Yangshuo is a Chinese city located on the northern tip of the southern province of Guangxi (which borders Vietnam). Yangshuo is set amongst endless tower karst formations and limestone hills. It's about a twelve hour bus ride north-west from Hong Kong and an hour south of Guilin. Guilin is famous in China because of how beautiful the natural surroundings are and for inspiring so many famous Chinese artists and paintings. When you see karst rock formations in Chinese art it's usually the area around Guilin. Yangshou is where you go because Guilin is now an ugly city, though the nature around it is also amazing.
Yangshou's main street, Xi Jie, is full of hotels,Chinese tourists, and backpackers. I have been twice in the winter, which is low season, so I can’t say how annoying the tourism is because all I saw was lots and lots of empty, nice, comfortable looking restaurants serving western food and a few backpackers. If you have been to Vang Vieng in Laos it's like that, but not so seedy or sprawling. The natural surroundings are like Northern Laos the but heavier and more extensive. What’s nice about Yangshou is it's one of those touristy places that is at the saturated cheap phase of its existence so you can get dorm beds for 15 yuan.
What’s really nice about Yangshou is how easy it is to leave, which is the whole point of going there. You can go in any direction from Yangshou on a bicycle and be alone and somewhere beautiful. I have spent ten days in places a half hour bike ride from town, doing little hikes, then just sitting around amongst endless, cave filled, limestone rocks surrounded by buffalo, hundreds of ducks feasting in flooded rice paddies, their duck bums shaking in the air, interesting wildflowers and the occasional silent farmer. It’s also easy to find places to sleep in the areas a couple hours from town. You bike out of town, leave the main road and walk up any dirt path and are guaranteed to go somewhere magical and untouched.
The last time I was in Yangshuo I hiked over a hill and followed a path for another hour before coming to a cliff face covered in seashells, fossils and wild orchids. There was a long stone staircase that went into the valley below where a small community lived. You could hear the laughter of two little girls, who were only red dots from where I was, echoing throughout the whole area. Everything that happened in that town echoed and could be heard from the cliffside. I have traveled Bangkok to Beijing and the area outside Yangshuo is one of the nicest places I have ever been.
Someone tried to pick my pocket in Yangshuo. It was on a minibus, he was such a ratty guy and was very bad at pick pocketing. I pushed him away and did thief charades to my fellow passengers but they just stared at me. The guidebooks say be careful of pickpockets in Yangshou and hey, it’s totally true!