If the tourist hordes laying siege to Guangxi Province's Guilin have you scaling its limestone peaks to escape, head 80 km (50 mi) downriver by boat, bus, bicycle or taxi to Yangshuo (Yángshuò, 阳朔). Shouldered by the Li River, Yangshuo is home to jutting karst pinnacles, rich rice-paddy farmland and mellow villages, all linked by crisscrossing waterways, small roads and backcountry paths.
All this makes it ideal for cycle tours, hiking, rock climbing, rafting, caving, kayaking and more, including Impression of Liu Sanjie, a choreographed outdoor multimedia extravaganza directed by famed filmmaker Zhang Yimou, creator of the 2008 Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony. Every evening during spring, summer and fall, hundreds of dancers and singers enact the ancient tale of local heroine Liu Sanjie against a natural karst backdrop that soars above the river, colorfully lit up by a dynamic lightshow. Other highlight attractions include Green Lotus Peak, Moon Hill, Yangdi Village and the Yulong River, a tributary of the Li River that winds through a lush karst wonderland as flotillas of bamboo pleasure rafts drift along for a distance before leaving the rest of the river to farmers, fishermen, buffalo, waterfowl and the occasional kayaker.
Back in town, Yangshuo's cafés, bars and restaurants fill up morning and night, keeping backpackers and climbers well fed and watered with a decent-to-excellent range of international options alongside local eateries. Visitors quickly discover the West Street (Xi Jie) pedestrian zone, where accommodations are to be found along with souvenir shops, bars, restaurants and booking offices for river tours, climbing expeditions, balloon rides, kayaking and more.
All of this does come with its price, of course. Yanghshuo does afford escape from the crowds if you look hard enough (and don't mind getting your shoes a little dirty), but you'll still want to keep your elbows sharp. 1.5 million tourists descend upon it each year, making national holidays particularly crowded and expensive. Off-peak periods are far more reasonable, helping the region keep its backpacker bona fides, but tourist prices are significantly inflated. Expect to haggle for almost everything.