Location: Rises in the Mao'er Mountain or Cat Mountain (Xing'an County, northern border of Guilin), passes southward through Guilin, Yangshuo, Pingle, Zhaoping and many villages to open out to Xijiang River of Wuzhou City, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region (aka Guangxi Province)
Total length: 437 kilometers, with the 83-kilometer-long section between Guilin and Yangshuo as the highlight
Best time to visit Li River: all year long, the scenery is always impressive no matter what the weather is like
One of the most beautiful rivers of China
"The river winds like a green silk ribbon, while the hills are like jade hairpins"
--- by HanYu (768-824), a famous Chinese poet of Tang Dynasty (618-907)
Considered as the soul of Guilin and described as "the best landscape under heaven", Li River (Li Jiang, 漓江) in Guilin is the most famous and important natural attraction that people must visit when touring in Guangxi Province. A lot of excellent poets and painters appreciated the beauty of this charming river since early ages. Nowadays, the Li River stands as one of the most popular and picturesque scenic spots in China.
Endowed with amazing karstic hills, mountains, caves and little streams, the Li River is a perfect place to admire rice paddies, bamboo groves and forests, waterfalls, water buffalos, ancient villages and the symbol of the area: fishermen and their cormorants floating by on bamboo rafts. Dotted with eye-feasting scenery, the river is always surprising with its surrounding lush landscape, fauna and peaks reflecting on the clear green and mirror-like water under the blue sky. A real fairyland on earth, the Li River is a jewel of the area, where generations of local Chinese people live by, out of the turmoil of big Chinese metropolis.
Winding through some truly spectacular rock formations that have become the famous highlights of the Guilin-Yangshuo area, the river never disappoints its thousands of visitors. Along the Li River, travelers can experience original activities such as taking Li River cruises and admiring the highlights along the river such as the Elephant Trunk Hill, the Nine Horses Mural Cliff, the highlight section of Li River from Yangdi to Xingping, the scenery on the RMB banknotes of 20 Yuan as well as doing some hiking, camping, kayaking and taking photographies.
With unique beauty that goes beyond any words, the Li River scenery is one of the most represented Chinese landscapes seen on traditional paintings and poems. As a breathtaking scenic spot, this China ten top tourist destinations featured on the current 20 RMB banknote is a worldly recognized sightseeing getting more and more fame all over the world. The National Geographic Magazine listed it on the World's Top Ten Watery Wonders; former US Presidents Bill Clinton, George Bush, millionaire Bill Gates and our former customers recognized also its beauty among the world's best destinations…This is no wonder why ancient Chinese poets called it the "best landscape under heaven".
Li River Cruise
Taking on board for a cruise from Guilin to Yangshuo County is the centerpiece of any trip or tour packages to this China area. Universally seen as an outstanding highlight of Guilin, a Li River Cruise offers sightseers a unique experience of admiring a true Chinese painting with green hills, buffalos, cormorant fishermen and pristine water. Guilin is definitely the perfect representation of the Chinese mountain and water (中国山水zhong guo shan shui) ideal, driving travelers into another world where, overwhelmed by its beauty, time is suspended.
Most of the tourists doing the Li River Cruise choose the Guilin-Yangshuo overall section, but other routes (smaller one) are available. No matter what the weather goes on by the time you are doing the cruise, sun, mist or rain all lead to beautiful sceneries that will give you impressive photo shots, even if Chinese would tell you the perfect time is by a misty rainy day, when everything becomes mysterious around the peaks. Still, the best months for experiencing a Li River Cruise are March and April; the one to enjoy a clear weather and water: July, August and September. In Autumn (October, November), the sun and white clouds together with the delicate osmanthus flower fragrance spread everywhere give a special insight to the cruise. Travelers should just keep in mind that April, May and September are registered as the highest seasons of Guilin tourism.
Cruise travel tips
There are many ways for travelers to enjoy a Li River Cruise. Always organized by hotels or Guilin travel agencies, cruises take off all year round in the morning (around 9 a.m.) and arrive in Yangshuo after 4-5 hours. Different piers can be taken for starting the cruise. One is the dock located at the south of Liberation Bridge (解放桥Jie Fang Qiao,) near to downtown Guilin, the other is the option that travel agencies usually opt for, that is to say the Zhujiang pier located in Guilin suburb at an hour bus ride from the city center. Usual boarding point for a Li River Cruise, this pier is where most of the tourist boats leave for the famous Guilin-Yangshuo waterway (83 kilometers). Lasting a whole morning until lunch time, the boats are all supplied with on-board lunch buffet (mix of Chinese and western dishes) and drinks, air-condition and sightseeing loudspeaker information in English and Chinese. Travelers have their own reserved seats, but most of the time people prefer spending the cruise on the main deck on top of the boat for admiring the gorgeous sightseeing. The decks are the best locations to enjoy the great and stunning scenery of the Li River, take memorable pictures and see waterfalls, villages and local people, water buffaloes…The cruise will finish at Yangshuo pier, located just next to the famous West Street where travelers love to go shopping. For those looking for a different experience of the Li River Cruise, this is possible to arrange a single bamboo raft cruise for some of the best sections of the Li River Cruise. You could contact us for designing your own tour!
Highlights on the Li River Cruise
Along the Li River banks, visitors will appreciate the many sightseeing holding some funny and curious names, according to the usual Chinese tradition to give each peak an imaginative appellation. Even if some of them will require much of your imagination to see what it is like, the stories narrated by the tour guides and on-board sightseeing loudspeaker will give you the clues to understand them. Let us present some of the most important highlights along the cruise, presented in order of location along the route (refer also to our Li River Map for more ideas about the route).
Elephant Trunk Hill
Located on the western bank of the Li River, the Elephant Trunk Hill is one of the most famous karstic formation of Guilin city. Looking curiously like an elephant drinking water with its trunk on the riverside, the Elephant Trunk Hill got naturally its name and is now the symbol of Guilin as well as one of the most famous sightseeing. The Water Moon Cave (水月洞Shui Yue Dong), semi-round cave between the trunk and the body of the "elephant" is penetrated by water, a really stunning phenomenon to see and where many ancient inscriptions can be read when approaching on a bamboo raft. →Read more about the Elephant Trunk Hill
Just a few minutes down from the Elephant Trunk Hill locates the Pagoda Hill, on the eastern bank of the Li River, inside the Tunnel Hill Park. Being part of the beautiful Li River scenes, the hill is topped with a seven-storey and hexagonal brick pagoda tracing back from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Called the Longevity Buddha Pagoda (寿佛塔Shou Fo Ta), this ancient building is were seeing a statue of Longevity Buddha (Amitabha Buddha) and many maple trees planted at the foot of the hill give a charming scenery in Autumn. Holding the names of "Warship Hill" or "Lotus Leaf Hill" by locals, the Pagoda Hill is a picturesque Li River Cruise highlight.
Cormorant fishing is maybe one of the most impressive things to see when traveling in Asia. Originating from Japan and China, this traditional fishing method (from around 960 AD) is still used in some areas such as Yunnan or Guangxi of China. The Li River is one of the best places where to see such a scene in which fishermen use cormorants diving under the water to catch fish. Attached to the boat and the neck enrolled with a cord (letting just the smallest fish be swallowed, making the birds meal), the birds are fishermen's most efficient way to fishing. Li River Cruises are some of the best ways to discover this unique scenery and get memorable pictures.
Daxu Ancient Town
Known as one of China's most impressive ancient town, Daxu is a typical Chinese town bordering the Li River that has kept its original architecture. As a site off the beaten tracks, Daxu is where to see some flagging streets, the highlight of the place: the single-arched Longevity Bridge, as well as old residences, shops and stalls all well-preserved hidden behind every doors and corners. Ancient quarter for businessmen in the past, the town is a highlight for any traveler who will have, as passing the town, a taste at the local dumping snacks. →Read more about Daxu Ancient Town
From Yangdi to Xingping Villages
Recognized as the most beautiful section on the Li River Cruise, leaving downstream from Yangdi Town to Xingping Town is where travellers will have some of the best highlights of the scenic spot. The huge peaks spread along the riverside are all about the scenery there, a landscape made of extraordinary rock formations coming from another world. As the real highlight of all the Li River Cruise, Yangdi-Xingping section is where travelers have the chance to see on each bend some water buffalos, ducks paddle, peasants reaping their paddies at the entrance of a small village as well as the famous symbol of the area, the fishermen and their cormorants. An idyllic and outstandingly beautiful scene transporting everyone to another universe, far away from the turmoil of big metropolis! The section is also where are set some of the most famous hills of the Chinese symbolic such as the Nine Horses Fresco Hill, the Yellow Clothes Beach or the scenery on the back of 20 RMB. →Read more about Xingping Ancient Town
Located 46 km away from Guilin city, on the western bank of the Li River, Yangdi is an ancient town where to appreciat the local rural life. Being a place where most of the Li River Cruises start during the low-season (winter), Yangdi is an ideal place for admiring the gorgeous surrounding karstic scenery among which the two peaks located behind the village are the most famous and the center of a local legend. The hills were created after the visit of a daughter of the Jade Emperor (supreme god among other in Chinese culture) who, after looking for her missing goat in the village, felt in love with a local man playing reed flute. Deciding to stay in the village with her beloved, the princess' goat turned into rock for protecting its mistress. Yangdi is like all villages located in the Li River area: a place with the best landscapes on earth. The eye-catching sceneries around include the Shuilian Cave waterfall, Yangjiao Hill, Moonlight Island Holiday Resort, Carp Wall, Bride Hill and Mandarin Duck Beach… It is a great enjoyment to stop at Yangdi for a while to appreciate the area's topography, take a breath and relax along the river rhythm.
Nine Horse Fresco Hill
Certainly the most renowned rock formation that can be admired when visitors cruise the Li River, the Nine Horses Fresco Hill stands majestically on the bench of Li River at a height of 416 meters. As its name suggests, the hill looks like a fresco on which natural images of horses assuming different poses are colored due to the calcified river weeds that let traces on the cliff. Forming colorful shapes, the natural formation is strangely enough taking the shapes of different horses, when using imagination of course. As the legend goes, the lucky one who can point out all the nine horses would be a winner of ancient imperial examination. The Nine Horses Fresco Hill is definitely a must-see on the cruise, and an important highlight of the area.
Yellow Cloth Shoal / Huangbu Beach
When cruising downstream from Guilin to Yangshuo, at just a few meters away from the fresco hill stands the Yellow Cloth Shoal, a huge yellow flagstone lying under the limpid waters of the Li River. Nearby stands the remarkable seven green peaks which refer to a local legend, like most of the peaks in the area. The legend refers to seven fairy sisters who descended from Heaven to take a bath and got enthralled by the amazing scenery so that they decided to stand there, changing themselves into peaks. One of the most famous reflections on the river, the "Huangbu beach", the pristine water reveals a yellow rock board at the bottom of the river. Resembling a yellow cloth shoal spreading over the river bed, the scenic spot got its name naturally.
20 RMB Banknote scenery
If there is a highlight on the Li River that travellers should not miss when taking on board for a cruise, the scenery on the back of 20 Yuan, one of Chinese RMB banknotes, is definitely the one! Located at a short distance from the villages of Xingping and Yucun, the site is considered as the biggest highlight of the Li River Cruise, displaying a spectacular scenery of karstic mountains with fishermen fishing on their bamboo rafts, floating down the river with their cormorants. Showing up just after passing a turn on the river, this is for everyone the occasion to take a memorable picture with a 20 RMB banknote in the hands, the real scenery of the Li River in the background. Like a unique classical Chinese painting with green hills, crystal water and reflection and verdant bamboo, the Li River is without any doubt one of the most beautiful rivers of China.
Located between Guilin and Yangshuo, Xingping is maybe one of the most interesting villages to see along the Li River. Tracing back to more than thousands of years ago, Xingping is a time-honored ancient township set up in 265 as a county. Its long history makes it a place of interest in terms of architecture and customs. From being the largest town along the river, Xingping has turned into one of the most famous ancient towns of the Guangxi Province nowadays, remaining today under the control of Yangshuo County located a little bit southward. Its fame on the Guilin-Yangshuo Li River Cruise is even more enlightened by the surrounding scenic spots and landmarks of Guilin scenery such as the Mural Hill, Snail Hill and fishing villages. The village is set exactly at the place where the Li River takes a big turn, it is one of the most famous stop-off point on the river for admiring the country's 20 RMB banknote original scenery standing there. Endowed with beautiful and poetic sceneries, Xingping is a jewel for photo shots' amateurs as well as lovers of typical Chinese life sceneries. Colorful roof painting, lattice windows, ancient courtyards, timber structures and many more…Xingping is worth a stop on the Li River and a highlight of Guilin vicinity. →Read more about Xingping
As one of the most famous rock formation on the banks of the Li River, travelers should pay attention to the curious snail hill located 1 km downstream from Xingping Village. Renowned as a pictographic hill, the snail hill is a stratiform veins twisting from up to bottom and definitely looking like a big snail bordering the river. The Snail Hill is also home to a cave holding the same name: the Snail Cave, which looks like other caves around Guilin-Yangshuo, some rock formations, stalactites and stalagmites. The Tengjiao Nunnery, a hut tracing back from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) is located nearby this scenic spot. The Chinese lunar month is every year the occasion for locals to gather in that place, praying for children success at school (on the 3rd of the 3rd lunar month, the 6th of the 6th lunar month and the 9th of the 9th lunar month).
Crown Cave (Guanyan)
Located on the banks of the Li River (29 km from Guilin city), the 12 km deep Crown Cave is a cave system of stalactite, stone pillars and rock formations that is getting more and more famous. Opened to tourists in 1995, the cave is a great site for visitors to experience different kinds of attractions in the same place, among which there are a 36 meters high sightseeing elevator, walking tour, underground train and boating tour. Illuminated with color lights, the rock formations are even more put forward to the public that can use its imagination to see some human or animal like shapes. Bamboo raft cruises to Yangshuo depart from the bottom of the cave.
Half-Side Ferry (Ban Bian Du)
Not far from the Crown Cave scenic spot lie two villages that are a curiosity for travelers. The Crown Cave Village and Taoyuan Village, all together standing on the western bank of the Li River are indeed obstructed by a steep hill that obliges the villagers to take a ferry-boat to circulate between the two villages. Different from other ferries, the particularity of this "Ban Bian Du" scenic spot on the Li River is that the ferry does the way on only one-side of the river, what is barely seen anywhere else in the world, hence it's strange name of "half-side ferry". Set in a rugged and steep countryside the villages are a marvel for any travelers.
Schoolboy Hill (Shutong Hill)
Registered as one of the smallest rock formations along the river, the Schoolboy Hill is the center of a local Chinese legend. Being home place of an evil dragon in ancient times, the Li River witnessed one day the great courage of a little school boy who decided to protect the surrounding villages from the evil beast. Taught how to conquer the vicious creature from a school book one of his teachers gave him, the school boy holding the book threatened the dragon and changed into rock for protecting the local people forever and ever. A cute and epic legend that reflects the local people beliefs and customs along the Li River outstanding hills!
Located 90 kilometers away from Guilin city, downstream of the Li River, Yangshuo is the ending city of any Li River Cruise, but not the least! Indeed, if there is a place where life spends smoothly, in a paradise-like scenery of karstic hills rising up everywhere in the city with a huge diversity of food cooking and activities, Yangshuo is the place to go for some days! As a real enchanting land for its gorgeous scenery going beyond the one of Guilin city itself, Yangshuo gives to travelers especially western one a deep impression about the way of life in the region, mixing calm life style, tasty food and amazing landscapes. Yangshuo West Street, the greatest highlight of the place is a hot spot where thousands of tourists walk by every year doing some shopping and having some rest in the lined western cafes, restaurants and hotels. Yangshuo activities are so many that this is just impossible to feel bored in that place: close-up cycling excursions in the countryside, bamboo raft trip on the nearby Yulong River, hills hiking, spa, massage, mud cave, camping… Yangshuo is the best ending point of such an amazing Li River Cruise. A paradise that is for years charming every single tourists! →Read more about Yangshuo
Green Lotus Peak (Bilian Peak)
The Green Lotus Peak is a highlight of Yangshuo County that should be seen when hanging out in the countryside. Located on the southeast of Yangshuo, the peak in fact designs a range of hills of different sizes, resembling a blossoming lotus over the Li River. Being a place of interest for those to look for other amazing photo shots of this beautiful area, the Jinshan Tower built in Tang Dynasty (618-907) at the northeastern foot of the peak range is the ideal place where to stand. From this two-storied tower, a good view of the river scenery is available, for the great pleasure of everyone!