The Li River

Why Visit the Li River?

  • The most popular and picturesque scenic area in Guilin, and eulogized throughout China, the Li River is listed as one of the world's "Top 10 Watery Wonders" by America's National Geographic Magazineand the World's"15 Best Rivers for Travelers”by CNN Travel.
  • In recognition of its beauty, an image of the Li River is featured on the current series of the 20 yuan banknote.
  • Some world famous people have visited the Li River, including former US President Bill Clinton, former US President George Bush, and Bill Gates.

Li River Facts

Cormorant Fishing on the Li River A cormorant fisherman on the Li River
  • Chinese pinyin: Lí Jiāng, pronounced "Lee Jyang"
  • Li River activities: a Li River cruise, a Two Rivers Four Lakes cruise, hiking, bamboo rafting, photography, watching the night show Impression Liu Sanjie on the riverin Yangshuo

The Li River is the main river system of Northeast Guangxi, i.e. Guilin Prefecture. Its longest tributary originates near Mao'er Shan (Cat Mountain), highest mountain in South China, north of Guilin. The Li River is first named as such at the Ling Canal, which links the Li and the Yangtze via the Xiang River.

It winds its way south passing through Guilin and Yangshuo. The 83-kilometer-long section between Guilin and Yangshuo is the essence and the most beautiful part. At Pingle it is met by the Lipu River and the Gongcheng River and is then called the Gui River. The Gui River joins the Xi ('West') River at Wuzhou, and finally flows into the South China Sea at Macau, in the Pearl River Delta Area.

Best Time to Visit

The rainy season is from April to July. In the hotter months of June and July the rain is often heavy but short-lived, with the afternoon sun quickly drying up the rain. In the heat of the summer the river mist is best seen in the early morning. See more on Guilin Weather.

The high season is from April to October. During sunny days, tourists can see the inverted reflection of the hills on both sides clearly in the water. During cloudy days, the hills are surrounded by mist and tourists may feel they are cruising in a mystical paradise. When the rain comes, drizzle is like a veil covering the hills and the river.

In the winter low season (November till March) the water level gets much lower, so the cruise length is shortened to about 2 hours. It is quieter during this period because there are fewer tourists. Wear heavy coats when you take the cruise, because the temperature is lower than in the city.

Li River Cruises

Nine Horse Fresco Hill by the Li RiverOne of the famous sights along the Li River — Nine Horse Fresco Hill

A Li River cruise from Guilin to Yangshuo is one of the most popular activities in a Guilin holiday. Zhujiang Pier is the usual boarding point for a Li River cruise. It is about 32 kilometers' (20 miles') or 40 minutes' drive from Guilin city center. A Li River cruise is included in all of our Guilin Tour Packages.

  • World-class views: see the karst landscape beautifully complimented by the Li River
  • English-speaking guide and English-speaking companions from various countries
  • Hotel pickup in the morning

Scenery

Bamboo groves, jagged, sharp-edged hills like broken teeth, a wide placid river and peaceful farm and village terrain. Look down in the clear river to see the river bottom and rocky shoals. Highlights along the way include Nine Horse Fresco Hill, Yellow Cloth Shoal, 20-Yuan Bill Hill, and Xingping Town.

Cruise Boat Information

A Li River cruise boat A Li River cruise boat
  • Clean, comfortable, and classy 120-passenger cruise boat
  • Relaxed atmosphere
  • 6-person table seating
  • Chinese buffet lunch included and some free drinks

The quality and quantity of the free buffet lunch is below what would be expected on land, due to limited space and resources onboard ship. You can ask your hotel to pack a lunch box for you at extra cost (about 100 yuan/person), or you can order fresh-water dishes at the start of the cruise (about 100 yuan or more per dish).

Sample Itinerary

  • 8 to 8:30 am: Pre-arranged pickup of passengers at their hotels.
  • 8:30 am: Van or bus transport to Zhujiang Pier.
  • 9:30 am: Cruise begins. The tour guide gives an interesting detailed narration of the tour, the geography of the area, and the trip itinerary. A tourist map pamphlet is given to passengers on boarding for reference.
  • 12 to 12:45 pm: Lunch.
  • 1:30 pm: Arrive at Yangshuo. One hour of free time for sightseeing, shopping, etc. Walking West Street is recommended.
  • 2:30 pm: Optional tour countryside bus tour to see cormorant fishermen, water buffalo, and countryside scenery. Optional river rafting excursion.
  • 5 pm: Return to Guilin hotel. The return bus trip takes about 90 minutes. Inform your travel advisor when booking if you wish to return to Guilin earlier or later.

See our Li River Cruise Day Tour.

Li River Bamboo Rafting

A typical raft cruise: Passengers are picked up from their hotels and transfered to Yangdi Village to begin the 2-hour bamboo raft journey to Xingping Village. Sit on the comfortable bamboo armchairs while enjoying the scenery and breeze. The boatman is happy to stop anywhere possible on the river for you to take photos. Lunch can be arranged at a local restaurant on the river bank.

The rafts are built in traditional design, but many are made from 150mm (6") diameter plastic pipes rather than bamboo now for extra buoyancy, and powered by a long-tail outboard motor. Such rafts have been used by farmers and fishermen for centuries. The rafts are open at the front, rear and sides, but have a steel canopy to protect passengers from the sun and rain. Each raft can seat 4–6 people excluding the boatman.

Want to know the differences between a Li River cruise by cruise boat and bamboo raft? Read "Li River Cruise vs Bamboo Raft — An Australian Expat's View".

Li River Hiking

Li River Hiking Map

For outdoor lovers hiking along the Li Riveris a good chance to get closer to nature and local life. The most popular route is from Yangdi to Xingping, which takes about 5 hours. See our Li River hiking video and our Li River hiking tour, or contact us for a tailor-made tour including hiking and anything else you would like to include.

The entire hiking route is about 22 kilometers long, divided into two sections: Yangdi–Jiumahua Mountain (10 km) and Jiumahua Mountain–Xingping (12 km). There are three choices for visitors planning to travel this section of Li River.

  • Only hike. If you do not want to continue hiking after arriving at Jiumahua Mountain, you can take a battery car to Xingping for free.
  • Hike half of the route. You can choose each of the two sections: Yangdi-Jiumahua Mountain, or Jiumahua Mountain–Xingping to hike, and for the rest section, you can take a raft for replacement, but be prepared for extra fee.
  • No hiking. You can take a raft to visit this section of Li River. It costs a little bit more than hiking.

Also read best hiking trails in China.

Cormorant Fishing on the Li River

Cormorants, a type of predatory water bird, are good at diving for fish. In parts of South China, cormorants have been used to catch fish for centuries.

The Li River, which runs through Guilin and Yangshuo, famous for its magical karst landscape along the riverbanks, is considered to be one of the cleanest rivers in China, and hence great for fishing.

Cormorant Fishing on the Li River Cormorant fishing on the Li River

History

About 400 years ago, some fishermen along the Li River started to domesticate wild cormorants for fishing. Normally, several well-trained cormorants were able to support the livelihood of a family.

How Cormorant Fishing Works

When the fishing season arrives, lots of bamboo rafts are floated on the river and the local fishermen are ready to fish with their cormorants.

Before they release the birds from the rafts, they tie a noose loosely around the cormorants' necks to stop them from swallowing any fish they may catch. Then the fishermen encourage their birds to take the plunge by chanting and dancing.

As soon as they have caught fish in the river, the birds return to the rafts because they've been trained to do so.

Generally, a good cormorant team can catch a couple of dozen fish in a morning. The fishermen keep the best fish for themselves; the cormorants get the leftover tiny fish. An adult cormorant can eat about 1 kilogram of fish per day.

The Life of a Fishing Cormorant

From the time they are born, each of these cormorants has been reared to a life of obedience to its master. In effect, the birds are slaves, but they are not stupid. It's said that cormorants can keep a tally of the fish they catch, at least up to seven. So, unless they get a reward, they simply withdraw their labor.

The best age for a cormorant to go fishing is from 3 to 12 years, but they can can live to over 20 years.

When the cormorant reaches over 16 years old, it is too old to catch enough fish, even to feed itself. When the cormorant is going to die, the fisherman will feed his cormorant some alcohol and bury it after it has become deeply drunk. This is what the fisherman calls "euthanasia". The cormorant's funeral will be held by a prestigious fisherman in the village at night-time along the riverbank.

Cormorant Fishing Tourism

These days, competition from modern fishing techniques means the fishermen can't make a living from traditional cormorant fishing alone. This centuries old tradition is now mostly practiced to entertain tourists.

Further Reading