China Story 1: Rafting Down Li River in Guilin (桂林漓江漂流)
Sights: Scenic mountains 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. 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.
Next to Xingping Ancient Town is a hill known as Laozhai Hill (老寨山) where visitors can walk up to the peak — about 225m high. The hill is shown in the photo below. Does the mist-engulfed hills look like a Chinese painting? Can you see a pavilion and a transmission tower on top of the hill?
After parting with my European companions, I headed for the top of Laozhai Hill. The starting point of the trail to go up Laozhai Hill was near the entrance to Xingping Ancient Town, where the arch was. A simple map was drawn on a wall near the trail to show the way. There were two pavilions on the hill.
The view from the first pavilion, called Peace Pavilion (和平亭), was of the Li River below. This part of the river led to Yangshuo but passenger-carrying bamboo rafts were not allowed to go down that river, which was why we alighted at Xingping. Ferry services were not allowed to stop at Xingping.
From Friendship Pavilion (友好亭) on the hill top, I had a wide view of Li River. It made a U-turn at Xingping and continued to Yangshuo. The flat lands surrounding the meandering river were mostly agricultural land. The scenery from Laozhai Hill would be the best view in spring.
And looking inland, away from the river, were more mountain ranges. This is why Guilin is known as the world's number one spot with numerous scenic mountains and Li River passing through it — a saying that goes "桂林山水甲天下".
Xingping Ancient Town was built in the mountainous region and relied on the river as its primary mean of transportation to the outside world in the old days. Today, there are roads servicing the town and nearby cities.
After a short look around in Xingping Ancient Town and/or Laozhai Hill, most travellers would continue to Yangshuo by bus, ending the one-day rafting trip. But I decided to stay in the old town for the next few days to explore the town and surrounding areas thoroughly and also hoping for the mist to clear.
Stay and explore Xingping Ancient Town