The southern city of Guilin, along with the nearby Yangshuo is a backpacker's paradise, the south of China without the usual crowds associated with it. One of the main tourist attractions that keeps bringing people here every year is the quaint little waterway that connects the two cities: the Li River.
Though it's only about 40 miles in length, a Li River cruise is one of the highlights of any trip south, especially for those that won't be able to make it further to see the Yangtze River. A Li River cruise affords tourists much of the same style sights, but since most visitors that make it to this region come specifically for a boat tour of the river, the banks are saturated with cruise lines waiting to whisk you down the Li. While many tourists may scoff at the ever-rising ticket prices, lower fees can be arranged through nearby hotels or hostels, many of which provide shuttle service down to the docks.
China Li River
A Li River tour offers a different side of China, especially if you have been concentrating your vacation in the larger metropolises. Concrete is nowhere to be seen here, replaced by miles of rice paddies and fields full of roaming water buffalo. Bamboo rafts are the main form of transportation here, scooting alongside the tour boats before dropping off to search for fish, while in the distance gentle mountains yearn to scrape the roof of the clouds.
Most Li River tours begin in Guilin and run towards Yangshuo, as the latter gathers far more tourists, as its limestone-infused scenery and laid-back atmosphere jibes well with the backpackers that seek the city out. The average boat tour will last most of the day, so be prepared to search for lodging in Yangshuo if you have not planned ahead.
Li River cruises are of two kinds, guided tours in English, and those prepared in Chinese. It's up to the traveler which one to jump on: though the Li River tour might be completely in Chinese and you may miss out on a few charming stories of fairies and mythology, a tour given in English can triple the price. Again, either can be booked out of your hotel, though you may get a raised eyebrow or two if you request the Chinese tour. A map of the River Li will show a few other port cities on the riverbanks; the intrepid traveler can attempt to organize their own, more personalized tour if they wish. A few willing boatmen can often be found congregating on the wharf opposite the Golden Elephant Hotel in Guilin, waiting to take you to whichever dock you please.