Not even a 3 hour ride via high speed rail from the urban sprawl of Guangzhou, the Chinese countryside begins to change. Vast coastal plains shrouded in haze and chewed up by the grinding mouth of urbanization give way to scenes lifted from those old Chinese paintings — sheer limestone karsts topped with hanging greenery interwoven by languid rivers. Small towns and villages hug the banks of those rivers, and bamboo boats ferry their denizens from one to another. One such place is Xingpingzhen, and that’s where I was headed.
I drift like a cloud,
Across these venerable eastern lands,
A journey of unfathomable distances,
An endless scroll of experiences…” – Tom Carter
After grabbing a comfy single room at This Old Place Hostel, I set about exploring the area and finding some things to do in Xingping. Luckily, it didn’t disappoint. Here are some recommendations!
Walk through the old streets
While borderline kitschy and obviously geared towards tourists, the old town of Xingping is well worth a stroll — certainly more-so than the tawdry West Street in nearby Yangshuo. Old buildings line bumpy paths, and people peer at you from inside their opened doors. If you manage to find a side street, it’s easy to imagine yourself in a different time, when tourists weren’t seen.
Wander along the river
The Li River passes Xingping by, and there are many ways to explore it. Many choose to take a bamboo boat, but the ones there are loud and quick; I recommend waiting until you go to Yangshuo to ride the man-powered bamboo craft there. For Xingping, rent a bike and make your way up along the river. It’s a beautiful ride, and there are plenty of photo stops along the way — including the scene depicted on the 20 yuan note.
Visit the Tengjiao nunnery
Across the river from Xingping and tucked inside a cave is the Tengjiao nunnery. Getting there is a bit tricky — you have to take the ferry across the river and then follow a road (stay next to the river) until you get to a four-way intersection in a tiny village. Go left, you’ll be able to see a power box from the main path. Follow that path and you’ll eventually see Chinese signs for the nunnery.
Pay the entry fee of 10 yuan, after which a caretaker may take you through the grounds. It’s definitely worth going inside, as the main shrine is located inside a cave you can’t see when you first walk up. After, sit and make small talk with the keepers before leaving. They’ll ask you for a donation, of course, but are grateful no matter what you put in the pot.
Explore one of the region’s caves
This was the ‘surprise’ activity I was able to do. I was talking with some other guests who invited me to join them the next day as they visited the Hungry Ghost Cave. I strongly recommend taking a guide, as there’s no way in heck we would’ve found it without Ching. The cave itself was huge and filled with glittering rock formations. Added bonus? It was chilly inside <3
Enjoy the sunset from the top of Laozhai Hill
The last of the things to do in Xingping (and really, you must do this one!) is to climb Laozhai Hill for the sunset. Located just behind This Old Place, it’s a 30-40 minute climb to the top, but the sides of Laozhai are sheer and the temperatures are grueling. Nonetheless, the view from the top is breathtaking, as you can see the Li River stretching to either side and karst upon karst speckling the horizon.
It’s the type of view which reminds me why I travel.
There you have it! Five great things to do in Xingping. Do you have any recommendations to add? Anything you’d skip over? Let me know in the comments below!