Yangshuo’s landscape put Yangshuo on the map. Before it was discovered by Lonely Planet in the 1980s, Yangshuo remained a peaceful hideout for the locals and those lucky backpackers who happened to stumble across its breathtaking scenery in the Guilin province. It was then featured on the 20 Yuan note (and still is) and has since been featured in numerous documentaries and films about China, including BBC’s ‘Wild China’ series. The enchantment of the region’s unique landscape continues to captivate the imaginations and spark interest amongst people all over the globe. It has since become an iconic image of China, appealing especially to those who’ve had enough of the highrise buildings, cities that never sleep, and crowded streets.
What makes Yangshuo’s scenery so special is the 1,400 square kilometer area of karst mountain structures; special mountain formations found in few parts of the world, resembling dragon teeth, jade pins, or various animal structures. It is said, however, that Yangshuo’s karst mountain structures, with its multi-shaped pinnacles, caves, pristine rivers, and mesas, are some of the most impressive karst mountain formations in the world.
Upon arriving in the Guilin province, or indeed Yangshuo, you cannot help but to pause, take a deep intake of breath, and quietly admire your surroundings and the sheer immense power of nature surrounding you as far as the eye can see. Taking a trip out to the Li or Yulong river for a raft or boat ride is the best way to see these magnificent structures watching over the landscape. Here you can enjoy the iconic views that a Google search churns up. You can also go out on the bikes, scooter, or simply go for a walk or hike. It doesn’t take much to be able to enjoy the incredible panorama.
You can also climb one of the many structures. This takes approx. 30mins-1hr depending on how quickly you walk and how much you have to stop to be wowed every few more steps you climb. A good time to climb is just before sunrise or sunset to make sure those views are extra spectacular.
So, how did these peculiar and unique structures become to dominate the landscape?
Karst topography can be found in other countries such as the USA. It’s characterized by caves and sinkholes that come about from the dissolution of limestone. However, Yangshuo’s sharp mountain peaks and tunnels of caves are unique to this part of the world and were formed thanks to very specific conditions that exposed China’s karst and eroded its softer limestone faster. According to Ray Beiersdorfer, geologist at Youngstown State University in Ohio, these specific conditions are fourfold;
- Hard, compact carbonate rock. In Guilin, it’s Devonian limestone.
- Strong uplift – in this case, provided by the crashing of the tectonic plates of India with Asia to form the Himalayas.
- Monsoon climate
- Not surrounded by glaciers.
This means that the weathered limestone formations (karsts) were formed from fossilized prehistoric sea floor sediments. When the crashing of tectonic plates formed the Himalayas, the sea floor was pushed up.,exposing the alkaline limestone to the acid rains of Yangshuo’s subtropical climate. As this acidic water seeped into the limestone it eroded it and caused the formation of caves and sink holes. This continued and caverns and sinkholes were carved out causing the water tables to drop and the ground’s surface layer to sink, forming the karst peaks. The process continued until the limestone layer within the subterranean caverns eroded away, exposing a layer of sedimentary shale.
There are two types of karsts in Yangshuo; the isolated karst, (Fenglin or peak forest karsts), and the linked-base karst, (fengcong or peak cluster karsts). Isolated karsts are the ones that can be seen 30-80m above the ground and hold dramatic tower-like structures over its surroundings.
Now you have all of that information thrown at you, next time you’re enjoying a pint or several at your favorite local bar in Yangshuo, hit this one out to impress your mates (or what you can remember from it). Choose your audience though, you’ll either sound super smart and really interesting, or just a real nerd.