What’s more romantic than floating down a river in a bamboo raft? Today, our guest writer Kristen Mankosa shows us how to travel the most scenic way from Guilin to Yangshuo: by bamboo raft along the Li River.

Why is Guilin special?

There’s a saying in China: Guilin shan shui jia tian xia, meaning that Guilin has the most beautiful landscape under the heavens.  Limestone mountains jut up from the ground and mist often hangs low, winding its way between the rocks and crevasses, resulting in a mystical landscape.

Guilin to Yangshuo elephant hill

Elephant Trunk Hill – A famous rock formation within the city of Guilin. A small entrance fee lets visitors explore the area and climb through the hiking trails.

The scenery is, indeed, breathtaking.  There are several places throughout Guilin and along the Li River offer excellent spots for hiking for photo-op moments, but no view is better than the cruises down the Li River.  The sights along this river are so popular that it’s even featured on China’s 20 Yuan bill—and a sharp eye can even spot the formation as it’s passed along the river.

Rafting from Guilin to Yangshuo

Guilin to Yangshuo bamboo rafts

Bamboo rafts are an excellent way to view the limestone mountains and are a fun way to spend an afternoon

Depending on the type of tour you want to take, a cruise generally lasts anywhere from one to five hours and can be taken on small, river cruise boats or, for the more adventurous, on bamboo river rafts.  The most famous route starts in Guilin and travels down to Yangshuo, a small town an hour and a half outside of Guilin’s city center.

Guilin to Yangshuo xingping

North of Yangshuo, Xingping, once a royal complex, is now home to villagers and tourists. This ancient town is worth exploring.

The weather and season can determine what sort of ride you want to take—rainy weather produces a swollen river that makes for a choppy boating experience and a potentially damp sailor.  Bamboo rafts are fun and exciting, but as a passenger, you’re low to the water.  Often times these boats are bamboo poles or large pieces of PVC pipes, expertly lashed together, with chairs or small benches tied to the top.  For those weary of the water, a larger vessel might be the better choice.

Guilin to Yangshuo alleyway

An alleyway in Xingping.

If you’re looking for just a taste of a bamboo ride and not a five hour tour, you can take a bus to one of the docks, located south of Guilin, and hop on a bamboo raft.  From there, enjoy the scenery until you hit Xingping, a 500 year old castle complex-turned-village full of small shops and restaurants.  A few hours exploring this area is plenty, so hop on a bus (or back on your raft!) and head down to Yangshuo.

Exploring Yangshuo

Yangshuo has been a tourist town since China opened to foreigners in the 80’s and often appeals to tourists.  At night, the streets become crowded with shoppers, bar-goers, vendors, and tourists.  The famous West Street is lined with western-style bars and restaurants.

Guilin to Yangshuo night

West street in Yangshuo

For a more local, or authentic, experience, head away from the flurry of activity and fan out into the smaller alleyways for delicious dumplings or noodles. During the day, Yangshuo is a mecca for outdoor exploration—bike paths through the mountains, hiking trails, caverns, and more bamboo rafts make this town a great place for a weekend trip.

Guilin to Yangshuo bikes

Bikers ride along the Yulong River, pausing to look at the raft riders floating under the bridge.
Bikes can be rented in Yangshuo for the day.

If the Li River seems too daring, a short trip down the gentle Yulong River makes a good alternate.  The valley between the limestone peaks creates a fairly flat path making for an easy, but long, bike ride.  The mountains provide plenty of hiking trails and most hotels and hostels can provide maps with directions to the most popular routes, varying in difficulty.

Guilin to yangshuo view

A view from the Butterfly Caverns near Yangshuo. The caverns supposedly earned this name from a rock formation that looks similar to a butterfly.

If you’re visiting southern China, make sure to add Guilin and Yangshuo to your list, two places you don’t want to miss!

Guilin to yangshuo raft

Rafting in style

Kristen Mankosa is a budding travel writer & photographer with a mission to see the world.  She’s currently living in the US, with plans to move to London to attend graduate school, and no plans to return anytime soon! 

You can also find her on Google PlusTwitter and Pinterest

11 Responses

  1. Hannah

    Would love to take a ride on a bamboo raft- would absolutely choose that route! What an awesome experience. Elephant trunk hill also looks like a neat place to explore!

  2. Jenna

    This area does look really gorgeous! I would love to do some hiking around the mountains. The rafts look really great as well–I would love to take one down the river!

  3. Alli

    Those first few photographs are stunning . . . I love such rugged nature like that. Can’t wait to see it for myself one day.

  4. Ron | Active Planet Travels

    Wow absolutely beautiful backcountry. I traveled through China a few months back but didn’t have the opportunity to tour through Guilin or Yangshou, only out West near Xining, Lhasa and down through Tibet.

    However it does remind me a lot of the jungles in Laos; did you get the opportunity to visit there while you were in Asia?
    Ron | Active Planet Travels recently posted…My Never-Ending Quest for the Perfect LifestyleMy Profile

  5. Chris Boothman

    What a great way to get out and explore some of the hidden rural landscapes of China! I can just imagine hopping on one of those bamboo rafts and taking in the majestic limestone scenery. I have never been to China but the more posts I read, the more tempted I am by this country. Thanks for sharing such a wonderful experience there.
    Chris Boothman recently posted…Travel Tech 101 – The Hoboroll by Gobi GearMy Profile

  6. Tiffany

    I love your posts about China! I just recently spent two months there and love reading about other people’s experience in this awesome country. Did you like Guilin or Yangshuo better in the end? I was kind of torn, since Guilin had some pretty cool stuff like the Reed Flute Cave and some parks where you could climb the hills, but Yangshuo was way more about the nature. I never did the bamboo raft thing, as the weather was just nasty on the day we had to move to Yangshuo. Bummer 🙁
    Tiffany recently posted…What to Expect (and How Not to Die) When Attending the Mongolian Naadam FestivalMy Profile

    • Margherita

      Thanks for stopping by Tiffany! This was a guest post from Kristen Mankosa (@ManRuiTian on twitter), I didn’t actually visit the area myself, but you’re right, it sounds amazing!


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