Yangshuo Guilin China Travel Tips

Let us start by saying that Guilin & Yangshuo China are one of the most beautiful, warm, friendly and safest places on earth to visit. But just like anywhere, there are certain scams and local customs to be aware of, and watch out for.

If you have not been to Yangshuo, Guilin or China before, or even if you have, these are some really helpful tips we learned over the years and by ultimately living here, and we would like to share these with you to make your stay here even more relaxing and enjoyable.

Before you leave home

It would be a good idea to call your credit card companies and let them know where and how long you will be traveling outside your country. Too many travellers have had their ATM and credit cards turned off by their bank’s security departments after using them in China. It is obviously a hassle to deal with over such a long distance.

Visa on arrival

China does not grant any visas on arrival however there is a general 24hr free transit visa for all airports and since short a 72hr transit visa for certain cities in China. China recently launched a free 72hr transit visa for citizens of 51 countries on a direct transit via the international airports of either Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Chongqing, and since 2014 also Shenyang, Dalian, Xian and Guilin have been added to the list. Note that you cannot leave the greater city area and have to leave on a flight from the same city with an international destination. So, for example, you can fly into China to Guilin, visit Yangshuo which is part of Guilin and within 72 hours fly return from Guilin out of China. This could also be either Macao, Taiwan and Hong Kong which are considered to be international countries. For more information, including a full list of the 51 countries eligible for a free transit visa check this China Transit Visa guide.

Easiest way to get a Chinese visa

Getting a visa for China can be quite a hassle with in and outward flight confirmations, hotel reservations and sometimes even a confirmed tour itinerary depending on the region to visit but the Forever Bright Travel Agency in Hong Kong can get your visas for China sorted the same day, hassle free without any proof of reservation or transportation required and often cheaper as well… That is how we easily get our friends and family over without any prior preparation and works every time!

Stay in touch with Gmail, Google, Facebook,…

As you may know China and Google aren’t very good friends and China blocks or severely slows down all Google related services and popular social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, etc. Who knows your favourite news channel or even your own website may get blocked during your stay here but there are ways to get around the Great Firewall of China. One of those ways is by using  a VPN (Virtual Private Network) that encrypts all data leaving your computer so firewalls can’t intercept it as a blacklisted website and once through it decrypts your data leading to the website of your choice. There are a couple of free VPN providers out there but for China we suggest to opt for paid services who can guarantee connections in China even during China’s renowned wide VPN crackdowns as they have proven to us in the past. An extra advantage of using VPN is that sensitive data is encrypted and secured for hackers on public networks and you can hide your location by selecting a server based in your home country by which you will appear to be at home and you can continue to enjoy movies through your home Netflix account otherwise only available in your country. Astrill offers a wide array of servers allover the world. For more info and sign up for an account check out www.astrill.com. If you are already in China visit www.getastrill.com.

Money

All the major credit cards are widely accepted in the ATM’s around Yangshuo, Guilin and Longsheng, however not in the minority villages of Dazhai nor Pingan. Generally most hotels in Yangshuo and Guilin have a POS machine too and can accept credit card, generally with a small service fee of 2.5%. Note that of the major credit cards, only Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted, but rarely American Express. Of all banks in Yangshuo, try to avoid the smaller ones as they tend to swallow cards or make you believe there is a problem with your card or account while they actually can’t accept your card. Stick with the Bank of China or the ICBC and you’ll be fine.

Know that currency exchange rates from your country’s bank or in the airport are far higher than here at local banks in China so wait till you get here. Sadly most foreigners first get ripped off at the airport with a huge exchange rate and then by taxi drivers who refuse to use their meters and charge highly inflated taxi fares. As a general rule in China, always have your airport transfer arranged by your hotel or a reliable agency. Rates are pretty much the same everywhere and there is no space for misunderstandings with the driver. Online prices posted in guides, blogs and particularly guidebooks are often outdated and what may seem a higher quote than what you’ve read elsewhere, might eventually end up much lower than what you have to pay to the driver.

Beware of fake bank notes, particularly the 100Y (16US$) notes which are still surprisingly China’s largest bill to date. One trick of shopkeepers is that they will first accept your note of 100Y, then will either turn around or scramble around in their cash drawer, exchange your note with a fake bank note and return a fake note saying they do not have change. When you believe you are being scammed with a fake 100Y note you can threaten to call the police. If you can make yourself understood of your intent they will hand back your note. If they do not understand you, calling the police at 110 would be your only way of getting your money back.

Always negotiate a price before you engage in any service. It will not only save you money but hassle too.​ If you do not need a certain service, refuse them to take any of your belongings.

Exchanging money

​As of 2015 the currency exchange rate of Chinese Yuan (CNY or RMB) is about 7Y for each EURO, 6Y per USD and about 10Y per GBP. There no money vendors in Yangshuo nor Guilin so the place to exchange money is in the bank. Rates vary widely per bank and per location, generally the bigger and the further away from the main tourist areas, the better the rate. The Bank of China and the ICBC are the 2 largest banks in China with a couple of offices in both Guilin and Yangshuo. Any foreign bank notes you bring to exchange, coins are not accepted, must be new and pristine. If it has folds or ink marks or bent corners or is old, they may not accept it.

Before exchanging money it might be worth to check ​the rates at ​xe.com and plug in your currency compared to the Chinese Yuan​ to get a handle on what you should be getting for an exchange. Don’t expect to get internet rates though, as banks have to make (lot’s of) money. Using foreign currency vs. Yuan elsewhere leaves you at someone else’s sole mercy for a reasonable exchange rate, like in stores, restaurants, hotels, etc.

Use local money, withdrawn from a local ATM rather than a credit card to make purchases so you know which local bank will process your payments. Most banks have international fees on top of the exchange and interest fees however some established international banks in Hong Kong, across Europe and the States have agreements with Chinese banks and offer free transactions for their clients.

L​ocal cell phone service

Calling abroad from China can be very expensive so we strongly suggest to bring an unlocked phone and buy a local SIM card here. This way you can always call your hotel, guide, driver, or friends and family here or back home. ​SIM cards are available from 60CNY (10 US$) with the same amount of calling credit. Be sure to mention that you would like to call either nationwide (the cheapest cards are often limited to the province), international and if you want to use the internet so they will give you the appropriate card. For general internet use during a 3-week holiday a credit of 150Y will do.​As a guideline, national calls are about 0.2Y/min (0.03US$) ​and data charges are about 0.3Y/Mb (0.05US$). Long distance and international calls with a pre-fix 17951 will significantly lower your costs with China Mobile. ​International calls to the US are ​then ​little as ​0​.1 cents a minute or 0.35 cents to Europe.

Useful phone numbers in China

They are 110 to call the police, 120 for an ambulance, 119 for the fire department and 122 for traffic related disputes.​

Chinese language

If travelling through China is perceived as a challenge then that is mainly because of the language barrier. In Yangshuo however many locals speak a reasonable amount of English which can be a relief for the weary traveller after travelling for any amount of time through China. Not only the local businesses though, to a certain extent the street vendors will speak a little English and they can be quite persistent when trying to sell you something as you sit outside a café reading your book or just watching the world go by. Smiling and saying “no thank you” a couple of times is usually enough though. However in the technology age we currently find ourselves there are plenty of useful tools to easily get by and we recommend to download the Pleco app which is arguably the best Chinese language app for travellers. The basic dictionary app is free and for US$14.95 you have their optical character recognition function. Just point your smartphone camera to a line of text and get an instant translation.

​Driving in China

International driver’s licenses are useless in China. Even if you have enough time in China worth to go for a local driver’s license it will be your national driver’s license that can either be exchanged (check with your embassy) for a local one, or may relief you from the practical test but not the theory test.

Taxi’s in Yangshuo & Guilin

Taxi’s do not use meters in Yangshuo (they do in Guilin and other big cities, except airport transfers) since it is unlikely they will be able to pick up someone else where they drop you off in the countryside or hotel so taxi rates generally include a return transfer for the driver. ALWAYS clearly agree on the fare when meters aren’t used and write the agreed fare on a piece of paper and show it to the driver – making sure he sees and acknowledges it – to avoid him taking advantage of the fact you are a lone foreigner far away from home with few people around who understand you. If drivers get really angry and aggressive it generally means they believe you are trying to rip them off so be very clear about it.

Always negotiate a price before you engage in any service. It will not only save you money but hassle too.​ If you do not need a certain service, refuse them to take any of your belongings.

W​ater

Don’t drink it, but don’t freak out about it ​n​either. It is fine for brushing your teeth and washing out your mouth, or bathing, or washing dishes, just don’t swallow larger amounts. Bottled water is very cheap to buy here, but is least expensive in super markets or glass front coolers.

Tipping

It is not customary for locals to tip, but it is sort of expected and appreciated from foreigners. ​10-20 CNY​(1.5-3 US$) is a good enough tip for just about anything from dinner to a massage, if the service is ordinary and as expected. Full or multi-day guides/drivers generally get 20-100Y (3-15 US$) with most part going to the guide if they are separate depending on their personal contributions to you that day. Same tip counts for the tip box shared by hotel staff when they were particularly friendly and useful for you. In general, if you feel the service was extraordinary, be generous, your average service employee takes home
​about 1500-3000Y a month which is about ​8-15 US$ a day.

Buying goods

In Yangshuo and China in general shopping can be quite an experience and a test of your negotiating skills. As a general rule the goods in shops on West Street won’t have prices displayed and it’s all about haggling with the staff. For a visitor from the West, where this is not the normal way of retail, this can be quite a trying experience. Store owners all expect to negotiate and price their items accordingly. For goods on the street consider as a Westerner to offer ¼ of the asking price. Now you have a negotiating position. If your price isn’t met in the least you could walk away and more than likely they will come after you with a better price.

What to bring

Toilet paper: Yangshuo in particular and China in general is not a toilet paper oriented culture. Many public rest rooms will have limited if any toilet paper, so it is a good idea to carry tissue or wet wipes with you. In better places you will find sprayers on the wall or built into the toilet seats, so you can wash off and then pat dry with tissues.

Hand sanitiser: A day out in the countryside offers plenty of opportunities to try out the local foods and fruits you may often seize yourself. Peeling fruits will get your hands sticky and often meat or fish dishes carry lot’s of bones that require some assistance of your hands. Not all places provide clean running water and paper so to carry a pack of pocket-sized hand sanitiser and kleenex when venturing away from your hotel will come in very handy!

Best time to visit Yangshuo

We discuss the Yangshuo’s climate, weather and give our suggestions on the best and least ideal time to visit Yangshuo, Guilin or the rice terraces on our best time to visit page.

Interesting travel blogs

One of the most interesting blogs we came across, detailed with practical information about all aspects of travel and beautiful images, is of this adventurous American family of 4 who travelled the world on a budget for over a year, passing by China in 2015 as well: Check out the earth trekkers!

How to get to Yangshuo & Guilin

Check our Guilin to Yangshuo or other relevant pages for all the transfer options including pick-ups.

May we hope these tips will save you from some of the most common pitfalls in China and may help you enjoy this wonderful region even more.

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