Up early as today was river cruise day!! I think that everyone else staying in our hotel were also doing the river cruise as we had to wait for a breakfast table at 7.45 on a Sunday morning!! Lily met us at 8.30 and we then did the 20 minute ride to join the 100’s of other people boarding the river cruise from Guilin to Yangshuo on the River Li. Our boat held about 130 people but did not feel crowded. All the boats were like this and they were leaving every 10-15 minutes. It was a 4 hour leisurely ride to Yangshuo, but it went fast and was a lovely time through spectacular scenery – this really is the most beautiful place in China.
The Government pay the fishermen to take trash out of the river so it is very clean as a result. :-)
All of the boats are very similar. We spent quite a bit of time on the upper deck taking photos! We saw some of the local tradespeople sailing up to the big boats selling fresh fruit, vegetables and fish. Some of our lunch was sourced this way!
The cruise of this section of the River Li is 83km long and is split into 3 rough sections. The various attractions (villages, peaks, hills, rock formations) have interesting descriptive names, which calls for much of your imagination to see if the descriptions match the view! The tour guide on each boat (as well as Lily) explain many of the legendary stories about these attractions – most are mystical fairy and love stories.
In the second section, which is from Ox Gorge (near the Bamboo River Dock and the Millstone Dock) to Water-Dropping Village, we witnessed the most charming scenery of the cruise: Wangfu Rock (Yearning-for-Husband’s-Return Rock); Crown Cave – A crown-like crag earns the hill this name. What makes the hill a worthy stop for both river cruise tourists and those who arrive from Guilin City by bus tour, is its twelve kilometer long water-eroded cave. It is a wonderland of various stalactite, stone pillars and rock formations in the cave. Since it is open to tourists in 1995, illuminating lights, sound control tour guide system and escalators are equipped in the scenic area and sightseeing cars and boats enable visitors to tour inside the cave. The government plan to build this site as an all-round tourist area including cave visiting, country sightseeing and ethnic minority exploration. It is estimated to become an important excursion site along the the river. Not very far from the Crown Cave on the western bank, a huge rock descends into the river and cuts off a footpath by the water edge. Villagers have to take a ferry to reach the other side and continue the way. So, this spot gets its name Half-Side Ferry (for usually ferry means to transport people by boat across a body of water and reach the opposite bank).
Down stream from Yangdi to Xingping, the river passes an endless procession of distinct peaks and bamboo groves and stunning landscape. This part was the highlight of the cruise. Pinnacled peaks pop up and surprise visitors at each bend of the river. Water buffalos patrol on the fields; ducks paddle in the waters; peasants reap paddies in front of village houses; fishermen use the cormorants to catch the fish and return them to the boat and kids go home singing songs. An idyllic and beautiful scene of life on the river, far removed from concrete cities.
Nine Horse Mural Hill (jiuma hua shan) is a 100-meter-high cliff face, 61km from Guilin and 4km from Xinping. It has been weathered and is a stratified rock surface in various shades of colors. The legend is that the colors represent nine horses that assume a variety of poses: some seem to be running, some just lying there and others playing. It is said that a herdsman (Monkey King) from the heaven brought his horses to Li River and while there, an artist saw those horses and wanted to draw them. Unfortunately, the horses were so scared of him that they ran into the cliff and never came out again.
Legend says that if a person can point out all the nine horses on the precipice, she or he would be the winner of the next “Imperial Examination”. It is reported that Premier Zhou Enlai and President Bill Clinton were able to recognize and identify all of the nine horses. Legendary stories are given to hill rocks and peaks and it is a delightful experience to appreciate the stunning landscape while listening to tour guide’s interpretation of the stories behind it.
Sailing on downstream, south from the Mural Hill about 500 meters, peaks become steep and the river becomes wide and quiet. A huge yellow flagstone lying under the waters can easily be seen. It is like a cloth piece and people called it Yellow Cloth Shoal. There are seven green peaks standing nearby. A legend goes that the seven peaks are fairy girls from the heaven who took baths in the river. Enthralled by the charming scene, they stayed here and become into the peaks. The green peaks under the blue sky reflected on the quiet waters create a spectacular scene.
Cormorants are good sized birds who enjoy diving underwater in search of fish. The local fishermen use the cormorants to catch the fish and return them to the boat. They drive the birds into the water where they dive below the surface 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 the basket. The secret is that the fisherman places a cord around the bird’s neck to keep the bird from swallowing the fish. I am not sure if I like this approach, but it was certainly a good show.
The river takes a big turn at Xingping and this was the most beautiful scenery. For anyone who has visited China you will be familiar with this scene as it is reproduced on the back of the 20 RMB note.
An old castle complex can be seen from the boat that is over 500 years old. Some of the courtyard buildings have weathered through ages; the simple but elegant flying-eaves, roofs with colorful paintings, lattice windows and unique timber structures present the folk residence from the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Local Chinese call it the ‘village’ because that nowadays it is inhabited by villagers. Many of the villagers have the same surname of Zhao, so it is rumored that they are descendents of the imperial family in the Song Dynasty.
The very last section of the river cruise took us from Water-Dropping Village to Yangshuo. Along this section we passed Snail Hill, Green Lotus (Bilian) Peak and Schoolboy (Shutong) Hill.
One of Yangshuo’s renowned photo-ready hills, Snail Hill is about 1 km (0.6 mile) south of Xingping Town, and is 64 km (40 miles) from Guilin. The veins that twist up from the bottom to the hill make it look like a big snail. That’s how it got its name! Underneath is Snail Cave, full of Stalactites, in the shapes of birds, beasts, fruits and flowers. There are three snail stones which are hanging upside down- 0ne is as white as snow, one is as dark as midnight and the other is as green as emerald. Legend says that they are the babies of the big Snail (the hill!)
The nearby hut, named Tengjiao Nunnery, was originally built in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). It consists of two sections: Sanbao (three treasures) Hall and Kuixing (God that governs literature and writing) Pavilion. Every year, on 3rd of the 3rd lunar month, 6th of the 6th lunar month and 9th of the 9th lunar month, people around will take their children here to pray for good marks in their education!
Schoolboy Hill rises up on the right bank of the Li River. It is the smallest peak along the bank of the river. According to legend, a long time ago, there was an evil dragon in the Li River which often hovered on the river and endangered the local people. One day, a schoolboy received a sealed book from his teacher. The book taught him how to conquer this vicious creature and when the dragon saw this book, it fell down to the river. For fear that the dragon might play a trick of opossum, the schoolboy, holding the book, stood by the riverside and changed into a hill (Schoolboy Hill) to protect the local people.
Yangshuo is a very small town on the Li River that has been made famous by the River Cruise business. It is 90km south of Guilin. When our boat docked we walked along West Street which is lined with cafes, restaurants, market stalls and hotels. We stopped to get some Haagen Daas icecream and were outraged to be charged almost $50 for 2 little pots. We returned the cups and said that we didn’t want it. Our guide was horrified at the whole affair. Instead, we headed to a delicious Mango shop and had Luscious Lemon juice and Magnificent Mango smoothies at Mango. This place is covered with signed cup holders so we left our notes too (evidence up on the wall).
After this, we walked back to meet our driver who took us to another part of the River for Bamboo river ride. This was a huge highlight for the whole family! They are floating bamboo rafts that hold 2 people. Owen and Isabelle were in 1 and Oliver and I in another. We bought some water pistols and had LOADS of fun drenching everybody. We also got soaked as a result of the payback. Both of our guides stopped to get us beers – which were being kept cool in the river!!
Our driver was waiting for us at the end of the ride, so we quickly dried off and then had a 90 minute drive back to hotel in Guilin. All exhausted after a very active day so it was dinner in the Italian restaurant in the hotel.
Monday morning we flew back to Shanghai.
Can highly recommend this as a long weekend visit in China. The scenery is spectacular and there is so much to do to accommodate all ages.