THE LI RIVER CRUISE

The City of Guilin which is situated northeast of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region on the west bank of the Li River was the southernmost city we visited in China and closer to the Vietnamese border. We were there for only two nights (Oct 23 and 24, 2009) and stayed at the Guilin Royal Garden Hotel. It was in the morning of the 24th of October that our tour group took the cruise along the Li River which is said to be one of China's most scenic areas. The Li River originates in the Mao'er Mountains in Xing'an county and flows through Guilin, Yangshuo and Pingle, down into the Xi Jiang, the western tributary of the Pearl River in Wuzhou, its course of 437 kilometers is flanked by green hills.

Its unusual karst topography hillsides have often been compared to those at Halong Bay, Vietnam. Along the most scenic stretch of the Li River, mountain peaks rise into the sky. The cruise along the Li River gives superb views of the incredible karst landscape. Most cruises start from the Zhujiang Wharf which is about a 40-minute drive from the city of Guilin.

The official tourism tour boats usually leaves every morning, traveling the Li River about five hours until the city of Yangshuo (about 52 miles downriver) is reached. I learned that if our trip was taken during the rainy season, the river flows faster so reaching the destination may only take four hours but in hot, dry months, the river moves slower, meaning the time could stretch to six hours. Our tour guide told us that the cruise along the Li River is the most picturesque way to reach Yangshuo. Our tour guide also informed us that the river is not vavigable along its complete length throughout the year, and the best seasons are spring and autumn.

Winter waters are too low to allow boat tours, and the summer heat is oppressively humid. If you are lucky enough to have a clear day, the flat water offers a two-fold reflection of the idyllic scenery. The fee for the cruise includes a buffet lunch which is usually served about two hours after departing from Zhujiang Wharf. The fee also includes a return bus ride to Guilin. However, for our group we had our own air-conditoned tour bus which was waiting for us at yangshuo. I also was told that foreign visitors are charged more than Chinese tourists and travel in separate boats. I guess this practice of offering a discounted fare is something similar to what we have in Hawaii for the local residents.

There are dozens of tour boats, each about the size of a medium-sized tug boat. They head down the river from Guilin to Yangshou forming a long convoy, one closely following the other. The cruise boats have open viewing decks such that everyone can see great views and take photographs of the landscapes and of the river life. They also have indoor tables and chairs for eating lunch. All the boats have small outdoor kitchens stretched across their sterns where the chef and cooks prepare lunch that is served to the tourists.

Cruising on Li River always give you a restful feeling. We were told that the cruise provides one with a calming and inspirational feeling. You can breathe the fresh air, feel gentle breeze and appreciate the fabulous landscape on both sides of Li River. In spring, tourists may stand on the front of a boat and let the mizzle falls onto their faces. It is said to be a really a wonderful experience. All the tour boats return each day to Guilin empty as they are not permitted to carry passengers on the return leg. I was not told the reason behind this. The cruise along the Li River from Guilin south to Yangshuo passes through landscape that seems lifted straight out of a Chines scroll painting.

The shallow river weaves between shear-sided, 980-foot karst peaks, all weathered into intriguing shapes and interspersed with the villages and bamboo groves so typical of southern China's rural areas. Along the Li River, I noticed that people still travel the river on low bamboo rafts. You also pass several villages where fishermen still use cormorants to catch the fish and return them to the boat. Cormorants are good sized birds that enjoy diving underwater in search of fish. When the birds catch a fish they return to the boat and the fisherman removes the fish from their throat and places it in a basket. A common technique used by the fishermen is to tie a knot around the bird's neck to keep the bird from swallowing the fish.

Cruising on the Li River is enjoyable no matter what the weather is like. During sunny days, tourists can see the inverted reflection of the hills on both sides clearly in the water. During cloudy days, the hills are surrounded by mist and tourists may feel they are cruising in a mystical paradise. And when the rain comes, drizzle is like a vale, which covers the hills and river. There's always something interesting to see as you cruise along the Li River. The eye-catching landscape and country scenery along the Li River will never disappoint you. Gorgeous Karst peaks give you surprises at each bend of the limpid river under the blue sky.

You will see water buffalos pulling carts or cooling off in the river. They seem to be indispensable work animals in farms of Chinese peasants just as it is done by farmers in the Philippines. You also get to see some farmers tending rice paddies, bamboo groves, school kids and fisherman float by on bamboo rafts. With its breathtaking scenery and taste of a life far removed from the concrete metropolis, the scenery along the Li River became one of China's top tourist destination ... and we were indeed lucky that this has been made a part of our tour. At the end of our cruise we disembarked at Yangshuo to stroll and shop amid the colorful, bustling marketplace filled with street vendors.

And yes, I took numerous photographs during our cruise and you can view these by clicking on the link shown below:

Li River Cruise