have nine horse faces etched into the side of the rock!
1. Yulong River Valley
The Yulong River Valley is one of Yangshuo‘s most picturesque farming regions, passing through the quaint villages of Litang, Putao, Chaolong, Yima, and Gaotian town. The Yulong River, which means ‘meeting the Dragon River,’ is a peaceful tributary of China’s popular Li River.
As well as the standard scenery of rice paddies, bamboo groves, quaint villages, and karst mountain peaks, there are low-lying fields filled with pomelos, tangerines, and mandarin oranges. Nature lovers will be in their element here, with countless opportunities for hiking, biking, and bamboo rafting.
What makes the Yulong River Valley special is that it’s vehicle-restricted. Only locally owned and registered cars are permitted in the park, and only non-motorized boats operate on this section of the river.
Visitors driving their own car will have to park and buy a ticket for the shuttle bus or take the local transport – bamboo rafts that ferry locals between the small villages. With a focus on the slow life, there’s more time to stop and – quite literally – smell the oranges.