Li River excursion
The Li River connects the city of Guilin to Yangshuo and if you want the best views of the area’s limestone karst formations, including the scene depicted on China’s 20 yuan note, a cruise up or down the Li River is the way to go. While it’s quick and convenient to get to Yangshuo from Guilin via bus or taxi, taking the four- to five- hour cruise up the river offers a completely different (and much more beautiful) perspective.
If you’re pressed for time, hop on a motorized wooden boat at the Zhujiang Wharf just outside of Yangshuo for a trip up the winding river to the village of Xingping. Make a day trip out of it by cycling to Xingping in the morning and catching a boat downriver back to Yanshuo in the afternoon.
Keep an eye out for Elephant Trunk Hill and Picture Hill, a huge cliff covered in patchy rocks said to resemble horses.
Little Li River excursion
The Li River may offer marginally better scenery, but cruising down the Little Li River on a bamboo raft is the more exhilarating experience. As the largest tributary of the Li River, the Little Li extends 26 miles (41.8 kilometers) through the limestone cliffs and quiet villages. Kick back on the bamboo loungers built into each boat and take in the sights to the lulling sounds of the boatman’s pole dipping in and out of the water.
The waters of the Little Li are clear, shallower than the Li, and only carry a gentle current, making it perfect for swimming in the hot summer months. After a relaxing dip, get ready for the thrill of going over the river’s many weirs: small dams crossing the river to slow the flow of water and allow animals to cross. If you get hungry, floating restaurants along the Little Li cook up fresh river fish for travelers passing by.
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