Living in Guangzhou, the third largest city in China, we have a very Chinese-modern lifestyle. While China is a deeply traditional country, Guangzhou is known to be one of the more progressive cities. It is a huge city, with a long history. It is also an affluent city, in fact, the entire Guangdong region is the wealthiest in the country due to it’s location on the Pearl River Delta and being in the heart of factory-country for so many years.
Exploring Guangzhou’s Modern “New Town”
Since being here, we have gone to see “New Town” Guangzhou on a number of occasions. This area along the Pearl River is loaded with skyscrapers, as well as the colorful and uniquely designed Canton Tower. We never tire of visiting the tower plaza at night and watching people play while admiring the lights.
We have also been able to experience our first football (soccer) match while here in Guangzhou. We were so excited to see our first match, and especially here where the local Guangzhou team is known to be one of the best. The experience was quite different than what we are used to at sporting events back home — but we were lucky to have our Chinese friends there to help us out.
Being in Guangzhou has been great, but both Josh and I had really been yearning to get out to see the countryside. Especially with some of the inspiration that we found while making our Pinterest China Bucket List, we just couldn’t wait to get out of town!
My Parents in China – I Never Thought I’d See the Day!
We were excited to have my family come to visit last week. My parents and aunt flew into Hong Kong to spend a few days, then they took the bus up here to meet us in Guangzhou. We had a blast taking them to traditional morning tea (Dim Sum) with our local friends, and then spent the day showing them around the old and new parts of Guangzhou town.
This included a visit to the ancient Chen Clan Ancestral Hall – a place Josh and I hadn’t yet been. We were impressed with the preservation and history of the building. We also loved museum inside, as well as the traditional arts and crafts that were displayed throughout. Being suckers for art, we had to purchase a hand-made piece (literally, he painted the scene with the side-palm of his hand dipped in ink!).
Our First Bullet Train Experience – Into the China Countryside
After our one day in the city, we darted off early the next day on our first bullet train deep into the country. This was an experience that we were all looking forward too, especially dad. Having spent most of his career in the train building industry, he was ecstatic to finally ride a bullet train.
Having ridden many local trains in the past, we couldn’t believe how smooth the ride was. Even at 150+ miles per hour (yes, there is a sign to tell you how fast you are traveling), we hardly felt anything. Watching the scenery fly by, at times it felt like we were flying through the mountains!
After an enjoyable 3 hour journey, we arrived in Guilin (in the Guangxi province) — the launching point for adventures in this stunning and iconic karst mountain region. We had pre-arranged a driver to take us to our ultimate destination (a couple hours from Guilin by van), Yangshuo. We found him waiting for us at the exit of the train station with a sign for us — and off we went.
Yangshuo, China – It’s Touristy, but WORTH EVERY MINUTE!!!
Yangshuo is the ideal location for a trip to the countryside in China. It is popular with both domestic and international tourists. Given it’s popularity, there is a good tourism infrustructure. With plenty of hotels, guesthouses, and hostels to choose from, it’s easy to find a place to stay.
There are many activities to fill your days, so you won’t be bored here. We were actually overwhelmed with all the activity options, we honestly couldn’t decide what we wanted to do most! Activities here tend to be on the outdoorsy side. A popular activity is to go for a ride on a bamboo raft on the river. You can also go hiking, climbing, caving, and visit hot springs. There are also tea farms as well as traditional local villages, and even a historical, traditional fishing village of Xing Ping to visit.
And then there are the miles and miles of biking paths that wind all through the countryside – passing by rivers, farms, and stunning karst mountain landscapes! With so many trails to bike and our limited time, we opted to rent a motorbike so that we could cover more ground. Plus, we kinda missed having the wind in our face while exploring on a motorbike, like when we lived in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Our visit to Yangshuo coincided with rainy season. While the clouds and misty rain added to the ambiance of the amazing mountain scenery, it caused a lot of flooding in and around town! Roads were impassable (including entire blocks in the main touristy area downtown), and it made the river too high to go rafting.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, the award-winning nighttime spectacular show in town, Impression Sanjie Liu, was cancelled because the stage and whole theater was flooded by the river! So sadly, we didn’t get to participate in all the activities that we wanted during our visit.
The Yangshuo Village Retreat – an AWESOME Place to Stay!!!
Even with all the rain, we still had a blast during our visit to Yangshuo. We stayed at the Yangshuo Village Retreat. This guesthouse / boutique hotel was awesome! It was technically just out of town, so it was quiet and had a beautiful location surrounded by the countryside. And the rooftop terrace provides an awesome view!
Yet, the hotel is only a 15 minute walk into town along the scenic river, or guests can take the shuttle free car (unfortunately for us, the car was broken during our visit). The staff at the Yangshuo Village Retreat were incredibly friendly and helpful. The service they provided was top-notch (much higher than service you often find in China), and they spoke great English.
Also, their onsite restaurant served a wide variety of food all day long, and you could site inside or outside on their covered patio tables. Plus, the food was SO good! With a variety of local specialties, as well as a couple Western favorites like eggs benedict, we were in heaven and ate at the restaurant regularly.
Lastly, the rooms were enormous, and included big sitting areas and a balcony overlooking the mountains. The rooms had extremely comfortable beds (a rarity in China) and modern facilities. Even the showers had a great view of the mountains outside. We absolutely loved our experience staying there and can’t recommend it enough for our readers!
West Street is Where the Action is in YangShuo
West Street is where all the action is in Yangshuo. Even though it’s a heavily touristy area, it’s still a lot of fun. The streets are filled with shops and restaurants — a wide variety too. You can have local Chinese food, handmade treats, or hop into a Tapas restaurant or a German Pub.
While we tend to shy away from places like this, we actually enjoyed the atmosphere here. We also noticed that most places had live music at night – so this is definitely a town full of nightlife opportunities!
Exploring the Heart of Guilin, Including the Sun & Mood Pagodas
Sadly, we had to leave Yangshuo after a couple days. Everyone was sad about this — we really loved it there. But we were headed to Guilin. We spent the afternoon in Guilin visiting the old center of the city, climbing a karst peak for a view of town, and learning about the rich educational and literary history of the city.
Then we took a walk down the main pedestrian street to admire some shops, and have a bite to eat at a traditional restaurant. From there, we made our way in the evening to the park where we would see the famous Sun and Moon pagodas.
It was just before dusk, and we arrived at the perfect time to see the pagodas while it was still a bit light outside, but all of the colored lights were turning on around the water. So we just relaxed and talked while walking around the entire lake admiring the pagodas. As it turned darker, all of the lights became more prominent, and we couldn’t get over the beautiful colors!
A Day Trip Isn’t Enough to see the Longji (Longsheng) Rice Terraces!
The next morning, we headed out early for a day trip up to see the Lonji (or Longsheng) Rice Terraces. This famous scenic area is only a couple hours drive from Guilin. To make it easier for us, we booked an escorted day tour.
We normally don’t do big escourted tours, but thought it would work with our limited time. While my parents were staying that night in Guilin, Josh and I had to get back to Guilin that evening to catch a night train because we had to work the next day. Given the itinerary for this day trip, we were supposed to be back in town well before our train left.
In hindsight, we should have a booked a private tour instead of a group tour to really maximize our time. Unfortunately, time was not on our side this day. The bus was over an hour late picking us up, and we ran into multiple accidents on the highway that held us up in total for almost another 2 hours! So by the time we arrived, Josh and I were already worried about getting back to Guilin to catch our train.
A Steep Drive, and a Steep (Long) Hike in the Mountain Villages
Arriving at the Rice Terrace scenic area, we learned that we had to transfer to another bus to get all the way to the top of these mountains. We were surprised at how steep and narrow the road was, and just how high in elevation we would travel so quickly! Finally, we arrived at the village main entrance, where we learned that it was time to get out and hike!
Don’t get me wrong, it was a beautiful hike! But it went on, and we learned that the rest of the day would be like this. Josh and I enjoyed it (even though it was raining), but my mother was simply not able to do this physically challenging hike. We were disappointed that the tour website and itinerary failed to mention this important detail.
Young people like us had no problem, but it is a challenge for others — especially if they are not expecting it. In the end, mom decided to sit at one of the lower villages and relax while the rest of us hiked to the upper villages.
Overall, we were blown away at the scenery during our hike. We made our way on paths and rocky stairs up and up through these villages that were perched high on this steep mountain. All the way, we could smell wonderful aromas from fire-cooked foods, and we walked past little shops selling all kinds of crafts and spices.
We also were surprised to see so many guesthouses up in these villages, even some hostels! Seeing all these great accommodations and maps of hiking trails through the nearby rice fields, really made us want to return for a longer visit in the future.
Leaving the Tour Early So We Wouldn’t Miss Our Train
On this day, we barely made it to the halfway point (where we stopped for our late lunch) before we realized that we wouldn’t make our train if we stayed for the rest of the hike / tour. After lunch the tour group planned to hike further up to yet another village where they would explore the area and see a local show — then they still needed to hike all the way back down to the bus!
Sadly for Josh and I, we just didn’t have time. The estimated return time would have caused us to miss our train.
So we decided to say goodbye to my family at this point, and leave them to finish enjoying the trip without us. Our guide called another group from her company (who left Guilin on time & didn’t get stuck by traffic accidents), and we hitched a ride on their bus back to Guilin – just in time to get our luggage and head to the train station.
Our Visit to the Countryside Only Made Us Yearn for More!
The trip to the Rice Terraces was beautiful — and we thoroughly loved it, had we not been so late and in a rush. We were blown away by the scenery and friendly villagers – the Yao people. Josh and I have vowed to come back to this little peace of tranquility in the future. We will definitely stay up in the village at one of the hotels and spend the day hiking on the rice terrace trails all around the different villages high up in these mountains.
We can’t wait to return, really — to both the Rice Terraces and to the amazing Yangshuo region! Travelers to this part of China should spend a good week in Yangshuo, and a couple days up at the rice terraces. There are so many things to do, you won’t be bored. Plus, it’s a nice change from the busy cities here in China — you will LOVE the peace and tranquility…and cleaner air!
But until our return, here we are back in Guangzhou…working our tails off.