The Li River cruise from Guilin to Yangshuo is the centerpiece of any trip to northeastern Guangxi Province. Gorgeous Karst peaks give you surprises at each bend of the limpid river under the blue sky. Water buffalo patrol the fields, peasants reap rice paddies, school kids and fisherman float by on bamboo rafts. With its breathtaking scenery and taste of a life far removed from the concrete metropolis, the scenery along the Li River become one of China’s top tourist destinations.
The trip starts from the dock south of Liberation Bridge in Guilin downtown area. Otherwise some agencies will transport tourist to by a one-hour bus ride to catch the cruise. The river trip is over eighty kilometers (52 miles) long and is estimated to take seven to eight hours. The eye-feasting landscape and country scenery will never disappoint you.
It is a Chinese tradition to divide the long trip into sections (just as the Three gorges along the Yangtze River) and give each peak an imaginative name. Although some take much of your imagination to see what it is like, listening to tour guide’s legendary stories behind them is a delightful experience when you are appreciating the landscapes. Most are mystical fairy and love stories. The writer choose some of the peaks and places to illustrate below. (They are presented in order of location along the River. You can also refer to our Li River Map to follow them)
Now start our impressive Li River trip from section to section. In the first section, which is from Guilin to Ox Gorge, you can enjoy the following scenery:Elephant-Trunk Hill, Rooster Fighting Hill, Pagoda Hill, Forest of Odd Shaped Peaks, Daxu Ancient Town , and Ox Gorge.
Elephant Trunk Hill
Situated majestically on the western bank of Li River, the hill resembles an elephant sucking water from the river with its long trunk. It is supposed to be the landmark of Guilin landscape, which you can find on travel brochures or books. The most impressive is said to be the water reflection of a moon-like cave when the moonlight sprinkles over the river, hence the name ‘Moon over the Water’.
A few minutes down from the Elephant Hill on the west bank is a small hill topped with a pagoda. The hexagonal pagoda is called Longevity Buddha Pagoda (Shoufo Ta) dating from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). It is said the second floor has stone Buddha figurines on display and the hill is compassed in Chuanshan Park. In autumn, the hill illuminated with red maples is very charming.
Perching on the northern bank of Li River, the ancient town keeps in its antique style from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). A flagging street, lined with old residences, shops and stalls, runs two kilometers along the river bank through the town. Some well-preserved residences hidden behind the street door may give you surprises you when you occasionally explore further into a shop. These are quarters for businessmen in the past times. Have a try on various dumping snacks on the stalls or peddle cars along the street. Some will surprise you with both its taste and cheap price. People in the town are very kind to tourists. Further to south, there is a single-arched bridge in the town named Longevity Bridge.
The town is really a sight off-the-beaten track. Opposite the town on the other side of the river, a millstone-like rock with the running waters creates the scene of Grinding Grain.
In the second section, which is from Ox Gorge to Water-Dropping Village, the charming scenery awaiting you include: Wangfu Rock (Yearning-for-Husband’s-Return Rock), Crown Cave, Half-Side Ferry, Yangdi Village, Mural Hill, Yellow Cloth Shoal, and Xingping Landscape.
Crown Cave (Guanyan)
A crown-like crag earns the hill its name. What makes the hill a worthy stop for both river cruise tourists and those arrive from Guilin City by bus tour is its twelve kilometer long water-eroded cave. It is a wonderland of various stalactite, stone pillars and rock formations in the cave. Since it is open to tourists in 1995, illuminating lights, sound control tour guide system and escalators are equipped in the scenic area and sightseeing cars and boats enable visitors to tour inside the cave. The government plan to build this site as an all-round tourist area including cave visiting, country sightseeing and ethnic minority exploration. It is estimated to become an important excursion site along the Li River. Tourists can stay in the hotels and villas in the scenic area.
Half-Side Ferry (Ban Bian Du)
Not very far from the Crown Cave on the western bank, a huge rock descends into the river and cuts off a footpath by the water edge. Villagers have to take a ferry to reach the other side and continue the way. So, this spot gets its name Half-Side Ferry (for usually ferry means to transport people by boat across a body of water and reach the opposite bank)
From Yangdi to Xingping
Down stream from Yangdi to Xingping, the river passes an endless procession of distinct peaks and bamboo groves and the stunning landscape. This part is the highlight of the cruise. Pinnacled peaks pop up and surprise visitors at each bend of the river. Water buffalos patrol on the fields; ducks paddle in the waters; peasants reap paddies in front of village houses; fishermen use the cormorants to catch the fish and return them to the boat and kids go home singing songs. All these create an idyllic and beautiful scene of the life removed from concrete cities.
A reputed attraction is Mural Hill, a 100-meter-high cliff face, which has been weathered and has stratified rock surface in various shades of colors. It is rumored that the colors present nine horses and a person who can identify them out is considered smart. Legendary stories are given to hill rocks and peaks and it is a delightful experience to appreciate the stunning landscape while listening to tour guide’s interpretation of the stories behind it.
Fisherman and Cormorants
Cormorants are good sized birds who enjoy diving underwater in search of fish. Fishermen use the cormorants to catch the fish and return them to the boat. Usually fishermen seem to be more sun-tanned. The fisherman drive the birds into the water where they dive below the surface in search of fish. When the birds catch a fish they return to the boat and the fisherman removes the fish from their throat and places it in the basket. The secret is that the fisherman places a cord around the bird’s neck to keep the bird from swallowing the fish.
You will see buffalos gazing along the river bank or patrolling on the fields. They seem to be indispensable friends of peasants, especially for kids.
Yellow Cloth Shoal
Boating downstream southward from the Mural Hill about 500 meters, peaks become steep and the river become wide and quiet. A huge yellow flagstone lying under the limpid waters can easily be seen. It is like a cloth piece and people called it Yellow Cloth Shoal. There are seven green peaks standing nearby. A legend goes that the seven peaks are fairy girls from the heaven who took baths in the river. Enthralled by the charming scene, they stayed here and become into the peaks. With verdant bamboos, the green peaks under the blue sky reflected on the quiet waters create a spectacular scene. Sometimes, people doubt they see boats floating on hill tops. Many Chinese paintings and poems present this charming scene and tourists run out of their films for it.
The river takes a big turn at Xingping and endowed with beautiful and poetic scenery. It has been reproduced in many Chinese landscape paintings. Even the newly-issued 20 RMB note has the scenery on its back. A photographer once said: ‘Shots from any perspective for this place turn to be impressive and stunning’.
A ‘village’ on the river bank is worthy a visit. Chinese call it a ‘village’ because of the fact that nowadays it is inhabited by villagers. Actually, it is an age-old castle complex survived from over 500 years ago. Although some courtyard buildings have weathered through ages, the simple but elegant flying-eaves, roofs with colorful paintings, lattice windows and unique timber structures present the folk residence from the Ming and Qing Dynasties. The villagers have the same surname of Zhao, so it is rumored that they are descendents of the imperial family in the Song Dynasty. Both Dr. Sun Yet-sun, the pioneer of China’s democratic revolution and US president Colinton paid a visit to the village on their visits to Li River.
The third section goes from Water-Dropping Village to Yangshuo where you can see Snail Hill, Green Lotus Peak (Bilian Peak), and Schoolboy Hill (Shutong Hill). The scenery is equally beautiful.
Li River cruise makes the small town known to foreigners. Located some 90 kilometers south of Guilin City, this town is the downstream end of the cruise but not the least. The enchanting fairyland of Yangshuo is renowned as the best in Guilin.
The town is very small that everyone will know you after one month. The West Street in the town lined with western cafes, restaurants and hotels is the best choice for people who want to explore Chinese life.
Yangshuo is a great place for hikes and cycling excursions. There’s no doubt that taking a close-up exploration to the country villages, you will have a taste of the rural life. One thing surprised us is the one-hour bamboo raft trip along Yulonghe River. We didn’t expect the scenery to be such a paradise.