A Popular Boat Trip: Li Jiang (Li River)

A boat cruise from Guilin to Yangshuo along the 432km (270-mile) Li River is usually sold as the highlight of a Guilin visit, and indeed, the 83km (52-mile) stretch between the two towns affords some of the country's most breathtaking scenery as the river snakes gracefully through tall karst mountains, gigantic bamboo sprays, and picturesque villages -- sights that have inspired countless poets and painters for generations. Unfortunately, such inspiration these days costs a lot more than it used to and, inevitably, monopoly and price-gouging have become the trademarks of this cruise. Foreigners, segregated onto "foreigner boats," pay ¥460 to ¥480, which is especially insulting considering that Chinese tourists pay less than two-thirds that amount. If you can stand the smoking and spitting, some travel agencies can arrange tickets priced at around ¥340. If time and convenience are your priorities, then take the cruise by all means. Otherwise, if you plan to spend some time in Yangshuo, consider bypassing the cruise; more beautiful karst scenery can be better toured on foot, by bike, or by boat from Yangshuo.

Currently, river trips for foreigners depart from Zhu Jiang Matou (Zhu Jiang Pier) 24km (15 miles) and a half-hour bus ride south of Guilin at around 8:30am, where you will join 10,000 other tourists, all departing at the same time. The river often turns into an aquatic Fifth Avenue with belching diesel fumes, and blaring horns for 5 1/2 hours straight. On quieter days, the first 1 1/2 hours of the cruise to the town of Yangdi is serene and comparatively unexciting but for names of hills along the way, such as a Woman Yearning for Her Husband's Return, the Eight Immortals, even a Calligraphy Brush. Visual highlights are clustered between Yangdi and the picturesque town of Xingping. Jiuma Hua Shan (Nine Horses Fresco Hill) is a steep cliff face with shadings and markings said to resemble a fresco of nine horses. A little farther on, Huangbu Daoying, a series of karst peaks and their reflections, is the tableau burnished on the back of a Chinese ¥20 note.

Boats arrive in Yangshuo in the early afternoon after 4 or 5 hours of sailing. There's a stop for shopping, after which tour buses transport passengers back to Guilin (1 hr.). Tickets for the cruise can be bought at hotel tour desks or at CITS, and include round-trip transportation to Zhu Jiang Pier, an English-speaking guide, and a Chinese lunch.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.