The Yangshuo area has become known around the world as a top vacation place in China. There are hundreds or thousands of rugged small hills around the area shaped like fans or mesas, and there are several rivers and big streams. The scenery is said to be about the best in China, and it is depicted on the back of some Chinese 20 RMB bills. The two rivers that flow near it are the Li River that is about 150 or 200 meters wide and is quite deep and the Yulong River that is about 30 to 60 meters wide and has a maximum depth of about 5 meters or 16 feet. The Yulong River is cleaner than the Li River and is much better to go rafting on. On good days, hundreds of tourists go rafting on the river. The Yulong River is mostly placid, and the scenery along the river is a highlight because you can see simple farms with water buffalo and rugged wild scenery. The Yulong River is a fun place to go rafting and see the area.
The river is a tributary of the Li River. It drains the Yangshuo County area, and it comes in from the northwest of Yangshuo. The section of the river where people begin rafting is about 16 kilometers or 10 miles west of Yangshuo near Yulong Bridge. The bridge is said to be 600 years old. Guys on rafts wait in that area for tourists to get on board. Tourists can probably bring their own canoes or boats, but maybe they won't be allowed to raft by themselves. The long bamboo rafts are pushed along by the guys with long sticks, and two or three passengers can sit on chairs. People can bring food and drinks and picnic on the boats. You might even be able to try your hand at handling the poles.
If you take a bike, you can have fun biking to the rafting area and take your bikes on them. It takes about 1/2 an hour to bike to the beginning of the rafting area from Yangshuo. Most of the river is placid, but there are rapids or weirs about every kilometer or so. The weirs were made to allow cattle and people to cross, but some have fallen apart. The Chinese steering the rafts seem experienced, so there is little or no danger.
The big thing about the river is that the countryside is much prettier than along the Li River around the town of Yangshou. There, the hills are are bigger and not so pretty, but on the Yulong River, there are many small hills in some places that look like the famed depiction on the 20 RMB bill. They are fan-shaped peaks. The river is dark green, and the hills and fertile fields are probably a new sight to most people. The peasant countryside and the big water buffalo walking around and being led around are interesting. The Yangshuo area is beautiful once you get out of the town, and you can hike or bike around on farmer's paths and and explore the area.
The whole twelve-kilometer trip from Yulong Bridge or Fuli Bridge to Gongnong Bridge just south of Yangshuo takes about five or six hours if the river is sluggish in the dry season or about three or four hours in the rainy season. Gongnong Bridge is close to Yangshuo and to the south of it. But you don't have to go the whole way. Most tourists opt for shorter trips that start from various docks closer to Yangshuo. The main docks are next to bridges. Most tourists raft from the Hongqing dock, the Chaoyang dock, or the Xinglongzai Dock. These shorter raft trips take about 1.5 hours.
There are interesting sights to see and things to do on a raft trip. You can swim in the river and get off where you want to along the way. Then you can follow the farmers paths and roads to explore the area. If you can't swim, try to get a raft with lifejackets. A lot of tourists like to watch the people who perform fishing with birds called cormorants. These birds have a ring around their throats, so they can't swallow the fish that they catch with their mouths. So the farmers retrieve the fish. These birds catch fish very quickly. Another thing to see are the old bridges. The Yulong Bridge is said to be 600 years old. The people in the area are poor, and you can see people bathing in the river and washing their clothes. The area is sparsely inhabited, so you can see a lot of wild vegetation and birds too. If you want, you can stay in the several small hostels along the Yulong River.
You can also go rafting and swimming in the much bigger Li River. You can see the rafts with their boatmen parked on the Li River near West Street (Xi Jie) that is next to the river. Some people swim across the Li River. But be careful about swimming because boats and ships ply it. The river narrows further upstream. There is a current that makes swimming to the other side harder than swimming back. Also, realize that there is mix of bacteria and viruses in the water that you might not have a resistance to. Whether you get sick may depend on where you are from and what resistances you have.
From the city of Guilin that is northeast of Yangshuo, you can take a Yangshuo - Guilin bus and get off at the town of Baisha. From there, get a ride to Yulong Bridge on a motorbike or a tricycle or whatever you can find. Or you can walk due west for a few minutes because it is only a mile to two away.
You can catch a Yangshuo-Guilin bus from the Guilin Train Station or the Guilin Bus Station. These two stations are only about 500 meters away from each other down the main street. You can walk between them easily. The regular buses from the train station are more expensive, and you have to wait for them to leave on their schedules. The best place to get a bus is at the train station. In front of the train station, there is a big parking lot. You can see buses with Yangshuo written on them, and people shout at tourists to attract them. The buses leave about every five or ten minutes during the day.
From Yangshuo, there are a lot of options. You can walk along the bank of the river and see the scenery. You can rent a bike and ride for about half an hour to whatever dock you want to go to and then put your bike on a raft. Or you can get a motorbike or tricycle ride or find a bus.
To get ferried across the Li River or the Yulong River, the locals try to get whatever they can get from tourists. It might cost 20 RMB (3 USD).
Also read Top Outdoor Activities in Yangshuo.