Flowing from Guilin to Yangshuo on an 83 kilometre course through Guanxi province, the river has become so iconic that it has been featured on the 20 yuan banknote. The jagged hills rising behind the water are instantly recognisable, as are the cormorant fishermen who work together with these aquatic birds from bamboo rafts in a magical example of the relationship between man and beast.
There are few sights as magical as the mist rising above the surface of the emerald green waters as your boat ripples its way along the course of the river. Local farmers work away in the rice paddies that form the backdrop to the banks, water buffalo absent-mindedly swat the flies as they plod through the fields and school children toddle along to their classes. When combined with spectacular natural formations like the Elephant Trunk Hill – a moon-shaped cavity that reaches over the river in the shape of an elephant trunk sucking up water – it’s no wonder that these tranquil scenes are some of the most widely represented in Chinese art and literature (the Li River has seen more words written about it than any other stretch of water in the country, even more so than the famous Yangtze).
But it’s not just your eyes (and your camera!) that will be delighted by a trip down the Li River. The freshness of the air as dawn rises on the river, the wildlife stirring and the birdsong beginning to ring around the hills, will take your breath away. For those of us who live in polluted cities, the pureness of the aroma is a transcendent moment that will really stay with you.
The sounds of the landscape here are equally appealing: the gentle sploosh of the cormorants entering the water in search of the fishy treasures below, the excited sound of the fishermen as their birds re-emerge with their bounty, the low call of the water buffalo and the chatter of the local folk on the banks is a tapestry of magical echoes.
Drifting pleasurably along the twists and turns of this majestic stretch of water is a joy, a window into the rural life that has existed here for all of living memory, and an opportunity to take some truly spectacular photos! Both small cruise boats and bamboo rafts await, so why not book a trip down the Li River now!