Cruise down the Lí River

As we drove out of Guilin towards the Lí River, I couldn’t help but juxtapose our experiences from the day prior. The tour we had taken to see Longji Rice Terraces was intimate and completely in English. Today, we were joined by 40 other people, mostly Chinese, and instead of a van, we found ourselves sitting on a coach.

We immersed ourselves in the Chinese chitter chatter on board. Our guide for the day, an energetic Chinese woman who spoke English extremely fast, explained the history of the area and the day’s proceedings using her microphone. During the two-hour drive to the riverside port, there seemed to be a lot more Chinese commentary from her – but perhaps some things are said in fewer words in English. Nonetheless, we were happy to sit back in the air-conditioned seats and watch the morphing scenery outside the window.

Before we exited the coach, she gave us all stickers to wear. She didn’t want us to get lost. We soon discovered why. We weren’t the only group taking a river tour and found ourselves in a massive crowd by the river, waiting to funnel down the narrow steps to the boats lined side by side below. When the time came, we walked across the decks of the other boats until we reached ours and took up a table with booth seats on the ground floor.

We had been offered an upgrade to sit upstairs for a small fee. Our decision to stay as is was justified when we saw that the upgrade wasn’t much of an upgrade at all. The group of American women who had accepted were sitting by the noisy staircase – the boat’s passengers coming in and out of the nearby exit to the upper viewing deck.

There were about 100 seats on board and we hardly sat at ours – the scenery was too spectacular to stay indoors. The boat had two levels and the roof acted as a third open-air deck to take photos from. For four hours, we cruised past magnificent karst formations (including the iconic scenery found on the back of the ¥20 note).

“The Lijiang River travels 84 kilometres exactly like a jade ribbon winding among thousands of grotesque peaks. Along the river banks are the spectacular landscape and elegant hills, the towering peaks, the variegated cliffs and odd shaped crags reflected in the mirror of its crystal-clear water and wonderful deep pools, running springs and flying waterfalls everywhere.” – from the brochure we received on board

The water was, in fact, quite brown, but the landscape was indeed breathtaking. The karst formations seemed to sprout from no where to watch over the gushing river. Together, they formed ancient stories about powerful beings that came to rest in the area. Folklore stories include:

  • The painted hill of nine horses: seven horses from heaven that got stuck in the mountain.
  • Snail Hill: a smart and diligent fairy that was turned into a snail-shaped mountain.
  • Green Lotus Hill: another fairy that was turned to stone – a lotus-shaped mountain to be exact.

Lunch was pretty atrocious – it was served in plastic containers, similar to those distributed on airplanes. So if you take this into consideration, the tour wasn’t great value for money. Yet, the scenery was worth every penny. I now understand why the Lí River has been such a source of inspiration for Chinese artists throughout history. It’s definitely a must-visit!

Travel details

Lí River Cruise: we booked our day cruise down the river with Lí River Tour via our hostel, Guilin Wada Hostel. We reserved the day prior to departure and only for one way (as we were due to stay in Yangshuo for a few days).

The cruise included:

  • a 2-hour coach ride from our hostel to the riverside port
  • 4-hour cruise
  • lunch (airplane-style)
  • English speaking guide (in the coach, not on the boat)
  • plenty of photo opportunities

*We had hoped to take a bamboo boat, but the over zealous rain meant the water levels of the river were too high and dangerous. All smaller boats were cancelled. In hindsight, this was probably better for photo opportunities, especially as we went further along the river.

Price: ¥395 yuan

Travel distance: 83 kilometres from port to port.

Travel advice: it’s not worth upgrading your ticket to sit upstairs. The food is pretty much the same and if you’re like us, you won’t spend enough time at your seat to merit the extra cost.

Don’t expect any fine dining and you’ll have a great time.

Photo: The karst and river scene from the back of the ¥20 note, Lí River, China

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