Every visitor to Guilin has Yangshuo in mind. One simply cannot go without allocating a day or two exploring the famed county’s natural wonders. A cruise along the mythical Li River is certainly the cream of the crop, and gliding down Yulong River on a bamboo raft a must.
LI RIVER CRUISE
Boat cruises operate daily with a number of trips within the day, so you can easily purchase tickets at the port. But the problem is getting to Zhujiang Dock where most trips start. Either you book a cruise tour that includes a port transfer, or you go on your own by taxi which will cost a bit more because it is about an hour’s ride from Guilin city center. The latter was definitely not an option for me, plus the fact that I was traveling during the peak season. So I booked my one day seat-in-coach tour with Guilin China (under the umbrella of China Travel) which included hotel pick-up, port transfer, on board buffet lunch, a little souvenir, time to explore the West Street and a bus ride back to Guilin. That makes Yangshuo a quick and easy day trip. But in my case, I stayed on for a couple of nights, so I went back on my own by public bus which took less than 2 hours travel time.
The cruise was about 85kms long and lasted a little over 4 hours, but I barely noticed the time. I was at the viewing deck the whole time, camera and tripod in place. When lunch was served, I almost skipped it not wanting to miss a moment away. There was a heavy downpour the night before, so the river was colored mud – not what I would have wanted it for photographic purposes. The photos I took were quite disappointing due to the gloomy atmosphere brought in by the thick clouds covering the sky. I mean, a little sunshine would have rendered better exposure. However, the mood of the day didn’t take away the grandeur of the scenery. I definitely enjoyed the entire journey and would recommend it to anyone visiting Guilin.
What was unforgettable besides the eye-popping scenic trip was how the travel agency handled the tour guide’s error in forgetting to pick me up. I started to get impatient for the bus to come. Who wouldn’t be after having waited for about an hour? Then I learned I was left behind when I asked the hostel staff to inquire about the delay. Within a few minutes, the owner/manager came in her personal vehicle, apologized and brought me to where the group temporarily stopped to wait for me. Though it was expectedly how it should be handled, I think they did a good job at it. The tour guide probably had a demerit for her lapse, but from a customer’s point of view, it was still unbelievably truly epic!
China Travel offered an optional tour to Shangri-la Guilin that also included a visit to the scenic Yulong Bridge and the Cormorants fishing town. According to the guide, transportation to these destinations can be quite a challenge when traveling alone. Whether it was true or not, or if it was merely selling tactics, I gave in and joined the tour because I had not planned how to spend the rest of my afternoon.
By the time we all assembled back after everyone went their way around West Street, and I dropped my baggage at the hostel, the clouds have fallen heavy above us. When we arrived at the park, the gray puffs burst and out poured a heavy pitter-patter. It was that kind of a tour…
Shangri-la Guilin is an ethnic-themed park built on a lake. It is like paradise where breathtaking landscape is in harmony with tribal and ethnic minority lifestyle. Sailing around the lake somehow gave me an overview of the whole scenic area despite it being blurred by rainfall. The buildings erected are of traditional Dong architecture. Within these structures are various performances of the Miao, Yao, Dong and Zhuang minorities, local customs and traditions as well as arts and crafts. Sadly for us who came in with rain, all outdoor activities were temporarily cancelled.
YULONG RIVER BAMBOO RAFTING
I rented a bike and cycled all the way to the docks where the bamboo rafting commenced. I didn’t have to worry about bicycle transport between docks (departure to arrival) because it was a service offered by the rafting operators. So while I was gliding down the calm waters, at times pushed by the current near the weir, my bike was way ahead of me on a truck and awaited my arrival at the other end of the journey. Pretty convenient!
So arriving at the very busy dock, I couldn’t figure out how to get myself on a raft. Lucky for me, a female solo traveler approached me asking where she could ride a raft. Alas! I wasn’t alone in my dilemma! Apologetically I told her I don’t speak Chinese and that I was trying to figure out the same thing, too! Then I suggested we go together so we could share in the raft rental fee. The bamboo raft seats two so single passengers will have to pay for double. She gladly accepted and immedistely sought out for a raft operator. If it hadn’t been for her, I would never have been able to do the scenic raft ride.
Bamboo rafting on Yulong river is much like a meditative relaxing trip with just a little adventure in the mix. Throughout the two-hour glide from Chao Yang Dock to Gong Nong Bridge. I watched fields and farm houses, hills and mountains drift by. The countryside view was postcard-perfect! The river runs smooth, lulling me to sleep – serene and dream-like. Except for the weirs! At first it was a little exhilarating to ride through the weir. But after several glides, I got the hang of it and lost count. I guess I stopped counting after five.
Halfway through, we had a stop-over at a snack joint. Well, I don’t know what to call the place. The guide pulled the raft to the riverside and instructed us to go up the embankment for a short break. A lady was grilling freshly caught fish and a few tourists were under a shanty enjoying their food. Of course, we had a taste of the fish which they said was from the river and which to me looked like tilapia.
Bamboo rafting ended at Gong Nong Bridge. The docks can be pretty crazy during the day as it is where most river tours start and end. Rafts are pulled out, piled and transported on trucks; parked bicycles wait for their riders and a throng of tourists roam around park. Satisfied of my experience, I bid goodbye to my companion and rode my bike back to town.