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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.