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With so many karst hills and caves around the area, Yangshuo has become a little mecca for rock climbing, with some 70 climbing circuits. Sun at Terratribes currently organizes the best trips (tel. 0773/882-2005 sun@terratribes.com), ¥280 for a half day's climbing and ¥500 per person, for a full day. Sun is very well traveled in China, and can organize adventure sports trips well beyond Yangshuo. These range from surfing in Hainan to volunteer work in the Sichuan earthquake zone, where back in May 2008, he organized one of the very first rescue teams made up of Yangshuo climbers and cavers. During the summer months, Richard Chen (tel. 1350/783-9490; richardtour@yahoo.com) organizes some of the best rafting and kayaking trips on the Li River and on smaller rivers like the Yulong He (Jade Dragon River). Other trips include the wonderfully scenic stretch between Fuli and Puyi (¥200) or even an all-inclusive (that means riverside campfire barbecues and sleeping in tents) two day trip from Yangshuo to the islands around Liugong and then on to Pingle (¥500). Those preferring something more sedate can take courses on tai chi, Chinese cooking, Chinese calligraphy, Chinese medicine, or Mandarin at various outfits in town, including the excellent cooking courses at Cloud Nine Restaurant at the corner of Chenzhong Road and West Street (tel. 0773/881-3686).

Because of the unearthly topography, the most memorable experiences for many tourists take place in the basket of a hot air balloon. In fact this is one of the best value locations in the world for ballooning, the trips over the Yulong River for just ¥700 per person being much cheaper than at other tourists sites such as Giza and Angkor. Most hotels can book balloon trips, but make sure you wrap up warm for early morning sunrise ascensions. Alternatively you can contact the company directly at tel. 0773/881-4918 (www.chinahotairballoon.cn). If you are staying at the Village Inn, check out their inspirational ballooning photo album.

Taking a Dip in the Yulong -- For those who'd prefer not to float down the entire length of the Yulong, there is an alternative. Mountain Retreat's public relations manager led me down to the riverbank where boatmen were playing a noisy Chinese version of three card brag. For ¥10, one of them agreed to pole us the 100m or so to the next weir, where we promptly jumped off the raft and spent the rest of the afternoon swimming. Even the boatman stripped down to his skivvies and jumped in with us. So many tourists float down this stretch of water that two rafts even feature an onboard PC and printer, with locals taking digital pictures for a small fee. Mountain Retreat's manager told me that swimming like this was her summertime morning routine, a half-hour dip before returning for breakfast and fresh orange juice. Certainly one of my China highlights!

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.