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  • Rick

China #1: Rafting Down Li River in Guilin (桂林漓江漂流)

Updated: Jul 5, 2020

Sights: Scenic landscape along Li River (Lijiang, 漓江)

Journey: From Guilin City to Xingping Ancient Town (兴坪古镇) in Yangshuo

Region: Guilin Prefecture, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region


A cruise down the Li River is a must when visiting Guilin — this is not a sales pitch as the major attractions in Guilin are mostly along the river, not in Guilin City (see Story #5). There are various ferry services, with different standards and pricing, departing from Zhujiang Wharf (竹江码头) from Guilin City and run along the river for 83Km to Yangshuo (阳朔). Passengers will just sit back, enjoy the views throughout the journey and alight at Yangshuo. This is a common option for tour groups.

For free & easy travellers and backpackers, a much more fun and adventurous way will be to cruise down the river on motorised bamboo rafts. The rafts depart from Yangdi (杨堤), which is further downriver from Zhujiang Wharf, to either the Nine Horses Mountain (九马画山) or Xingping Ancient Town (兴坪古镇). After getting off the bamboo rafts at either destination, going to Yangshuo or other places will be via land transports.

Each bamboo raft can carry up to 4 passengers on a co-share basis. The best way is to arrange the trip through a hostel to have the required number of people and also some assurance in service standards.

I took up the bamboo rafting package at Guilin This Old Place International Youth Hostel (桂林老地方青年旅舍), where I stayed during my travel in Guilin. Booking through This Old Place Hostel had an advantage in arranging for an accommodation with its sister branch in Xingping Ancient Town (see Story #2).

Getting From Guilin City to Xingping

The journey started at Yangdi Pier after being picked up from the hostel by a mini-van. I was with another two Europeans from the same hostel for the rafting. It was pretty misty during the day of the river cruise (it was in autumn). If I were to go back again, I will go during spring time, but that will be during super-peak season.

Bamboo rafts allowed more flexibility in getting around the river, including stopping at some permitted spots for photos and snacks — boatmen were not allowed to stop or drop passengers anywhere for safety reasons.

On the journey down the river, our boatman pointed out some interesting mountains and explained what they resembled. The boatmen will usually speak in Mandarin unless a English guide is requested. My European companions were lucky to have me as a translator.

We were about to pass a giant soldier that was standing tall above the river. Can you see his face in the middle of the photo above? And followed by a gigantic "fish" on a mountain wall.

The rafts were usually allowed to drift down the river without using the motors. Only when going against the river flow would the motor be used.

It was an amazing sight to have many rafts going down the river together. To avoid collisions, rafts travelling in opposite directions would keep to one side as though an invisible line existed in the middle of the river.

One of the famous sights along the Li River is the Nine Horses Mountain (九马画山) — the mountain has what looks like a painting of nine horses. I was not able to identify all the "horses", but the top one did look like a galloping horse.

This was our raft when we stopped for photos and some snacks on the river bank.

Fishes and prawns were caught from the river and fried to make various cheap and tasty snacks. And fried crispy crackers with peanuts too.

There were also flocks of ducks roaming freely and feeding along the river, but they were not wild ducks.

The rafting ended at Xingping after about 3 hours (including stops for photos) at a pier that was a short walking distance from the ancient town.

Sights Around Xingping

There was a viewing point near the alighting place for the bamboo rafts. The view point was for the Yellow Cloth Shoal (黄布滩) scenery, which was the picture printed on the back of the 20-yuan China note. This scenery should not be missed when in Xingping.