Guilin, Yangshuo and the Li River between them have an abundance of natural scenery hot spots and other tourist sites, and their mountains and rivers attract millions of domestic and foreign tourists every year.
Located in southern China’s Guangxi Province, the 83-kilometer long river from Guilin to Yangshuo has a landscape decorated with startling hills, steep cliffs, caves and farming villages, and is lined with bamboo. The Chinese RMB 20 note showcases the Li River.
The most famous section of the Li-river meanders between Yangdi and Xingping and covers some of the most impressive part of the Li River with giant limestone peaks, sub tropical forest and long white pebble beaches (depending on the water level). The downside is that it is also the most touristic stretch of the Li-river especially between 10am and 4pm when you will encounter dozens of tour boats cruising up and/or down the river and a myriad of smaller rafts floating in between.
Fisherman dot the river on tiny rafts just before dawn to catch fish with cormorants. With the rising sun illuminating the jagged peaks and the fishermen’s lanterns casting a warm glow over the surface of the water, it really is a spectacularly beautiful scene. Fishermen also repeat this process in the afternoons with the tour boats sailing past.
Sailing the River
There are many options and many vendors, but essentially boils down to 2 main choices:
- A wide variety of big boats, ranging from “Super Luxury/Superior” (about RMB 750 upper deck, RMB 650 main deck) to “Luxury/Deluxe” (about RMB 450) to “Basic” pretty bloody awfull boats (about RMB 350) that takes you and about 196 others down the river over 4-5 hours, leaving from about 40 minutes south of Guilin from the Zhujiang Pier taking you all the way to Yangshuo. These boats all leave early morning from Guilin.or
- Bamboo raft (small raft type boat about RMB 180) that takes you and maybe 4 other passengers down the river through the most interesting/picturesque parts from Yandi Village (1 hour and 20 minutes drive from Guilin) to XingPing Village (total raft ride of about 1.5 to 2 hours) then a 50 minute drive to Yangshuo. These bamboo rafts are flexible with time throughout the day.
Xingping Village located about an hour’s drive from Yangshuois is one of the oldest towns in the area, and is renowned for its dramatic scenery along the Li River – a very pretty and interesting. Xingping has a history dating back more than 500 years – founded during the Ming Dynasty in 1506, the town contains numerous traditional residences that are remarkably well-preserved. Special features include blue brickwork, black tiles, sloping roofs, horse head walls, cornices and carved windows, and the houses represent classic examples of Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) Dynasty architecture. President Clinton visited there. If you do the raft down the Li River, plan on spending an hour or so with a camera walking around. Just be prepared for the onslaught of tourist touts trying to sell you river boat cruises and local handicrafts.
Due to the high volumes of tourists traveling from Guilin to Yangshuo, there are a number of scams that you should be aware of:
- Tour guides waiting at parking lots or docks
At the big tourist sites or by the ferries there will be a lot of self-proclaimed private tour guides waiting to offer their services. They often speak a little English, and aim to only get custom from foreigners, helping you get your tickets, hotels, and other things sorted, offering to take you to the biggest attractions. They are not real tour guides, and trick you with their lowest prices, but it is not worth the trouble. Some of the attractions they take you to will get them commission, meaning higher prices for you.
- Taxi drivers
Taxi’s do not use meters in Yangshuo (they do in Guilin, except for airport transfers) since it is unlikely they will be able to pick up someone else where they drop you off in the countryside or hotel so taxi rates generally include a return transfer for the driver. ALWAYS clearly agree on the fare when meters aren’t used and write the agreed fare on a piece of paper and show it to the driver – making sure he sees and acknowledges it – to avoid problems. If drivers get really angry and aggressive it generally means they believe you are trying to rip them off so be very clear about it. Always negotiate a price before you engage in any service. It will not only save you money but hassle too. If you do not need a certain service, refuse them to take any of your belongings.Refuse to use taxi drivers promoting tourist attractions. Most of them will wait at the airport or around the big hotels, waiting to take you to a hostel, tourist attraction, restaurant or a shop. All of these places will be in cahoots with the driver and will pay them commission.
It is best to avoid taking them, as they ignore traffic rules, endanger your safety, and sometimes will stop in the middle of nowhere and demand more money for the trip. There have been many reported cases of drivers getting aggressive and even threatening physical violence.
- Buy tickets ONLY from official tourist offices or BIG hotels
The ‘Impressional Sanjieliu’ is Guilin’s most famous performance, and is worth watching, however, ensure that you get your tickets from an official travel agency or a big hotel. Some smaller travel companies will offer cheaper tickets but the seats will be really far from the stage where you can’t see or hear anything, and its not worth it. The same goes for touts selling tickets outside, which although cheaper, really do not give you great seats and are a waste of time. Generally the 198 RMB tickets are good, and you can really enjoy the show from these seats.
- Be careful of fake bank notes
When shopping, make sure that any change you get is real. The same goes for when you are exchanging money. Some of Guilin’s streets have fake currency exchanges, and be vigilant if vendors ask whether or not you can break their large bills, or offer to give you change. The most common counterfeit denomination is the 100 RMB bill.
What to Bring
What to bring
- Toilet paper: Yangshuo in particular and China in general is not a toilet paper oriented culture. Many public rest rooms will have limited if any toilet paper, so it is a good idea to carry tissue or wet wipes with you. In better places you will find sprayers on the wall or built into the toilet seats, so you can wash off and then pat dry with tissues.
- Hand sanitiser: A day out in the countryside offers plenty of opportunities to try out the local foods and fruits you may often seize yourself. Peeling fruits will get your hands sticky and often meat or fish dishes carry lot’s of bones that require some assistance of your hands. Not all places provide clean running water and paper so to carry a pack of pocket-sized hand sanitiser and kleenex when venturing away from your hotel will come in very handy!
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