Loop trip 20-30km
Explore the world’s most enchanting scenery by bike. Hiring a bike in Yangshuo is easy, the roads are relatively flat and there are endless corners to explore.
There are a multitude of possible routes in the area. We recommend riding along Dragon river to the west of Yangshuo or heading east along the south bank of the Li River. The road to XingPing is not great for cycling and not recommended.
Having survived the night in surprisingly clean room (but next to a noisy night club) we braved the cold in search of breakfast. Breakfast was cheap and delicious: fresh squeezed orange juice, fruit salad, eggs toast, rosti (a swiss style hash brown) and banana pancake, coffee = great way to start the day
We watched out the breakfast café window as a reasonably trustworthy looking old fellow set up a stand of bikes for hire. We admired his attention to detail – checking the tire pressure of all his bikes and checking the gears etc. We decided to hire directly from him for 50 yuan for pretty new mountain bikes. We headed off armed with a very ‘artistic’ tourist map of the area which was the best we could find while avoiding the constant harassment at stores (‘Lady you buy, lady you buy’).
We had a pretty ambitious loop sorted that looked like it might roughly be about 30km – pretty manageable for a full day, there wasn’t much info for doing it independently – everyone wanted to sell you a package tour. We started off on the main road south and only briefly stopped at each attraction to figure out what they were (Caves, big tree, moon hill). We were instantly recognisable as tourists and were pounced on the moment we stopped. People ran across busy highways just to get near enough to shout a sales pitch at us.
We deviated off the main trail and started biking through the hills on minor roads –more like 4WD trails. We got halfway through the first village we stumbled across before realising the locals had barricaded off the road with a big sign in English (so targeted at tourists) labelled ‘Restoration Payment’ and tried to convince us that we needed to pay a fee to go any further. This might have been worth considering if the locals were restoring something, but they were just gas-bagging on deckchairs by the sign. We quickly aborted and luckily found an alternative route. This turned out to be our highlight of Yangshuo – riding among beautiful natural formations and small farms with fruit trees and the occasional water buffalo. Passing through a minor town Susan, not quite up to speed with the cunning locals, followed the advice of a local on a scooter who pointed out a pleasant path on the riverside – this was very scenic but terminated at a weir which needed to be forded with the assistance of a boatman. We watched a local old man arrive at the weir, put his bike in a bamboo raft, get a ride across and continue riding. However when the raft got back to our side the ‘rate’ was 30 Yuan, knowing from lonely planet a fair rate should be about 5 Yuan for any ferry we argued for a while then decided just to walk our bikes across. The river pool below the weir was only about 20m across so it was frustrating to be targeted as a tourist and asked to pay such an inflated price. Our fording of the weir was fun but hair-raising as some of the channels were very fast and we rode our bikes in short bursts hoping not to slip on algae and end up in the water below.
We continued biking upstream to our destination, Dragon Bridge. It was pretty hard to judge distance and speed as the paths were windy and there was constant doubt as to whether we were heading in the right direction. We paused for lunch at a local farmer’s cottage where we enjoyed a fresh cooked meal and watched people walk their water buffalo past our table.
Back on the trail we wove along farm tracks and met an old man who showed us a grass snake not much bigger than a pencil slithering very slowly (it was cold) across the trail. After capturing our attention the man stood on the snake and squashed it while miming that that snakes are bad. Mark vowed to pick up the next grass snake and play crocodile hunter but alas none were forthcoming.
After a few more wrong turns we blatted the last stretch and reached the centuries old Dragon Bridge. The bridge was pleasant enough and it was busy with boatmen finishing up for the day – Dragon bridge being one of the main starting points for the bamboo raft rides down the river.
Our bikes were due back at 6pm sharp so we rode rapidly along the main road back to town. This jolted us back into the present day reality – it was pretty unnerving not wearing helmets while all manner of speeding trucks, buzzing scooters and lumbering bullocks are sharing the one lane road. We got the bikes back just in time and proceeded to the backpacker lane happy hour specials for a well-deserved beer and pizza.
South bank of the Li River
We then headed back into town and tried to bike to Xingping further north and upstream on the Li river. This particular area is famous for its rendition on the 20 yuan note. Biking along the main highway up hills and through tunnels was not entirely pleasurable and as time was running out we only got as far as the town of Fulizhen. Mark switched bikes and realised Susan wasn’t just lazy, her bike was a piece of crap. We also discovered that our guidebook miscalculates the distance by several kilometres. We decided to abort the original mission, cross to the south of the river and return to town. We followed our nose down the town alleys to the river, hopped on a 5 yuan public ferry full of locals (after standing firm on our price) and biked back along the rural lanes on the south bank (this was an alternative recommended circuit in Lonely Planet) which was stunning and much more relaxing than the main road. Finding our way out of the first town was somewhat troublesome but helpful locals pointed us in the right direction (you need to go about 300m south from the ferry landing until you reach some large ponds on the main road, pass these and continue south for another 500m before turning west.