The Li River – Guilin, Guangxi, China

The Magical China of Poets and Painters

Reputed to possess the most beautiful mountains and rivers under heaven, Guangxi Province has been eulogized for thirteen centuries by painters and writers who tried to capture its unearthly karst formations on paper. A cruise down the Li River is like entering a classic Chinese scroll painting of mist, moun­tains, and rivers.

From Guilin, the jade-green Li wends its way through spectacular, almost surreal scenery of humpbacked and eroded shapes with whimsical names like Bat Hill, Five Tigers Catch a Goat, and Painting Brush Peak. The timeless riverside landscape seems oblivious to the constant stream of tour boats that ply single-file past picturesque villages where young boys bathe the family water buf­falo, women wash their clothes, and farmers plow the rice fields. Some fishermen on skinny bamboo rafts still employ cormorants that are trained to dive and trap fish in their beaks. A ring placed around their necks stops them from swallowing the catch.

The small town of Yangshuo is the southern terminus of the cruises, and though it may not be the “real China” – cybercafés, B&Bs, and cafés offering “American Brunch” have sprung up to cater to foreign tourists – prices are cheap, the locals are friendly, and everyone speaks English.

A bike ride through the surrounding green plains and the forest-covered limestone peaks allows you to see some of China’s most remarkable scenery. Some of the peaks can even be climbed:

From the summit at Moon Rock, a dramatic army of jagged peaks goes marching off into the dis­tance. For back-lane scenes of traditional China and even more remarkable scenery, the rustic riverside village of Xingping is an hour’s bike ride away past emerald-green rice paddies and striking landscapes.

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