Guilin & the Li River
The last three days of our school break we went to Guilin, along the Li River. This is in Guanxi Province just east and right next to Yunnan. Guilin is located in the northeast of this province.
Guilin and the area around it are a “must-see” in China. We had heard about it and decided to “squeeze it in” on our trip south. What makes it so special? Karst peaks or mountains that make the country resemble something out of “fairyland.” Karst peaks or karst topography is formed by water combining with soluble rock, in this case, limestone. The water and limestone form carbonic acid which “melts” or dissolves the rock away. The results of this action can be the formation of caves or sinkholes. What makes Guilin unique is that this process has been going on for thousands of years. It has caves.
What it also has are spectacular pointed peaks of limestone that were left after caves formed and collapsed. This area in between has become covered in plant-life; people have also planted rice-paddies, gardens; lush green that makes a striking contrast.
The city of Guilin is small by Chinese standards, only about 700, 000 people, but very busy with thousands of tourists. It has huge cruise boats that ferry large groups of tourists down the Li River so they can see the karst peaks. Many people say it is too “touristy,” but if you don’t go there, you’ll miss some of China’s most remarkable scenery.
We were advised to go on from Guilin to the city of Yangshuo, further down the Li River. It is smaller, 300,000 thousand people. From downtown Yangshuo, it is only a short bicycle ride into the country where you can see rice paddies being tilled by water buffalo, or beautiful side rivers from the Li, with ancient stone bridges, also surrounded by soaring peaks.
One night we attended an outdoor light, dance, and Chinese culture show with about 10,000 others. The show was set in the water, with the Li River and mountains as a backdrop. It was a real Chinese spectacular, with hundreds of performers. The show was organized/choreographed by the Chinese director Zhang Yimou who did the opening and closing ceremonies for the Beijing Olympics.
There were scenes where boatmen moved across the water in their boats puling along large pieces of red plastic that reflected the lights. There were scenes where the women performers wore light suits that they turned on and off as their huge numbers wove across the floating stage.
It was an amazing show with over 600 performers. Some of the boatmen who perform at night are boatmen by day taking people down the river. There were young local native girls who performed.
We are surprised how organized the Chinese can be, as we were able to leave the theater fairly efficiently with the other 10,000 people, while another 10,000 waited to get in for the next performance.
The next day we took a local bus with other Chinese to a village named Yangdi further upstream.
We got off in the village on the river with many others who would take rafts down the river to see the peaks. It was a rainy day.
We planned to hike a trail that follows along the river, crossing it a few times and ending up in the village of XingPing about 12 miles downriver. We hired a raft to take us to the trail. The original rafts were made of bamboo, lashed together. They now are made of plastic pipes that resembles bamboo, except that the pipe is white…that’s progress!
Each raft can carry from one to six people. They have wooden benches to sit on and have a roof to protect you from rain. These rafts fill the river and compete with the larger cruise boats that carry large gr0ups.
We walked along the shore in the rain, watching the boats on the river, gazing at the peaks, meeting people working along the shore.
It continued to be very rainy as we walked the trail, muddy and slippery in places: so we hired a raft to take us the rest of the way to XingPing.
We went to the spot on the Li river that is pictured on the back of the RMB 20 note.
Perhaps the most enjoyable part of our trip was the the bus rides with the Chinese people.
We passed through villages where they were planting rice in paddies for the coming season.
The Li River, Guilin, and Yangshuo areas were very interesting. These karst peaks rising up throughout the land, dreamlike in fog and rain, stark against the gray background, continued to fascinate us, even as we saw mountain after mountain, up until the time we flew out of Guilin. We still think and revel in their magnificence.