Cruising on the Li River: China, March 2013

no striding

You have been warned!

Really? No striding? Striding may not be everybody’s idea of fun, but there is a certain distance – more than a pace, less than a jump, where a stride is necessary.  It makes me want to stride right now, but I see someone disguised as a fisherman watching me.  He’s quite convincing with his gear and the bucket of fish.  But what will be the next to go? Stretching? Still, I’m a visitor, so I’ll abide by the rules. For now.

This is another of those days that I’ve been looking forward to for years. I’ve seen so many photos of the Li River, and it looks spectacular.  We’ll be taking the 83 kilometre section from Guilin to Yangshuo, where the karst terrain climbs steeply on either side of the river. According to the China National Tourism Administration, the Li River is one of 66 scenic areas given an AAAAA ranking – the highest possible status.  The lowest level is A or 1A – but at least they scored an A.

We’re welcomed on board our coach by our guide for the day. He’s a very flamboyant character, and his english is excellent. He’s clearly a fan of pandas – with panda jacket, panda flag and panda stickers, it won’t be easy to lose this guy.  It looks like we’re Team Panda today, and he takes great care applying the panda stickers on all of us. I’m slightly concerned how long our drive to the jetty will be, as Panda Man has now been giving his welcome speech on the coach for 45 minutes in Mandarin, complete with a quiz section and a spot of charades.  Interestingly the English language version of his speech lasts exactly five minutes. Is there something they don’t want us to know?

We reach the boat, and I’m confronted by the “no striding” sign. Maybe this is what they were talking about on the coach.

The Li River lives up to all expectations. The river starts with gentle farmland with the occasional person tending crops, and a few water buffalo on the banks.

Home on the range



The further we cruise along the river, the more dramatic the scenery becomes. We’re given a brochure which describes the river as “exactly like a jade ribbon winding among thousands of grotesque peaks.” As grotesque peaks go, these are stunning.

K and M





Li River cruising

The weather is overcast, but we somehow escape any rain.  To the imaginative eye, the mountains resemble a variety of lifeforms, with poetic names like “The Painted Hill of Nine Horses” ( I count five) and Snail Hill. Other names include Writing-Brush Peak, Pen-Holder Hill, Apple Hill, and Five Fingers Hill.

Between photos we’re ushered over by Panda Man, who quietly confides in us that lunch will ready in five minutes, and if we don’t get there now, the Chinese will leave us nothing. The warning is appreciated, and we casually make our way downstairs. Being Chinese himself, I’m sure Panda Man knows exactly what he’s talking about. Once more, the lunch is delicious.

We reach Yangshuo and the second part of our tour starts with a quick visit into town. Yangshuo has a dramatic location in the shadow of the mountains, but clearly the tourists can get a bit tiring.

Excessive haggling can make you drowsy


Below the Ming dynasty Dragon bridge, we are assigned to bamboo rafts and are paddled gently by a local farmer along the Yulong River, a tributary of the Li River. Despite the traffic jam caused by the influx of rafts, it’s still a peaceful ride, and another chance to enjoy the scenery.

Yulong River


Along the way, we’re “entertained” by a local fisherman showing how his cormorant does most of the work. The cormorants have a rope around their neck preventing them from eating the fish and to keep them in captivity.  I’m sure organised tours like ours only encourage this kind of treatment.  Although the skill of the cormorant is impressive, this is not the highlight of the day.

3655_10151857163968976_69488971_n 422054_10151857164043976_312741359_n

On the opposite bank to the farmer and his captive is another couple, only looking marginally happy with their predicament.  Don’t tell his mother, but I don’t think he’s a model, so I guess this is the real thing. I can understand that this is a beautiful location for wedding shots, but maybe the bridge would have made for less mud underfoot.

“I thought you liked guys in white shoes”

Returning to the scheduled entertainment, a weary water buffalo is lined up and tourists of all dimensions are lined up to take their seat on top.  We’re reminded of the Chinese salute again as phones and iPads snap away.  For those unfamiliar, the female version has the head to one side, hair tossed back, one foot raised, and the mandatory peace sign. The male version doesn’t attempt the multitasking and opts for the peace sign alone. Being a baby is not accepted as an exemption from the pose. Unfortunately I just missed the peace sign with the Marlboro Man below.

The James Dean look. A work in progress.


The cruelty to the cormorants has left a slightly bad taste, but I’d have to recommend the Li River cruise.  The scenery is fantastic, and we were lucky enough to have a very enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide. Thank you Panda Man.

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17 Responses to Cruising on the Li River: China, March 2013

  1. Expat Eye says:

    Great post – I love the pic of the sleeping salesman – maybe he broke the no striding rule and wore himself out! Thanks for following my blog – and for bringing me to yours! Linda.

  2. westiedad says:

    Hi Linda – thanks for that. We saw at least three salesfolk deeply asleep at their post. I could probably do a page on them alone! Cheers, Mo

  3. drnatalieoak says:

    You had me at no striding, and the James Dean work-in-progress just made it better.

  4. Nice pics. I’ve traveled in parts of China but haven’t gotten to this part yet. Did you travel by train from Guangzhou? It seems like it takes a while to get there. Such a huge country and so many things to see…next time 🙂 Cheers!

  5. westiedad says:

    Hi – we did look at taking trains for a couple of legs, but flights were either the same price or cheaper. We decided to do Beijing to Xi’an by overnight train, but after buying our tickets we were told that our compartment had been taken by the Government for the 5-yearly Congress. Unfortunate timing. For the Li River days, we took flights into Guilin from Xi’an, and out of Guilin to Shanghai. We found this site very helpful:

    You’re right about so many things to see. I hope to get back some time and get further inland.

  6. I’m so excited to find your post about the Li River and Guilin. I’ve always dreamed of going here. The cruise does remind me a little, from your description, of a boat ride I took near Hanoi, at Tam Coc, also known as “Halong Bay of the Rice Paddies:”

    Your day looks a pretty overcast, as mine was, which was a little disappointing. But I love what you wrote here: about the “Deep Water Do Not Stride” (hilarious!) and the guide who spoke in English for only 5 minutes out of the 45 minute spiel. 🙂 Love that Marlboro Man and that outfit worn by that Chinese couple: Wow! Over the top! It’s really sad about how that guy was abusing the cormorants.

    Have you seen the movie “The Painted Veil?” It was filmed in Guilin and the scenery is spectacular!!

    • westiedad says:

      Hi CatbirdinOman – Vietnam is right up on my list. Being in NZ, the flights aren’t too bad, so I intend to get there in the next few years. I hear you have to be careful with timing. The scenery does look similar – great photos too. I think I need a better camera!
      And I saw the Painted Veil in the local DVD shop and actually had it out when I received your reply. Unfortunately with kids’ birthdays etc this weekend, I ran out of time to watch it, but plan to try again very soon. Thanks for the recommendation!

  7. Thanks for stopping by my blog! The scenery in this China post is quite amazing – It’s always nice to see photos of places you want to visit. Cheers!

    • westiedad says:

      Hi Ijfke, it sure was beautiful scenery by the river. I don’t think my camera did it justice. Fantastic photos on your blog and your other site! I need to dig deeper. It sounds like you had some adventures in Costa Rica too!

  8. alexjparton says:

    Great post and great pictures. This makes me want to go to China even more. Someday I’ll get there….

    • westiedad says:

      Hi Alex – it’s definitely worth the trip. So much to see and very easy to get around. You might want to pick a warmer time than March though. Cheers, Mo

  9. Jane Lurie says:

    Loved the Li River – classic spot for photography.

  10. What a wonderful experience! The Li River has such stunning scenery and so much to offer. Yangshuo is definitely one of the most beautiful towns that I had the opportunity to visit in China, glad you liked it!

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