Home China Guide Guilin Attractions Inside Guide on the Li River

Inside Guide on the Li River

One of the world's "Top 10 Watery Wonders", the Li River has the most popular and picturesque scenery in China.

  • Chinese: 漓江 Lí Jiāng /lee jyang/
  • Scenic Area: Guilin–Yangshuo, South China
  • Activities: the Li River cruise, bamboo rafting, hiking, cormorant fishing, watching night show Impression Liu Sanjie, photography

When to Go

April to June — Misty and Rainy

The classic picture in people's mind is the Li River in mist. This scenery appears most from April to June.

In April it usually drizzles all day long and you may not see the scenery clearly on the river. In May and June the rainfall is more violent, often as stormy downpours! You may need to hold an umbrella on the deck, which is inconvenient to enjoy the scenery. An excellent time to see mist hugging the hills is early on a warm morning after a night of rain.

July to October — Clear and Sunny

Li RiverThe Li River on a sunny day

This period is the best time to see the scenery along the river clearly. During sunny days you can see the inverted reflection of the hills on both sides in the water.

July and August are the hottest months in Guilin; there are still stormy downpours, but short-lived. September and October are the hot/warm and drier months.

It is colder by the river than in the city, so bring another layer of clothing. Bring sun block and sunglasses to enjoy a comfortable time by the Li.

November to March — Cool and Quiet

Winter is the low season, and the water level gets much lower, so cruises are shortened to about 2 hours. There are some sunny days, but otherwise it's cool/cold and damp, sometimes with drizzle or persistent rain.

It's quieter during this period, so you can enjoy fewer crowds and lower prices, if not the weather.

Touring the Li River

Li River boat cruises and bamboo rafting are two great options . And hiking along the river from Yangdi to Xingping is a good chance to get closer to nature and local life.

the Li River map

The Li River Cruise

Take a cruise to enjoy the beautiful scenery.Take a cruise to enjoy the beautiful scenery.

The best way to appreciate the beautiful scenery of a river is to take a cruise. The cruise from Guilin to Yangshuo is one of the most popular activities in a Guilin holiday.

  • Route: Mopanshan/Zhujiang Pier (20km/12mi southeast of downtown Guilin) – Yangshuo
  • Time needed: 4–5 hours

Scenery: Along the river you can see stunning karst hills, bamboo groves, and villages. 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

Currently, the most popular boats on the Li River are the 4-star and 3-star riverboats.

2A 4-star riverboat

The 4-star boats are the newest and best ones:

  • Seating capacity: 72–80
  • Dimensions: 32m (105’) long, 6m (20’) wide, 8m (26’) high (top deck height above water)
  • Classes of seating: standard class and business class
  • Seating: paired rows of four/six seats, facing forward and aft, with a table in the middle
  • Food/drink: Chinese buffet lunch and some free drinks
  • Facilities: air-conditioning, Western toilets, LCD televisions, mini-bar (in business class lounge), outdoor observation deck
Chinese buffet lunch on a cruise boatChinese buffet lunch on a cruise boat

The 3-star boats are lower-priced boats with less-modern facilities. Their seat spacing is narrower. Bring some snacks/drinks if you take a 3-star boat, as the lunch is rather simple.

Don't worry about getting motion sickness on the cruise. The boats are very steady. 

There are places for luggage, so you can bring it with you during the cruise. However, if you're on a private tour, we recommend leaving most with your driver, who can take it to your Yangshuo hotel.

Group Tour vs. Private tour

On a group tour a coach picks you up from your hotel. There is a tour guide on the ship who recites a basic introduction of the scenery along the Li River. When you arrive at Yangshuo, your tour guide may bring you to some local souvenir shops (to earn some commissions).

Li River cruiseA Li River cruise boat

A private tour doesn't mean a cruise with only you on the ship. You will have a private English-speaking guide and driver. The schedule will be more flexible and convenient, and you will not feel like being herded.

With your own English-speaking guide your introduction to the sights will be tailored to you and your questions. During the cruise, there will be crowds on the deck, but your private guide will tell you when to go to the deck to see the best scenery. So you don't have to stand on the deck all the time.

Including a Cruise in a Guilin Tour

As all cruises are from Guilin to Yangshuo, you may want to arrange the Guilin leg of your tour pre-cruise, then your Yangshuo activities afterwards. Buses from Yangshuo to Guilin take about 1½ hours.

If you are interested in a Li River cruise, here is our best-selling Guilin tour including a Li River cruise for your inspiration: Essence of Guilin and Li River Tour.

Li River raftingLi River bamboo rafting

Li River Bamboo Rafting

Taking a bamboo raft is more traditional, and a way to get closer to the water, but more affected by the weather. It is a different way to see the beautiful scenery of the Li River, and the route is shorter than for the big boats.;

  • Route: Yangdi Village (40km/25mi south of Guilin) – Xingping Village
  • Time needed: 2 hours
  • Facilities: motorized raft, 4–6 seats, large sunshade/canopy
  • Food: local lunch and snacks sold on the shore

What You Should Know

Li River rafts are traditional in design, but many are made from plastic pipes in the shape of bamboo. They are powered by a long-tail outboard motor, which will make some noise. 

The rafts are open at the front, rear, and sides, but have a steel canopy / sunshade to protect passengers from the sun and rain.

A raft has 4 or 6 passenger seats. If you don’t want to share a raft with others, or don't want to wait for your raft to be fully occupied, you can rent a raft on your own, but you need to pay an extra about 40 yuan per vacant seat.

To ensure the safe passage of cruises, rafts are not permitted to run from 11:30am to 1pm. In bad weather, especially in spring and summer, rafting can be cancelled at short notice. The age restriction is 7–70 years old.

We currently don't recommend Li River rafting, because the service standard of the raftmen can't be guaranteed. For example, your raftman may shorten your rafting trip without prior agreement so that he could have more time for other clients. Of course, if you do it, the scenery along the river will never disappoint you; but do not expect too much of the raftman's service. 

The Yulong River, a tributary of the Li near Yangshuo, is also popular for rafting amongst karst countryside.

Cruise vs. Rafting

Li River bamboo rafting Enjoy bamboo rafting on the Li River with family.

The cruise covers a longer distance, so less road travel. Facilities are better (bathroom, table, AC, full shelter from the rain and wind, viewing decks, lunch provided). More sociable, you can meet new friends from other countries, though you may feel it's too crowded to see the scenery well on the deck.

Rafting is more private and flexible: you can travel the Li River with a select group of friends/family. It's a more relaxing way to appreciate the beauty of the Li River. Though a shorter distance, you don't miss any of the best stretch of the Li River near Xingping. There are two options to get to Yangshuo: 2 hours rafting plus 1 hour by road, or 5 hours rafting. It's not recommended in cold or rainy weather.

For more see Li River Cruise vs Bamboo Raft — An Australian Expat's View.

Li River hikingGet closer to nature and local life by hiking.

Li River Hiking

Hiking along the Li River you can get closer to nature, and may meet the local farmers. It's also good for your health to do some outdoor exercise.

  • Route: Nine Horse Fresco Hill – Xingping Village 
  • Distance: 5 kilometers (3 miles)
  • Time needed: 4–5 hours
  • Best times: spring and autumn

A New Way of Touring the Li River — by Helicopter

Yangshuo helicopter toura helicopter used in Yangshuo

It is now possible to enjoy the picturesque scenery of the Li River from a different angle, by taking a helicopter. From the air, you will have a bird's-eye view of the wonders of the river, the stunning karst peaks and idyllic countryside. You deserve this experience of a life-time.

You can choose between three routes:

  • 6-minute journey around Yangshuo (about 8 kilometers): The flight goes from Big Banyan Tree to Moon Hill, offering beautiful views of the countryside.
  • 10-minute journey along the Yulong River (about 16 kilometers): When flying over the Yulong River, you will be mesmerized by dramatic peaks, rice fields and bamboo forests.
  • 25-minute journey along the Li River (about 50 kilometers): This 'essence of the Li River' route covers the river highlights, such as the Nine Horse Mural Hill, Xingping Village, and the tranquil Yulong River.
Yangshuo helicopter toura view from the helicopter

What you should know:

1. Your passport is required when taking this helicopter tour.
2. A helicopter can accommodate 3 passengers, excluding the pilot. If your group has less than 3 people, you may need to share the helicopter with others, or you'll need to pay a supplement.
3. This helicopter tour is inappropriate for children under 4 years of age, seniors over 80 years of age, and people with hypertension or cardiac problems.
4. The tour can be operated every day if weather permits, but may be delayed, rescheduled or cancelled in case of bad weather.
5. Aim to reach the airport at least 30 minutes in advance.

Cormorant Fishing on the Li River

Fishing on the Li RiverA fisherman is casting a net to catch fish.

Cormorant fishing is a traditional activity in China. These days, competition from modern fishing techniques means the fishermen can't make a living from cormorant fishing alone.

This centuries-old tradition is now mostly practiced to entertain tourists. You are unlikely to see it on the river. But if you want to see this view and take photos of it, we can arrange it for you with local fishermen at Xingping.

Impression Liu Sanjie — Night Show on the Li River

Impression Liu Sanjie was choreographed by Zhang Yimou, one of the most notable Chinese film directors. The show is a must-see for visitors who spend the night in Yangshuo.

yinxiangliusanjieImpression Liu Sanjie show on the Li River

It is a spectacular night show combining music and light, ethnic songs and dances, using the Li River and surrounding karst mountains as the stage and backdrop.

It shows for 1 hour once or twice per evening, after dark, except in heavy rain and one month in winter. The performance area is half an hour's walk (10 minutes by electric cart) downstream (southeast) from West Street.

Photography Tips

When you search the Li River on the Internet, you can see many fantastic pictures. Most of the photos are taken around Xingping, near Yangshuo.

Xingping sunriseSunrise at Xingping

To shoot the whole of Xingping, climb Xianggong Hill in Xingping. You can overlook the river and take the spectacular photos of it. The multihued fields and small village houses melt nature and culture together.

To take sunrise photos, Xianggong Hill is also an ideal site. Nine Horse Fresco Hill is also recommended.

To take sunset shots, you may go to Xingping, which looks out west over the Li. The nearby 20 yuan banknote site is a good site to stage fishing lights on the Li River, with the help of local cormorant fishermen.

Read more about photography tips and locations for the Li River.

Tour the Li River with China Highlights

If you are planning a tour to the Li River, consider our popular Guilin tours. With China Highlights you can arrange the Li River experience you want with private transport and guide, whether by cruise boat, raft, or foot.

Related Links