Julie China 14 Comments

Our adventures in China continue with an amazing visit to the town of Yangshuo. When you see paintings and artwork of China, this is the area used so frequently. Bumpy limestone mountains, fishing boats and bamboo rafts drifting along the Li River, small villages located in the valleys, this is a beautiful part of China.

Arriving in Yangshuo

Earth Trekkers

We were greeted at the Guilin train station by our driver, who was holding a sign that read, “Earth Trekkers Welcome to Yangshuo.” That was the first time we were identified as Earth Trekkers; usually it’s with a sign with something boring on it like my name or “Rivenbark Family.” Using “Earth Trekkers” is so much cooler.

Gerd, the man who runs our hotel in Yangshuo, the Yangshuo Village Retreat, is a big fan of our travels. We have been communicating with him since reserving this hotel nine months earlier.

It takes an hour and a half by car to travel from Guilin to Yangshuo. Gerd greeted us at the entrance to the hotel. He said the same thing we have been thinking…that he knew us already. It was so nice to finally be here.

Gerd showed us to our room, the family suite on the fourth floor. This room, or rooms I should say, was amazing. Tim and I had a gigantic bedroom, furnished with an ornate, French bed, giant bathroom, living room area, and a flat screen TV. Tyler and Kara had their own separate bedroom with a twin and a double bed. This was our home for four nights and we loved it here.

We ate most of our meals at the hotel restaurant, which serves a mix of Chinese and western style food.  This was perfect for our family…Tyler could get his spaghetti bolognese fix here (which was delicious!) and the rest of us could eat Chinese food.

Cycling the Li River Valley

We spent our first full day cycling along the Li River valley from Xingping. Xingping is a small town located a half an hour north of Yangshuo and accessible by bus, car, or bicycle. We loved Xingping, climbing Laozhai Mountain, wandering the ancient city streets, and cycling around the very picturesque countryside.

Li Valley by bike

Learning Chinese Calligraphy

One of the highlights for Kara and I was taking a Chinese calligraphy class. A Chinese man named Zeng Song set up our calligraphy station in the dining area of our hotel:  paper, brushes, and black ink. For one hour Tyler, Kara, and I were his students. Tim chose to watch.

The calligraphy paper resembled graph paper, only with oversized boxes containing horizontal, vertical, and diagonal lines for frame of reference. We started off by making small accent marks, really just dots with a point on one side. It sounds easy but it was a lot more difficult than it looks.

Once our dots looked acceptable, we continued with the basics, like horizontal and vertical lines, followed by curved lines. It really must take a lot of practice to get used to these brushes; our teacher made it look so easy and we were struggling to paint a straight line.

Calligraphy Lesson

Learning Calligraphy

Learning Chinese Calligraphy


During the second half of the lesson we learned how to draw the characters for the numbers and several common words. It got much more difficult very quickly. The grand finale was learning how to write our names and we even had him write “Earth Trekkers” for us.

Calligraphy in China

Earth Trekkers in Mandarin

Kara loved this class. She was determined to do her best and had fun learning the English for each character. This is a great way to learn the Chinese characters. Now that Kara can recognize some of the characters that we see written on everything she is eager to keep learning more.

Time to learn Kung Fu

The calligraphy class was fun for us, but what Tyler was really looking forward to was Kung Fu. At 3 pm the same day we had a Kung Fu lesson. Tyler and Kara took the class and Tim and I were their audience.

Across town we were dropped off at a Tai Chi School. The dojo, or whatever it is called in Chinese, was an outdoor paved platform with a metal roof overhead. Surrounding the platform was a small moat. The facility was open to the outside air and we could look out over old brick buildings with tiled roofs to the nearby. It was like being in the movie Kung Fu Panda.

Yangshuo Tai Chi School

The Kung Fu Master was a young Chinese woman with long hair, glasses, and a bright red coat. I brought shorts and T-shirts for Tyler and Kara to wear, thinking this would be inside, but those would not be necessary. It was chilly…it couldn’t have been more than 50 degrees outside.

Tim and I were instructed to sit on the concrete benches to watch. As we sat there, huddled together, buttocks freezing from the cold concrete seats, we knew this was going to be a long two hours. The setting was awesome but the cold weather, not so much.

Learning Kung Fu

Tyler Rivenbark doing Kung Fu

Tyler and Kara were the only students, which was great since they dislike large group activities. After a long warm up and stretching they began learning Kung Fu, Tai Chi style. The Master proceeded to teach them a series of Tai Chi movements, dancelike movements that look cool but left Tyler and Kara wondering where the punching and kicking came into all of this. It was similar to learning “wax on, wax off” in the movie “Karate Kid.”

Towards the end of the lesson the Master demonstrated how these movements are used to block and punch and a light bulb went off in Tyler and Kara’s heads. At the end of the two hours the kids had the basics of the Tai Chi movements down.

Tyler thought the class was awesome and Kara thought it was a little boring. Both were very chilly and had very cold hands. Tim and I were frozen but really enjoyed the experience. Tyler and Kara, learning Tai Chi and Kung Fu in this awesome setting in Yangshuo, China…add this to the long list of amazing experiences we have had during these last 245 days.

Exploring Yangshuo

We spent our final day touring the town of Yangshuo.  It was a cold afternoon, another day in the high forties. We were wearing shirts, fleeces, and rain jackets and were still chilly. The sky was overcast but at least it wasn’t raining.

We toured an outdoor market and bought our first Chinese artwork. Bargaining is key here and it is one of our favorite things about shopping. I think sometimes we buy things just for the game of bargaining. Here in Yangshuo, they start with a ridiculously high price and we go back and forth until we get it a fraction of what they were originally asking.

Tyler in China

Playing Cards Yangshuo

We walked down to the Li River for more views of those bumpy mountains that I like seeing so much.

There was a grumpy Chinese man here who was charging people for the pleasure of holding his two birds on a bamboo pole. His sign read 3 yuan. Kara and I walked over with our 3 yuan (50 cents) and handed it to the man. He refused, stating his price was 5 yuan. I knew if I walked away, he’d call us back over and accept the 3 yuan. Why not? He is just sitting there waiting for interested people to want to hold his birds.  I was right. He grudgingly called us over, accepted the 3 yuan, and let Kara hold the bamboo pole.

Kara Rivenbark

Shopping in Yangshuo

After getting our view of the Li River, we walked up West Street, an awesome pedestrian shopping area. Small lanes of shops, labeled with Chinese characters and decorated with Chinese lanterns, filled the area.  It looked amazing. All four of us love seeing the Chinese characters. What is it about them that look so cool?

Strolling these streets was so much fun. There were numerous shops selling mystery food, fashionable clothing, and there were plenty of bars and restaurants.

We tried some street food as well. Tim, Kara, and I tried tofu (not so good) and fried dough filled with pork and veggies (much better than the tofu). We all ate honey candy, small chunks of orange, hard, crunchy candy that was delicious.


Market Stand

Yangshuo Street in March

Yangshuo Street Food

Bad Panda

Yangshuo China

Making Friends


Shopping in Yangshuo

Food Stand Yangshuo

Grocery Shopping

Grocery shopping was another adventure. There were some recognizable foods: Lays potato chips, Oreos, Gatorade, and crackers called Tuc (which we had on our first night in Rome). There was even Crest toothpaste.

There were also a lot of strange foods: waxberries, packaged chicken feet, and boxes and boxes of food labeled in Chinese. I also saw peanuts, a whole aisle of them, packaged in every form peanuts can be eaten.  I didn’t show Tyler; he would have called it the “aisle of death.”

Grocery Store Yangshuo China

Snacks in China

Oreos China

Crest Toothpaste China


For dinner we went to the busiest restaurant in the area and took our seats. Let the staring commence. Yes, people at the neighboring tables could not stop looking at us.

We were handed a menu with photos. Awesome! I am so worried that at some point I am going to go eenie, meenie, miney, mo and pick something like cow intestines or pig stomach.

We ordered garlic beef, fried shrimp, Guilin noodle soup, and a big plate of broccoli. It was all delicious and so unlike Chinese food we would eat at home. The Guilin noodle soup was enormous and my favorite thing on the table. It was a big bowl of rice noodles in beef broth served with slices of beef and chopped up green beans. I ate way more than I needed to and I may need a bigger pair of pants before we leave China.

Garlic Beef

Restaurant in Yangshuo

And just like that our time in Yangshuo was over. It was an awesome experience and everything we imagined it would be. From here we have several days of travel ahead of us to get us to our next destination, Zhangjiajie, China.  Say that three times fast!

Where to Stay in Yangshuo

The owners of the Yangshuo Village Retreat (where we stayed during our visit in 2015) have since opened a boutique hotel in Yangshuo called The Bamboo Leaf. It has an outdoor pool, rooftop restaurant, rooms with views of the karst mountain peaks, and it gets rave reviews. 

More Information about China

BEIJING, CHINA: Learn about things to do in Beijing, what it is like to visit the Great Wall of China, and how to hike from Jiankou to Mutianyu on the Great Wall of China.

ZHANGJIAJIE: Take a photo tour of Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, learn how to visit Tianmen Mountain, and explore the market in Zhangjiajie.

TAIWAN: Here are 10 interesting facts about Taiwan. Journey through Taipei in photos, learn how to hike Teapot Mountain, and go on a food tour through Taiwan.

TRAVEL BLOGGING: This website started with a trip around the world and has become one of the most popular travel sites on the internet. Learn more about what it is like to run this website in our article My Life as a Travel Blogger.

Read all of our articles about China in our China Travel Guide.


Yangshuo China Travel


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Comments 14

  1. Avatar for Garavon

    No wonder the kids were confused — there is no ,”Tai Chi style of King Fu” — they are related disciplines but different. You went to a Tai Chi Chuan school, so they were teaching Tai Chi, not Kung Fu

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
    2. Avatar for J
  2. Avatar for Ethan


    Enjoying your travel blog. I was wondering if you can give me some insight into how you traveled from Yangshuo to Zhangjiajie? Thanks!

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      From Yangshuo, we had a driver take us to Guilin. From Guilin, we took a train to Changsha, slept overnight at Changsha, and then took a morning train to Zhangjiajie. We chose trains because they worked better with our budget. If Guilin or somewhere nearby has an airport, you can also fly to Zhangjiajie. But going through Changsha is nothing special. Just a typical city and there are no important sites worth visiting, at least that I am aware of. Cheers, Julie

  3. Avatar for Soffy


    The mystery food you mentioned is called “Pu-erh tea”, which is a famous name card of Yunnan province. Pu-erh tea belongs to “dark tea” in Chinese tea category. It is a full fermented tea, as well as post-fermented tea. The tea infusion color of ripe Pu-erh tea is even darker than black tea. I believe you can find Pu-erh tea in any China town around the world. Hope you will get a chance to taste this tea. Better try the ripe Pu-erh tea, or aged Pu-erh tea (stored more than 10 years). It tastes not bitter at all. Pu-erh tea is similar to wine, the longer it has been stored, the better it tastes.

    BTW, Yunnan province is also an amazing and beautiful place worthy for a visit.

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
  4. Avatar for Carroll

    Loving your posts as always, but as we all know, how the temperature feels outside is all relative. Today here in Maryland it hit 55 degrees and everyone was loving the warmth after so many days in the teens and single digits. And then I read this above- “It was chilly…it couldn’t have been more than 50 degrees outside.” 🙂

    1. Avatar for Ken


      My wife and I are off to China in a couple months are are ‘independent’ tourists. We are outdoors types. We are going places like you did such as Guilin and Zhangjiajie. My question is how much planning of what you did in such places did you do in advance vs when you got there? Guilin, for example, it appears you preplanned the driver – how did you find this driver in advance? You then used taxis to get around, which I presume were from an app? The bike hiring – in advance or worked it out once there? Appreciate your help! Looking online tours with guides look so expensive! Thanks! (We are from NZ – glad you loved it here!)

      1. Avatar for Julie Post

        Hello Ken. We did all of our planning/arranging things once we arrived. I had picked out what we wanted to do and then had our hotel staff help us get everything booked. There was no problem doing this at the last minute, but this was in 2105, in late February, the off season, so that helped. Our hotel staff also helped us arrange the drivers. We found the bike shop and just went in and rented bikes for a few hours. As for taxis, we didn’t have an app, I can’t recall what we did but we may have just flagged one down. Unfortunately, the hotel we stayed in has since gone out of business. They were so helpful in helping us arrange everything. If you can find a small, boutique hotel with service like that, it could save you the money from booking tours. Cheers, Julie

        1. Avatar for Gerd

          Hey hey, hi Julie ! Gerd here from The Yangshuo Village Retreat !
          What an amazing travel service you offer here.
          Correct we’ve moved on to build our very own boutique hotel just a bit further down the same village, The Bamboo Leaf.
          Lovely balcony rooms overlooking the paddy fiels below and the karst peaks beyond, remember those ?
          Got a swimming pool now and rooftop restaurant too, both with amazing views.
          And even after all these years, half our team hasn’t changed, Flower, Amy, Feya, still there to show anyone the sheer beauty of their landscape and culture.
          Thanks for sharing all these travel tips and tricks and best wishes to you, Tim, Tyler & Kara !
          Happy travels,

          1. Avatar for Julie Post

            It’s so nice to hear from you! I’ll update this article with your new boutique hotel (I just looked it up and it looks amazing). What fond memories we have of our stay in Yangshuo and at the Yangshuo Village Retreat. Thanks for writing in with this info! Cheers, Julie

  5. Avatar for Gerd

    Hey Trekkers,

    Really nice to read once more you have had a great time here in Yangshuo, it was a true pleasure to meet and accommodate such an adventurous family!

    The mystery food you refer to above is hard pressed tea packed in the most dense way to carry as much tea as possible taking the least amount of space for generally the long trip ahead to China’s frontiers or across the border. To pack it in its shape and density the tea is half fermented and therefor belongs somewhere in the middle of black (fermented) and green (non fermented) tea. It is considered to be a Mongolian invention now frequently used by minorities in Yunnan province. They call it a ‘chazhuan’ which means ‘tea brick’ as they have to use a hammer and chisel to break it! Generally not a favorite with Han Chinese, the tea is usually drunk by minorities and Mongolians who tend to add milk, sugar and often even cheese to soften its bitter flavor.

    Thanks for keeping us entertained with your adventures, I am already looking forward to meet again in the future!

    All the best,
    Yangshuo Village Retreat
    Amazing China

  6. Avatar for Brian

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