Sudder Street Guesthouse – Yangshuo

We loved our hostel in Yangshuo so much that we decided to cancel our trip to Kunming so that we can spend more time here.

The plan was to stay in Yangshuo for only a few days, then move on to to Kunming to get into some warmer weather. But after spending a single night in this hostel, we knew we didn’t want to leave. This place is heavenly.

A Chinese and Japanese couple own Sudder Street Guesthouse and named it after the place they met and fell in love. It is located a little North of Yangshuo on a quiet street surrounded by fields and local neighborhood. It looks like the road is getting rebuilt to extend out the Western vibe of the city, but for now, it is quaint and comfortably local.

The first floor common room is large, comfortable, and bright. It includes a front desk where they sell ¥3 ($0.50) beer and ¥10 coffee, a writing and game nook, reading nook with fireplace, dining tables, kitchen, foosball table, great VPN for Western internet, hamster in a fun cage, and a friendly cat.

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One of the other highlights of this hostel is the outdoor area. The whole back wall of the common room is made of picture windows overlooking the sitting area, fire pit, neighboring farm, and the infinity pool. Unfortunately, we’re here in January, and have had a stretch of 37º weather, so we haven’t really had a chance to enjoy it as much as we’d like. But in the summer, I bet it’s the perfect place to relax with a beer and make some new friends.

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The chair is more comfortable than it looks.

And speaking of new friends, this place has been packed with travelers since we arrived,  despite it being the off season. Every evening the couches are full of people warming themselves by the fire and chatting. So far we have been enjoying breakfast with a young woman from Germany who is on holiday from her classes as a Chinese student in Southern China. In the evening, we meet up with her and her friends and compare our daily adventures. Recently, a group of rowdy Australians arrived. They’re a bit loud in the evening, but are really friendly and fun.

Along with the first floor common area, the hostel also has a laundry area that is free to use, providing washing machines, soap, and drying lines. The Chinese washing machines have a tendency to shred my clothes, and the spin cycle leaves them sopping wet, but it gets the job done and has kept us smelling only a little bit like mildew.

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Communal drying area on the deck

Our first week here, we stayed in a six bed, mixed gender dormitory for $6 per night. I slept in a top bunk, Josh in the bunk under me, two Chinese men behind us, and a British man and empty bed across from us. It was pretty comfortable with large cubicles, privacy curtains, and bed lamps. The common bathroom was shared among the entire floor, but it was fairly clean and mostly private.

When our stay was over, we checked out of the dorm and immediately checked in to a private room for another week for $14 per night. The room is wonderful and we are very excited to have our own space again. It is large, has a desk, heater, big window, personal kettle, and a private bathroom with a half-enclosed shower.

We are staying here for at least one more week, if not two. We don’t need to be in Chengdu until mid February, so we are playing it by ear. The weather is supposed to warm up in the next few days, so we’ll be out adventuring again soon, but in the meantime we’re happy to be cuddled up cozy warm in our room at this fantastic hostel.

 

First Impressions of Yangshuo, China

I love our new town of Yangshuo. It is only 90 minutes away by bus from Guilin, but still a town of its own.

Oh man, I freaking love this town! Yangshuo, China is super cute and quaint, but still fun and exciting. It is fairly westernized compared to many other parts of China, with loud bars and European restaurants. But it isn’t the western comforts that drew us in, it was the natural beauty that surrounds the city.

Location of Yangshuo

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Yangshuo, China is in Guangxi Province and only 90 minutes South of Guilin by bus. That means that we haven’t traveled very far, but it is still quite different from Guilin. Th nearest large hubs are Guangzhou and Hong Kong.

Check out our adventures in Guilin. ♥

What makes Yangshuo special is it’s surroundings. It is located within the South China Karst, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Even the flat areas of Yangshuo are lovely, with one side of town edged by the Li River and other areas of town spotted with farmland.

City of Yangshuo

As a whole, the city is very touristy, clean, and quiet (all by Chinese standards, of course). I definitely get the feeling that it is the Aspen of China.

The main part of the city is squeezed between two major roads with a pedestrian-only area in between. The sidewalks are packed full of cute shops, foreign restaurants, cafes, and tourist side shows similar to what I’ve seen in Vegas (3D rides, ice bars, etc).

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We’ve already enjoyed dinner at a Thai restaurant, a lunch at McDonalds, and an amazing dinner at an Indian restaurant. We are hoping to save up some money for an evening at The Brew, a well-known Western restaurant with steaks and burgers, and also a stop at a great-looking German restaurant owned and run by a German expat.

Read more about the food we enjoyed during our time in Yangshuo. ♥

Outside of the main area, it is a little more akin to the rest of China, with small shops, crumpled sidewalks, and honking traffic. We even spotted a fun KFC ripoff.

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KFD, complete with a Chinese Colonel Sanders. Because if your thing ain’t working, steal from someone else!

It looks like we will have no lack of things to do here in Yangshuo, China. We have plans for places to eat, shops to explore, people to meet, and sights to see. We are still unsure whether we will stay here for two weeks or three, but I like that we have the freedom to decide as it suits us. Until then, I will enjoy every moment in Yangshuo.

 

 

 

 

Yangshuo, 阳朔

I love our new town of Yangshuo. It is only 90 minutes away by bus from Guilin, but still a town of its own.

Oh man, I freaking love this town! I feel like I am cheating a little bit because it is so Westernized, but I guess I can’t change who I am. It is located in Guangxi Province and only 90 minutes South of Guilin by bus. We haven’t traveled very far, but it is still quite different from Guilin.

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The town is snuggled between karst mountains and rivers. As a whole, the city is very touristy, clean, and quiet (all by Chinese standards, of course). I definitely get the feeling that it is the Aspen of China.

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The main part of the city is squeezed between two major roads with a pedestrian-only area in between. The sidewalks are packed full of cute shops, foreign restaurants, cafes, and tourist side shows similar to what I’ve seen in Vegas (3D rides, ice bars, etc).

We’ve already enjoyed dinner at a Thai restaurant, a lunch at McDonalds, and an amazing dinner at an Indian restaurant. We are hoping to save up some money for an evening at The Brew, a well-known Western restaurant with steaks and burgers, and also a stop at a great-looking German restaurant owned and run by a German expat.

Outside of the main area, it is a little more akin to the rest of China, with small shops, crumpled sidewalks, and honking traffic. We even spotted a fun KFC ripoff.

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KFD, complete with a Chinese Colonel Sanders. Because if your thing ain’t working, steal from someone else!

It looks like we will have no lack of things to do here in Yangshuo. We have plans for places to eat, shops to explore, people to meet, and sights to see. We are still unsure whether we will stay here for two weeks or three, but I like that we have the freedom to decide as it suits us. Until then, I will enjoy every moment in Yangshuo.

 

 

 

 

Re-Evaluate and Adjust

Moving is never easy, especially when moving to a new country that is so vastly different from my own. It is not fun to admit, but the last few days have been hard. Really hard. But we both woke up on Saturday feeling inspired. 

Moving is never easy, especially when moving to a new country that is so vastly different from my own. It is not fun to admit, but the last few days have been hard. Really hard. We are over budget, cold, out of routine, Josh is sick, and we’re down one working computer. That is on top of all the craziness that is China. We fell asleep on Friday feeling overwhelmed and helpless.

Maybe it was the fact that we both finally slept the entire night through, but we both woke up on Saturday feeling inspired. I woke up with a clear head, positive attitude, and ready to adjust my life to fit the needs of the world around me.

Our first order of business was to buy coats. We are already over budget due to the early departure from Guangzhou, but it had to be done. We purchased $15 heavy coats from across the street and felt an immediate lift to our spirits.

[Note: My coat was a 2XL and Josh’s was a 5XL.]

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I bought this mask 10 years ago in China and still use it any time I feel particularly anxious. It is perfect for China as it keeps a lot of the weird smells out AND keeps my nose warm.

Because we are over budget, Josh is temporarily shifting his priorities from writing to working. Unfortunately, he needs a working computer and word processor to do that. We remembered walking past a few electronics stores when we were out the other day, so we took the computer and the broken cord to each one and played the “point and shrug” game. We didn’t have any luck, but it confirmed that we needed to move to Plan B (buy Word for my computer and share).

Feeling physically comfortable with the coats and mentally comfortable with a resolution to the computer/budget problem, we continued our walk further in to town to explore. We visited the Sun and Moon Pagodas which were just pagodas, but the surrounding park was very peaceful.

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On our way home we tried a new neighborhood for lunch and had an amazing meal. We ate a big bowl of pork dumpling soup and our favorite style of fried rice for about $1.80.

Josh had the sniffles all day, but really started to feel sick as the day progressed. We went back to the hotel, bundled up, and took a nap. We only left the hostel again for dinner, which was not at all what we ordered, but still decent.

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Two bowls of rice, orange juice, and a collection of sizzling seafood and veggies.

As part of our inspiration today, we were determined to make some friends. We planted ourselves in the common room and started playing a game. We didn’t get any bites, but when a group needed to use our table, they kindly invited us to join their game instead.

We enjoyed a fun night of chatting and Taboo with two different groups of travelers, two women from Israel and a couple from New Zealand. The women just wrapped up their term in the military and were taking a few months off to travel around China, SE Asia, and India. The couple are ex-pats who met in New Zealand. She is a French woman who is a Spanish teacher and he is a civil engineer from Mexico. We stopped keeping score in Taboo, but I think my team won. Although I am sure Josh would debate that.

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It was a great way to end the day. Although Josh is still sick, we are still over budget, and I am still getting my feet wet every time I brush my teeth (more on that later), we solved all of the problems that were holding us back. I’m feeling a lot more confident about the next couple of months and looking forward to our next adventures.

Wada Hostel

I didn’t think we would like Guangzhou, but I was hopeful that I would be wrong. I wasn’t. We cancelled the rest of our reservation, got some train tickets, and caught a high-speed train ticket to Guilin.

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Guilin is in the region of China I have been looking forward to visiting for years. It is famous for its karst topography. There are lot of caves and what I like to call “gum drop” mountains. I spent the majority of the train trip looking at the beautiful natural scenery and the farming villages.

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We are staying the Wada Hostel while we find an apartment. It is highly rated on HostelWorld, has nearly all of the amenities I look for (it’s only missing a kitchen), and it is super cheap; in fact, a single night at our GuangZhou hostel was almost as much as three nights here!

One of the major things I look for in a hostel is one with a good vibe. This place has a great vibe. The staff is friendly, the common areas are large and comfortable, and there is a bar (how else will I get the courage to meet new people?).

The only down side with the common area is the lack of kitchen. There is a large and tasty looking menu, but it is quite expensive compared to what I can find on the street. I would have liked to have the option of purchasing my food, and then cooking and eating it at the hostel.

For $8, we got two bunk beds in a four person room. The room is quite clean for Chinese standards and the amenities are great. Each bed comes with a locker and lock, another locker with a charging station inside of it, a privacy curtain, lamp, and a heater blanket! The room also has a private bathroom.

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My bunk with my framed photo from home and my CO Alarm.
So far we only have one roommate. Yu is a gentleman from Korea who is half-way through his 10 day trip around China to see some sights and practice his Chinese. His English is quite good and he has been a friendly and polite roommate so far. The desk girl told me they were expecting quite a few more guests this evening though, so maybe we will get another mate.

So this is our home for the next few days. I think it is likely we will stay in Guilin for the rest of the month, but I don’t know for sure. Everything will depend on what we find for apartments this weekend. Until then, here is my work space:

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The Eagles Have Landed

We’re here! Despite a couple of small hiccups, it was a surprisingly easy travel day.

We’re here! Despite a couple of small hiccups, it was a surprisingly easy travel day. Our plane had some technical issues in Seattle causing us to be grounded for the night. It was a wonderful little side trip though. The airline booked us in a decent hotel near by with some food vouchers. We ate well, slept well, and woke up refreshed for the next day.

Everything went off without a hitch the following day. The flight from Seattle to Beijing was a quick(!) eleven hours. We were fed more than we needed and offered beer and wine regularly. I tried the Yanjing Beer, but mostly enjoyed one of my final opportunities to enjoy copious amounts of coffee for the next couple months.

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We landed in Beijing about 30 minutes late, but customs went quickly and we made it to our connecting flight just as it started boarding. We were two of only three foreigners on the plane. The other one sat between Josh and I for some reason. She was… different. Needless to say, we made it pretty obvious that we were not with her whenever we could.

The flight from Beijing to Guangzhou was a very long(!) 3.5 hours, but once again we were fed way more than necessary and able to keep pretty busy despite the fact that we had to power down our cell phones… not just airplane mode… POWER DOWN.

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We landed in Guangzhou just a little past 1:00AM. We hit the bathrooms, the ATM, and grabbed a taxi to downtown. Due to the delay in Seattle, I had to cancel our reservation at our hostel and just showed up this morning hoping they would have space. Thankfully, they did, but in separate dorm rooms.

[I’ll get you all a full rundown on the hostel once my roommate wakes her lazy butt up.]

We kissed good-night at the top of the stairs and agreed to text each other once we got settled into our bunks. Of course, it wasn’t until we got into our bunks that we experienced some of our first issues with the Great Fire Wall of China. I messaged him in every medium I could think of. I eventually got through to him by commenting on one of his beer tastings in Untapped.

I had a short, but nice sleep. I only had one roommate and she did not get in until 4am. Josh and I met again in the morning, got him worked out with Skype messaging (the best way to get a hold of us currently), got dressed, and went on a hunt for breakfast.

There are plenty of things that turn me off to China, but the food is something that just keeps bringing me back. Even just a walk down the crowded and dusty street after very little sleep was punctuated by greatness from all of the sights and smells of the food stalls and restaurants.

We ended up eating at a little hole in the wall place serving up some of my favorite breakfast pastries. Since we are in Southern China, they also had a nice collection of dim sum. Everything was amazing and immediately got me excited for the day.

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Left to Right: red bean paste stuffed sweet pastry, egg and green onion pastry thing, steamed bun, and some pork yummies.

The plan for the day is to run a couple of major errands, but otherwise take it pretty easy. I’m not totally stoked on our hostel, so we are going to head to the train station and book our tickets to Guilin. Then we need to do some shopping to pick up some little things. Besides that, our only other goals are to eat delicious food, meet a couple of the other hostel guests, and maybe/hopefully take a nap.

That’s it. We are safe, well fed, not particularly well rested, but ready to adventure.

Choosing the Right Vacation Rental

In choosing a place to stay, I like to use a little checklist to make sure I’m making the right choice. Here’s my checklist and the things I like to consider…

As a mid-30’s traveler, I’ve come to love vacation rentals. I’ve done enough traveling to know what I want out of my accommodations, and in my experience, vacation rentals offer the best bang for your buck. For example, I like having my own space that is quiet and clean. I prefer to spend my money on experiences and not amenities (because I probably won’t use them anyway). I want to eat at home at least once per day so that I can save cash for an amazing brunch or highly-rated dinner. This is why I love vacation rentals, because they offer all of these experiences at a price that is comparable, or often better, than staying at a hotel.

In choosing a place to stay, I like to use a little checklist to make sure I’m making the right choice. Here’s my checklist and the things I like to consider:

Step 1: Is a vacation rental right for this trip?

While I’m a big fan of vacation rentals, they’re not always the most appropriate choice. I like to consider rentals, hotels, and hostels; there is definitely a right time and place for each. When planning my accommodations, I first take a moment to consider my priorities:

Hotels

  • Duration – less than five days
  • Occupancy – four people or less
  • Location – pretty important
  • Price – highest price

Hostels

  • Duration – less than three days
  • Occupancy – less than two or more than two non-couples
  • Location – very important
  • Price – cheapest price
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Be careful not to immediately disregard hostels. This adorable cottage was our hostel in Doolin, Ireland near the Cliffs of Mohr.

Vacation Rentals

  • Duration – five days or more
  • Occupancy – two or more
  • Location – less important
  • Price – mid range price

Step 2: Where should I start my search?

There are many ways to find vacation rentals online. My favorite is Airbnb. HomeAway/VRBO are similar and just as good (we used HomeAway for our Rome trip), but Airbnb is usually my go-to simply because it is the one I am most familiar with.

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#shamelessadvertising #justdoit

Step 3: What should I search for?

Josh is particularly picky about where he likes to stay, so I take great care in picking out the perfect vacation rental. There are several search options available on Airbnb. Here are the ones I use every time:

  1. Location – I narrow the map radius so that I am within ten minutes (walk or transit) of the major sights, but not actually in the thick of things where I am going to get charged extra for being in the “prime location.”
  2. Room Type – I have gotten better, but I do have a bit of a distrust for germs. I need my own space that I can clean to my liking, and that no one is going to touch except for me until I leave. This is why I select my Room Type as Entire Home. Don’t get spooked! Entire Home also includes studio and basement apartments. Mostly this is just my way to make sure that I have a private bathroom.
  3. Amenities – This piece can really limit my options, so I try to only select amenities I can’t live without (first world style) like high-speed WiFi, washing machine, dish washer, and a television with HD input.
  4. Price – Hotels are convenient and reliable, so if I can stay in a nice hotel for the same price, I may chose to do that over staying in a rental. The price is the make-or-break and must be at least the same price as my desired hotel or less (I rarely stay in rentals for more than $120 per night including cleaning).

Step 4: How should I request a booking?

People of the internet, please correct me if I am wrong, but from what I can tell, the hosts don’t seem to care what I write in my request letter. I started by writing beautiful, heartfelt requests, but quickly realized (based on the questions my hosts asked me later) that they never even read my request. Now I either use the Book Instantly option or I write a generic request email:

Hello,

My husband, Josh, and I are visiting location on holiday. We are clean and respectful renters who enjoy experiencing local neighborhoods. We would love to stay in your beautiful apartment if it is available for the selected dates.

Thanks,

Jen

I suggest booking as soon as possible and sending requests to your top two choices. Keep an eye out for hosts that are quick to respond with a friendly note. If the host takes more than two days, they may be considered unreliable (imagine if it took them two days to respond to my “I lost my key and am now locked out” email).


Step 5: How do I make the most of my rental?

I’ve landed and it’s time to head to my vacation rental! Woot! Now what?

By now, the host and I have emailed back and forth and made arrangements for meeting up at the apartment. Some rentals have options to pick up the keys without ever having to see anyone, but I like to take the time to meet with the host and ask them questions.

  • “What should I do if I lose my key or I have issues with the apartment?”
    • The host usually gives me their local phone number, or even better, they introduce me to the complex’s super.
  • How do I use the appliances?
    • This may sound silly, but foreign machines can be a little different.
    • Don’t forget to ask about the shower. We once had a rental with five knobs. It was a chilling experience trying to figure them all out… haha. See what I did there… chilling…
  • Where is the nearest grocery store frequented by the neighbors?
    • I don’t want to shop at the over-priced petrol station across the street. I want to shop at the everyday grocery store where I will find everything I need at normal prices.
    • This question often inspires my host to tell me about some of the other fun neighborhood quirks.
  • What is your favorite place for a cheap lunch?
    • This was our million dollar question in Barcelona. The host sent us to a restaurant that was off-the-beaten path, was filled with locals, no one spoke English, the food was 100% authentic, and the prices were set for the working class.
  • What is your favorite special occasion restaurant?
    • I can read reviews online all day about the hottest restaurant in town. I’ll usually pick my top five restaurants for my one fancy dinner before I leave home. If my host answers with one of the five on my list, that one turns into THE one.

Once we’ve said good-bye to our host, the place is ours and I like to try and think of it as our home. Our first stop is the grocery store to pick up cereal and milk for breakfast along with some fresh-baked bread and sliced meat for a cheap snack, and a bottle of wine… because we are on vacation and we deserve it. This $20 trip to the store usually saves us a ton of money throughout the week by allowing us to skip unnecessary restaurant stops.

Last, but not least, I like to do my laundry on the last full day. I start it when I wake up, hang it after breakfast, then fold and pack it before going to bed. Now I’m packed AND I have one less thing to do when I get home. That’s a nice feeling.


Step 6: When do I get to go again?!

When I have a home away from home, my vacation gains a new layer of relaxation. The places travelers call home during their travels are so underrated. There are so many stories to be told and experiences to be had right in the hotel, vacation rental, hostel, or host family’s home. I can not wait to share the places we live with you!