Words fail to describe the beauty and reputation of the Li River; it is so lovely and unparalleled. Of all the famous rivers in China, the Li is the only one that hoards up the scenery of green peaks and idyllic countryside on both its banks. Here you will find no haggard wasteland, no skyscrapers, no heavy population, no angry individuals, but clear water, lofty peaks, pastoral villages, and friendly people.
Chinese Name: Lí Jiāng 漓江
Best Part: Guilin-Yangshuo
Best Scenic Sites: The Fresco Hill – The Nine Horse Mount/Yellow Cloth Reflection/Xingping Ancient Village/Yao Hill
Best Seasons to Visit: Spring/Summer/Autumn
Tour Types: Boat Cruise/Bamboo Rafting/Hiking
Nine Horse Fresco Mount
Standing on the boat in the river, you can clearly see the horses’ images on the mountain. Local people call it “Jiú Mǎ Huà Shān” (Nine Horse Painting Mountain). The ‘painting’ is actually composed of huge natural patterns which look very like nine running horses. Each horse has its own vivid facial expression. The painting is a masterpiece of nature.
Yellow Cloth Reflection
South of the horse fresco, there is a beige rock that looks like a piece of yellow cloth, lying on the flat riverbed. Water here is clean and smooth, so the reflection of the ring of hills around can be clearly seen on the surface of the rock. It is worth knowing that the picture on the back of the 20 RMB note in China was taken from right here.
Xingping Ancient Village
Xingping fishing village, with well-preserved quartzite road and old buildings, is quiet and authentic. It is widely acclaimed for its sunset views and local restaurants. It only takes 30 minutes to walk all around the village, but it is the major starting point for an important stretch of the river. Walking 30 minutes from Xingping, you can reach the scenery highlighted on the back of the 20 RMB note.
As Guilin in Spring is immune from bitterly cold temperatures but not downright warm, it provides comfortable temperatures for appreciating the towering peaks and clean water.
Early morning can be chilly, and the views betray beauty behind a layer of mist. This is the Li River’s most mysterious season, during which visitors will feel they are in fairyland. Though it may drizzle all day long, this adds special charm to the views.
If you want a bright, clear view of the river, come in summer. The mountains, whose reflection can be clearly seen in the water, are lush and green. The bright sunshine sets off the peaks and river to advantage. Moreover, the river supports various water activities, helping people to combat the heat.
Everything has cooled down by autumn. It’s drier than spring or summer, and it adds more color to the mountains and calmness to the river. Fewer rainy days make autumn the best time for hiking along the riverside. Enjoy the biggest moon at the time of the mid-autumn festival.
Taking a modern boat to view the whole stretch of river from Guilin to Yangshuo makes for the most comfortable and weatherproof cruise. There are several kinds of boat at different prices.
Generally, boats will have an indoor sitting area (some boats provide private booths) and a public deck. A lunch buffet or western lunch box is included in the four-hour cruise. Services are not always uniformly good, but hopefully nothing will detract too much from the beauty of the river.
Good to Know
Boat cruises usually set off around 9:30 am. Visitors who arrive on early flights (before 7 am) will be able to catch a boat. But if your flight is delayed, you will miss the boat. We suggest tourists spend at least one night in Guilin, so you will not miss the boat and have a chance to appreciate the beauty of the city.
There is no direct bus to the boat pier, so taxi is recommended. It costs about 70 RMB and takes about 30 minutes from the city to the pier. Some travel agencies pick you up from your hotel and take you to the pier.
Bamboo rafts provide an alternative local experience for visitors. The short stretch from Xingping to the famous Nine Horses Fresco contains the best scenery on the Li River. One raft can take four passengers, but is best for two. Some rafts are now made of green PVC-pipes (rather than bamboo), to help in coping with strong currents. Rafting is more dependent on weather conditions than cruising, as rafting offers little protection from the rain or sun.
Good to Know
Since May 2015, there have been age limits for taking the raft (a minimum age of 7 and a maximum of 70).
Each raft has a driver. Though the drivers speak poor English and have no monetary incentive to explain the sights to you, they are kind and will point out important scenery.
This is a way of getting close to the river, mountains and most importantly, local farmers’ lives. Walking along the pebble riverbanks, you will pass some small villages where you can observe rice fields, horses, and fishermen about their daily lives. You can count the horses on the Nine Horses Fresco, and take pictures of the Yellow Cloth Reflection. There are several different routes available to hikers.
Recommended Hiking Route: Xingping to Yangdi
Time: about 4 hours
Best time to visit: April to October
Good to know
Hiking on the pebble riverside is not easy. Check the local facilities and transportation before you go.