There is plenty au naturel to see in Yangshuo: karst peaks, plains and villages. Fortunately, Yangshuo's many pretty sights are incredibly well-connected. Rent a bike for a day from one of the many bicycle rental shops in Yangshuo and drink in the sights as you pedal.
A leisurely 30-minute ride from Yangshuo, and to the west of the highway, is Moon Hill, a limestone pinnacle with a moon-shaped hole square in the middle. It cost RMB 9 to access Moon Hill's superb view; there are stairs that lead from the bottom of Moon Hill to its windy, arched peak. Be prepared for a good workout as you haul yourself to the top. The path gets narrower, rougher and more slippery as you near the peak, but the panoramic view is worth the sweat. If you start at 5:30am, you can make it in good time for the electrifying sunrise. On a clear day, you get a rewarding 360-degree-view of karst topography and Jinbao River unfurling in the distant horizon.
If you're hungry from your climb, head for Moon Hill Village, just across the road from Moon Hill. Mama Moon is a sprightly tour guide who speaks a smattering of eight foreign languages and whips up a delicious spread of village fare for the famished including tomato and egg omelets, fresh fish, steamed chicken, and tasty winter melon soup.
Climbing enthusiasts will be thrilled with the thousands of natural peaks to test their rock-climbing skills. Climbing equipment is easily available from Mountain Retreat, Lizard Lounge and Karst Caféall located in Yangshuo. Suggested peaks include Copper Door (opposite Mountain Retreat), Gold Cat Hill and Thumb Peak. Or try scaling slippery Green Lotus Hill, Upper and Lower Antenna Hills.
Just a stone's throw away is a series of newly opened caves: Black Buddha Caves,Water Caves and Dragon Cave. Entrance fee ranges from RMB 100 to a steep RMB 120 per person. The Water Caves have garnered rave reviews, but be prepared to leave damp and slightly dirty from your splashing about. The boat ride into the dark cave seems foreboding –the limestone canopy dips so low at certain points, passage between rock and water seems impossible, but somehow the master oarsman gets the crew through. The tour inside the cave can take up to 5 hours, after which you can rest your feet at the Water Cave Café.
The Black Buddha Caves, located at the back of Moon Hill Village boast rich mineral clays with purported medicinal qualities. You can buy a bathing suit from the equipment shop near the cave entrance and your exploration can last up to 3 hours. There are no toilets in the cave, but it's discreetly dark. A popular cave activity is the muddy mudslides. All hell breaks loose on this sludgy playground as adults are transformed to gleeful seven years old rolling in dollops of thick gooey mud.
Famous for its exquisite Ming dynasty architecture and centuries-old wood carvings, Xingping Village is also noteworthy for its superior. Seven mountains forma protective shield around the village and two stone guardians stand erect at the village entrance. Together, they keep the temptations of the modern world at bay, but these relics also tend to discourage proper sanitation and sanitary habits. Odors of the natural kind abound in this rural backwater albeit culturally rich village.
Ornamental eaves, elegant sloping roofs and ancient homes have long drawn scholars and dignitaries to walk the quaint back alleys. It's said that Sun Yat-sen visited the village when he was preparing to tackle the warlords of the north. In 1998, former American President Bill Clinton also popped by. Xingping can be reached from Yangshuo via a RMB 2.50 minibus, but picture-perfect Xingping is best appreciated if you bike or walk along the country roads.
The scenery along the Li River, which snakes all the way from Guilin, will knock you senseless – it's got the Chinese ideal of water and mountains. Farmers, children and water buffaloes are visible along the many river bends playing, washing, collecting water or transporting their day's catch. Fishermen come in the feathered coat of cormorants, birds perching on their master's bamboo boats waiting for prey. The metal clasped around their neck stops them from swallowing their catch.
A recently opened Lotus Cave in Xingping showcases more than a hundred different types of lotus flower; the entrance fee is about RMB 50 and it takes a good 4 hours to enjoy.
The enormous Banyan of a Thousand Years is 1,400years old. Located just 7.5km south ofYangshuo, is a major tourist attraction.Measuring 17m high, 7.1m wide andspanning an area of over 1,000m², theancient tree lies on the western bank of theJinbao River. Entrance to the park is RMB18.