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A diamond in the rough: Yangshuo, China, has it all for travellers and expats

Avid traveller and tour guide Benjamin Johnson sings the praises of the rural Chinese town of Yangshuo, a lively centre of expat life surrounded by some of the most stunning scenery to be found anywhere in the world. So, just what is it that draws so many people to this beautiful, thriving, friendly and inexpensive town?

Tucked away among the picturesque limestone mountains near Guilin is the town of Yangshuo.

The area is world-famous for its scenery, which has inspired classical Chinese artists for centuries.

It has also become well known among travellers and expats in China and Southeast Asia as a ‘diamond in the rough’ among the sprawling smoggy cities of Mainland China.

Rural China, as spectacular as it is to look at, is not the first place you’d expect to find a thriving expat community.

Walking down the narrow pedestrian alleys of the town you pass countless hostels, bars and restaurants teeming with foreigners, both expat and tourist.

So, what brings all these people to Yangshuo? And why do so many stay long-term? Are these people on the run for tax evasion? Do they actually like using squatty potties? Is that why they have hidden themselves in the depths of Guangxi province? 

Well first of all, the scenery is ridiculously picturesque. Every corner brings you into a new landscape that is certain to take your breath away.

It’s so spectacular that I have crashed my scooter on several occasions because I have taken my eyes off the road to admire the peaks all around me.

Secondly, many come here for adventure. Yangshuo offers the best rock climbing in Asia, as well as other activities such as, rafting, trekking, abseiling, zip-lining and kayaking. If none of those take your fancy, then there are miles of bike trails along quiet countryside roads.

If the great outdoors isn’t your thing, then it’s likely that Yangshuo’s crowning glory will be — the bars.

Quite simply, the nightlife in Yangshuo is like nowhere else in provincial China — and even outshines some of the major cities.

Numerous foreign run bars and restaurants do a thriving trade. Beers flow throughout the night and well into the early hours of the morning.

It has everything every other expat community around the world has, open mic nights, happy hours and of course a weekly pub quiz.

In every one of these institutions you will find a football table, and locals take it very seriously. Never have a I had my dexterity called into question as much as I have living in Yangshuo. Here its fight or die, so bring your best shooting hand and don’t take your eye off that little white ball, unless you want to buy a round of shots (even if they are cheap).

As with anywhere, these bars cater to different crowds, Rusty Bolt is for the climbers, Bad Panda is for the beer pong enthusiasts, the Lounge offers something different every night and is host to the pub quiz, Kaya is for the burnouts and the North Korean-themed DMZ Bar is where everybody seems to end up eventually.

As with any place containing a decent sized western populous you can find all your creature comforts from home. Amazing Indian food at Ganga, blue cheese smothered delights at the Brew, decent pizzas, craft ales — in fact anything that’s hard to find in Southeast Asia is readily available.

We recommend visiting Yangshuo during the warmer months when things are really pumping and the weather is prime for swimming.

If a visit to Yangshuo sounds like your cup of tea then hit up the guys at GNTours who run bar crawls throughout Yangshuo and even run a bar crawl to Yangshuo from Bangkok for 10 days of overland liver destroying madness.