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Cruise on Li River: The Only Guide You Need

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Li River, the majestic waterway that connects Guilin with Yangshuo, carves its path through a breathtaking landscape. Ancient limestone karsts warped by time jut up around ancient villages where fishermen wait for a catch and water buffalo graze. Travelers who go on a Li River cruise often describe it as the highlight of their entire China tour.

Most visitors spend one night in Guilin, take a Li River cruise to Yangshuo and return to Guilin by car. The water journey from Guilin City or nearby Zhujiang Wharf to Yangshuo town takes between four and five hours, covering a distance of around 83 kilometers. For a more immersive experience, explore the Li River’s unforgettable landscape via a combination of bike, boat, and foot and spend anything from three days to two weeks in this enchanting land.

Li River cruise at a glance

Best time to go: Li River cruises are available all year round. However, we recommend a cruise in the fall (September to November) when the weather is cool and dry, and the days are clear.
Boarding time: Cruises board around 9:00 am and depart at 9:30 am.
Duration: 4 – 5 hours
Comfort level: Cruise boats are fairly comfortable with air-conditioning, ample seating and an open deck for photo opportunities.
Passenger limit: Cruise boats seat around 40 people.
Ticket price: Between RMB 440 to RMB 880* (USD 64 to 128), depending on seating type — upper deck, lower deck or VIP.
Lunch: A buffet lunch is included in the ticket and is served onboard.
Amenities: All cruise boats have toilet facilities, and most cruises are air-conditioned.

Highlights of a Li River cruise

1. Yellow Cloth Shoal

Chinese RMB 20 featuring the Yellow Cloth Shoal scenery
People gave this place the name "Yellow Cloth Shoal" due to a large cream-colored flagstone lying under the water that looked like a new yellow cloth

Around 60 kilometers from Guilin City is one of China’s most famous landscapes, Yellow Cloth Shoal. Here, seven peaks frame a wide curve in the Li River, creating a perfect reflection in the water below. This view has inspired shan shui (mountain-water) artists for 1,500 years. 

2. Xinping

A view of a house in Xinping with hills behind it
Xinping is an ancient town dating back to 265 AD

More than 1,000 years old, Xinping town is known for its stunning scenery. From a Li River cruise, you can see many of the town’s landmarks including Snail Hill, Lotus Crag and Xinping fishing village.

3. Nine Horses Fresco Hill

A view of the Nine Horses Fresco Hill
From afar, the Nine Horses Fresco Hill resembles nine horses all in different poses

Also known as “painted hill”, Nine Horses is a steep cliff just a few kilometers from Xinping town. Weathered over millennia, the cliff face has patches of yellow, white, black and green rock that remarkably resemble nine horses running and jumping across the cliff face. According to a legend, the horses are heavenly creatures that slipped down to earth to drink from the Li River and ended up being trapped in the cliff.

4. Daxu Village

Daxu, a 2000 year old town, lies near the bank of the Li River
Recently, seven ancient tombs were discovered in Daxu that had been placed in a pattern coinciding with the Big Dipper constellation

Daxu Ancient Village features architectural elements that date back to the Ming dynasty (1368 AD – 1644 AD). Visitors can walk Daxu’s original bluestone pavement, see Wanshou stone bridge, shop at a traditional market and wander around the ancient Daxu Wharf.

5. Elephant Trunk Hill

Elephant Trunk Hill is the main attraction you see during Li River Cruise
Elephant Trunk Hill has been a main attraction of Li River since 618 AD

The unofficial mascot of Guilin, Elephant Trunk Hill sits at the confluence of the Li River and the Peach Blossom River. This magnificent karst formation resembles an elephant dipping its trunk into the river and has been a tourist draw since the days of the Tang Dynasty (618 AD – 904 AD).

6. Crown Cave

Visible from the Li River, Crown Cave is named for its jutting peaks that resemble the top of a royal crown. Located 29 kilometers south of Guilin in Caoping Village, Crown Cave is an intricate system of 12-kilometer-long water-eroded caves. Access into the caves is possible via the Crown Cave dock or by bus from Guilin.

Good to know

  • Know your departure point: There are two possible departure points, Daxu Wharf in downtown Guilin City, and Zhujiang Wharf, a one-hour bus ride downstream. Only cruises departing from Zhujiang Wharf offer English-speaking guides, so we recommend this departure point for non-Chinese speaking visitors.
  • Getting your tickets: After booking your cruise by phone or online, tickets are either delivered to your hotel in Guilin or issued at the ticket center at Zhujiang Wharf. Ask, at the point of purchase, which method of delivery applies.
  • Bring your passport: You must show your passport when purchasing Li River cruise tickets and when boarding the boat. If you do not have a valid passport, you must obtain a temporary ID from the nearest police station prior to your trip.
  • Purchasing a child ticket: You must buy a ticket for your child if they are between 1.1 m and 1.5 m in height. Any children under 1.1 m can join the cruise for free but will have to pay for lunch. Children over 1.5 m in height will require an adult ticket.
  • Travel light but bring snacks: Li River cruise boats don’t have much space to store luggage. You’ll also be responsible for taking care of your own bags when you explore Yangshuo, so if you’re returning to Guilin after your cruise, carry as little as you can. Food on board is simple and cannot always cater to specific dietary requirements. If you’re traveling with children, or are concerned that the lunch may not be suitable, bring enough snacks to last the four or five hour duration of the cruise.
  • Returning to Guilin: If you choose to return to Guilin after your Li River Cruise, you can usually add an optional return transfer to your cruise. If you wish to stay in Yangshuo for a night or two, you should book a hotel ahead of time and consider taking a countryside tour with a local guide.
  • Consider a Li River bamboo raft service: A more adventurous way to see the Li River. The 2 hour trip starts from Yangdi Pier in Guilin and ends at Xingping, taking you closer to daily life on the river but at a slower pace. There is no lunch provided, no space for luggage, and there are no facilities on board. 

The Li River flows down from the Mao'er Mountain, sustaining an ancient way of life on its riverbanks and nourishing the entire Guilin region. Seeing the unique landscape of the Li River from a Li River Cruise is truly one of the best experiences China has to offer.

*Prices listed in the article are as of June 2019; they have been changed from RMB to USD and are approximations.

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