It wasn’t the easiest place to visit but such a great comparison to our time in the massive cities of Beijing and Hong Kong. If you have ever wondered what Halong Bay (outside of Hanoi, Vietnam) would be like without the water, than Yangshuo is the place for you.
We flew from Beijing to Guilin, China and then had a driver take us to our hotel outside of Yangshuo, about a 45 minutes drive. Arriving in early June, we were faced with steady rains, massive humidity and a temperature that ranged from high 70s at night to the mid 80s during the days Nothing that got wet really ever dried out. We stayed at a wonderful hotel called the Secret Garden. Our family room was amazing with a big loft for the kids and their own bathroom upstairs.
John and I rented bikes our first day to see if we could find Yangshuo via the bike path. The path turns out to be a well paved right-of-way for bikes, pedestrians, motor bikes and the occasional car which is about 20 feet wide and easy to follow. A pretty easy 45 minute bike ride through the country side got us into town, where we used all our Vietnam biking in traffic skills to get through town to the famous West St. and the Li River.
The next day we decided not to take a long drive to see the terraced rice fields. If we had not spent months in Asia by this point and have seen miles of rice fields by now we might have felt differently, and we wouldn’t necessarily say to skip it, but for us we felt we had seen lots of rice growing by this time. Plus, the bike ride from the Secret Garden hotel into Yangshuo was about 8km and passed through amazing country side scenes of people working in the fields as if we were slowly pedaling through a movie set. We decided to do an art class and cooking class. The girls learned how to make classic Chinese dishes while John and I learned to make the classic “long life and prosperity” – bamboo and panda ink drawing. We all had a great time and noted it was one of our favorite days. John and I explored a local park while the girls finished and watched folks enjoying playing cards, talking, playing chess and even signing together. After a walk down West St. we got our ride back home.
Judi’s report on the Cooking Class: The cooking class was great. We met our teacher, Jenny, near the market so she could walk us through to see all the fresh ingredients we’d need to cook our dishes. We were signed up with a fun family of 4 from Montreal, Canada. We really enjoyed learning about the different seasonings and fruits and vegetables. It was a bit more traumatizing walking by the caged animals, ready for selection to be butchered. While I realize our where our meat comes from, it was hard to see the cute bunnies, chickens, and guinea pigs waiting to be selected. (Thankfully, our teacher had already purchased our chicken and pork.) Our teacher warned us that dog is also popular meat selected at the market and that was a bit traumatizing to see.
The class was an easy walk from the market. We made cucumber salad in vinegar sauce, braised eggplant with string beans, kung bao chicken, and sweet and sour pork. We got to eat our creations and got the recipes to take home. The food felt very easy to cook–of course we had our cooking stations and food mostly prepped for us. I’m looking forward to trying the recipes at home…but I have to search for the precise ingredients when we get home, I don’t keep many of them handy in my pantry.
On our last full day we all biked into Yangshuo as a family and took the time to watch the locals, have the kids experience an indoor ice-cave attraction / play area in town, buy a few post cards and watch the beauty of the Li River flow. We barely made it home as the torrential rains came guarantying that we would be packing wet clothes for our flight to Hong Kong. We enjoyed the oasis that was the Secret Garden where we could play cards or dice in the evenings and had our dinners and breakfasts in their stunning dining area. It was exactly the countryside experience with amazing landscapes we had hoped to find.
The books and blogs have it right that this is a beautiful and amazing region. West Street in Yangshuo is quickly becoming just a row of tourist trap shops and we agree with some of the writings that Yangshuo is too touristy and adventurers are being directed further down the Li River for more authentic sights. But, having the experience of staying outside of Yangshuo and biking the 8km in gave us the best of all of it.