Travel black book: Beautiful black moon

Who: Ho Kwon Ping, 63, executive chairman of hotel group Banyan Tree Holdings

Favourite destination: Yangshuo, China

Why: Also known as Bright Moon, Yangshuo is a very beautiful small county near Guilin in Guangxi province. It has majestic karst mountain peaks, the scenic and winding Li River and small old towns. It used to be the end point for river cruises from Guilin city down the Li River, but has now become a destination in itself and is even more scenic than Guilin.

My most recent trip to Yangshuo was in November last year with my family.

Favourite place to stay

The newly opened Banyan Tree Yangshuo (No. 168 Zhengdong Street, Fuli Town, Yangshuo, Guilin, Guangxi, 541905, tel: +86-773- 322-8888), of course. It is the only resort allowed by the government to be located right at the Li riverfront.

The resort highlights a sense of place with local architectural styles and the use of local artworks and handicrafts. It offers villas and suites amid beautiful gardens and also has its own jetty and motorised bamboo rafts to bring guests down the river. Room rates begin at $604 a night.

Favourite cafe

Yangshuo has a famous area called West Street, which is like the Old Town in Lijiang. There are a lot of restaurants offering local cuisine and hotpot at West Street, which has the obligatory cafes and pubs with international "backpacker cuisine". Some of these have evolved to pretty fine dining establishments.

I'd recommend Ming Yuan Cafe (No. 50, Xijie Pedestrian Street, Yangshuo, tel: +86-773-888-6628). Run by a Taiwanese couple, the cafe has a quaint, colonial feel. Do try the coffee because the owner roasts and blends his own beans. An espresso costs about $5.

Favourite restaurant

Chunji Roast Goose Restaurant (No. 2, Mid ZhongshanRoad, Xiufeng District, Guilin, tel: +86-773-280-6188 or +86-773-285-6188) is popular among the locals and well known for its hospitality and affordable prices.

Check out its crispy roasted goose (about $13 for two persons). Another must-try is its caramel taro bites which are small pieces of yam battered in caramel and then deep-fried. It costs about $5 a portion.

Must-try food and drink items

A breakfast staple, Guilin rice noodles - made from locally grown rice - is famous in China for its distinct taste and smooth texture.

The tender, white noodles are usually served in a sour and spicy broth, which contains pickled vegetables, ground pork and peanuts. Many street stalls sell their own version of this dish and allow you to mix in your own condiments.

You must also try crispy river shrimp freshly caught from the Li River. The tiny shrimp are dipped in a light batter and fried. They end up so crunchy that you can eat the whole shrimp, including the head and shell.

Have some oil tea, which is produced near Yangshuo and has a distinctive salty and spicy taste. Known for its regenerating properties, this local drink is popular among locals and tourists. It is an acquired taste and best taken with baba (sticky rice cakes).

Visit a teahouse to see how this tea is made by pounding tea leaves, ginger and garlic together in a mortar.

Favourite places to shop

West Street is not only a great area for food, but is also a great area to shop.

It is the commercial heart of Yangshuo and has a history of more than 1,400 years. Lively shops, booths and makeshift stalls pack the pedestrian walkways throughout the day.

If you are looking for a souvenir to take home, this is the best place to visit. Make sure you bargain with vendors for the best price.

Must get souvenirs

Look out for beautifully hand-painted fans made from thin paper and bamboo. These have elaborate landscapes and calligraphy delicately done on them. You can buy these fans, which usually cost between $14 and $28, from vendors along the Li River or at Fuli Village.

Fuli is a quiet town about 8km east of Yangshuo. It is a 20-minute drive from the county.

Best place to people-watch

At the Impression Liu Sanjie show (1, Tianyuan Road, Yangshuo, Guilin). Tickets are priced at about $50 to $150, with two shows at night on weekends and in the summer and one show at night on weekdays and during winter. Check with your hotel for showtimes.

The show, based on the life of folk heroine Liu Sanjie, is directed by Chinese film director Zhang Yimou, who planned the 2008 Beijing Olympics opening and closing ceremonies.

Set on a 2km stretch of the Li River, the show, which uses the natural scenery and a cast of a few hundred locals, tells the classic tale of love, intrigue and tragedy.

Best sunrise view

Drive up to the Xiang Gong Mountain for the best sunrise views. You will be able to enjoy a panoramic view of the misty clouds surrounding the mountain peaks and the Li River.

A four-hour private guided tour of the mountain for two people costs about $160.

Most memorable experience

Cruising down the Li River on a bamboo raft was a fun experience. You get to see locals going about their daily routine along the waterways. Sit back and enjoy the views of the karst mountain landscape on both sides of the river.

I would also recommend taking a night boat to observe fishermen demonstrating a traditional night-fishing technique where cormorants (web-footed waterbirds) are used to catch the fish. Take along your camera to capture this, especially if you are an avid photographer.

Best day trip

Cyclists can venture on a scenic 20km route from Moon Hill, passing through Gong Nong Bridge and then to Yulong River. Bicycle rental is available in Yangshuo.

Advice for travellers

Yangshuo's four seasons and their effect on the scenery allow travellers to have different experiences when they arrive at different points in a year.

The best time to visit Yangshuo is spring, from March to May, when it is sunny and bright and temperatures average around 20 deg C.

But, to me, winter also brings its own beauty and a sense of romance to the place, as well as a chill which can be melancholic or incredibly romantic if you are in Yangshuo with someone you love.

This article was first published on Feb 1, 2015.
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