No trip to Guilin is complete without a tour along the Li River on a “bamboo boat” (although we were rather disappointed to find plastic piping now used as the main material!). Most tourists take a raft to either Yangshuo or Xingping for a day or two exploring the smaller towns around Guilin.
Our original plan had been to hike along a riverside path from Guilin to Xingping, but unfortunately we were informed that the route had since been closed by local officials. However, the boat trip was a decent substitute, motoring along the beautiful river surrounded by such stunning scenery. The trip took a few hours, much quicker than the whole day of hiking we had planned – giving us bonus time in Xingping to explore that afternoon.
To get a bamboo boat, you have to first take a bus to Zhujiang Wharf, where you then queue up for a ride. Due to the popularity of this trip, boats are filled up so if you are in a small group expect to be in a boat with another family too – unless you want to pay extra for a private boat. Note, at the time of writing it is no longer possible to take a boat upstream from the pier due to official’s concerns over tourists visiting sensitive sites.
I have to say though, we were slightly disappointed with the whole commercialised aspect of the trip – guidebooks have pictures of a few serene bamboo boats pushed along by poles floating down the river, with the odd cormorant fishermen passing by. In reality, there is a rather pushy queue to get on a plastic raft powered by a noisy, smelly motor. Huge crowds of these boats fill the river, and the only other vessels passing by are large “cruise ships” with blaring announcements about the shapes of surrounding hills. I’d encourage you to try to push all that out your mind and enjoy the scenery if you can, but if you’re travelling in peak season and that would be a struggle for you then perhaps take the public bus all the way to Xingping/ Yangshuo.