Li River vs Raft

We recommend the motor raft.

A cruise or raft down the live river is awesome. This client comment sums up the scenery, "These mountains are like something out of Jurassic Park"

Why you'll love the Li River

  • According to some of our past guests 'The mountains towering over the Li River are like something out of Jurassic Park' and we think so too!
  • The Li River was selected by National Geography Magazine as one of the world’s “Top 10 Watery Wonders.
  • CNN rates it #2 for the World’s Best Rivers for Travelers and it offers 'more than just an attraction'. 

Summary: Take a raft!

We normally arrange the raft on our trips as it delivers the flexibility required on our type of flexible adventures and photography tours.

There are a couple of start points, it doesn't need to be prebooked, and can be worked into a packed day at just the right time.

by cruise
departing Guilin city 8-9am arrive 1-2pm.

- double cost of raft
- depart Guilin city
- buffett issues
- loud speaker

by raft
45 mins to 2 hours dep. on flow & route.

+ cheaper
+ no need to book
+ flexible routes
- noisy motor

The Li River Cruise vs Motor Raft Ride

Here's why we feel the raft ride is the best option for just about all travellers.

Li River Cruise Ships

The above pictures are 4 and 4.5 star cruise boats. The only boats recommended.

Li River Motor Raft

This is what the motor-raft looks like.  It's stabled, covered and has good seats.

6 Insider Tips

While big tour companies would sell you the cruise to earn commission, we believe a raft should never be passed by. We find 95% of our guests would prefer the rafts and 90% claim they will do it again in their next trips. Here's why you might prefer the raft:

  1. Flexibility: unlike the cruise, the raft offers boarding at various points, and does not require pre-booking. Also, you can head straight to Yangshuo without an extra night in Guilin (the cruise starts at 0900am so an overnight is needed in Guilin city).
  2. Best time of Day: while relatively shallower water makes the cruise up to 4 hours during winter, bamboo rafting in Yangshuo never seems to have such a problem. Suitable all year round and best during spring and summer. In winter, during or after the rain it might be cold so bring a wind blocker.
  3. Less Tourists - No each raft takes up to 4 passengers on our trips we pay extra fees for the empty seats so you will not be waiting for others to come or riding with locals who are likely to put a selfie stick in your shots.
  4. Good in the rain: the Li River is actually more poetic in shower or after rain, the raft cover shields you from strong sunshine or rain so bad weather will not be a problem. Often the large boats have no covers on the top deck and you'll be looking through wet windows.

However, some down sides are:

  1. The motor is loud while riding. If you prefer a tranquil experience, we would recommend a short section by the Yulong River where you can walk or bike, which is equally beautiful in landscape yet fewer tourists. No motors are on rafts on the Yulong river, they are punted.
  2. Age restriction: according to local regulations, passengers above 70 years old (including 70) shall not take the raft 'in consideration of your safety'. But there are no passport checks, so if you look young and want to go it's not an issue. Only if you look elderly and unstable would you be stopped.

The Li River Cruise

No matter where you go, you tend to find yourself standing riverfront and everything around has something to do with the Li River: bamboo rafts floating by, locals dipping in the water, mountains casting shadows during sunset and sunrise. Yes, this is exactly its charm. There are many ways that you can take in its beauty and a boat or raft on the Li river or a mountain top sunrise, which as photographers...we feel tops it all.

Cruise from Guilin to Yangshuo: a more enjoyable 4-hour journey for stopover travelers

If you are staying one night in Guilin before traveling to Yangshuo (late-arrival flights could be the case), cruising down the Li River to Yangshuo the next morning would be a much more enjoyable transfer choice than a 2-hour car ride. The journey starts from Mopanshan Pier, 18 miles from downtown. It's about an hour by car with some hotel pickups on route.

The 52-mile journey scrolls down a lush painting that has inspired artists and poets over the ages. Associating the shape of the karst hills with their funk names might require some imagination, or a second glass of rice wine!

Cruise tickets must be pre-booked at least one day ahead and includes a simple lunch and an 'English-speaking' tour guide on the boat. Transportation to the pier is on your own arrangement, which usually takes RMB40 to 60 per cab for a 1-hour ride  (at least 12 traffic lights en route, thus the slow drive). It is docked at Yangshuo pier in the afternoon; 10 minutes to walk to the bustling West Street from there. 

If you built the cruise into a tailored tour with us our private cars take you and your guide (who will accompany you on the cruise) to the ship and then drive your luggage to meet you in Yangshuo on the dock. We also arrange VIP level access to a front deck room, and know the best boats to select.

Li River by Motor Raft

The 4-hour cruise (this can be  3 hours during summertime when water is higher and faster) just covers the first part of Li River’s picturesque charm. However, hold your breath for the best.

As the river meanders across the countryside of Yangshuo, it is spilt into numerous streams. Narrow and shallow water shuts out those giant cruise junks and that’s where it gets better and better: bamboo drooping over the limpid water. Scenes of a bygone rural China come into focus.

Cruising down from Guilin to Yangshuo, in a sense, pushes you into the scenery while a punted bamboo raft down the Yulong river in Yangshuo allows the scenery to come to you. Two different worlds, both worth doing.

Locals use bamboo rafts for transportation, fishing, and trading. The cormorant fishermen use to live on their house boats, but nowadays,  motor engine have made rowing easier for the boatmen, also safer for the passengers. Still, a taste of authentic, hand-rowed bamboo rafts can be savored while some smaller rafts flowing alongside with your ride.

The 1-hour journey takes in some classic spots: chicken cage hill, the painted hill of nine horses, yellow cloth shoal, ten miles of painting, and many more. With the final raft stop at Xingping Ancient Town, you will see the 20 yuan view point — a mountain that is painted on the bill of RMB20. From Xingping, there is another 40-minute ride back to Yangshuo or 2 hours back to Guilin.

Photography Tips

Special tips for photography-focusing travelers:

  1. Arrangement: we arrange the routes depending on the specific lighting of the day. Hence, the itinerary is subject to change after we study the sunrise or sundown hours and locations. More details will be provided during touring.
  2. Best time: no matter what season you travel, the best time for photos falls in either early in the morning or afternoon, and such perfect hours might be short. We find taking the raft in the morning or late afternoon works well. Preserving sunrise and sunset for other locations and avoiding the middle of the day hard light.
  3. Lens suggestions: for wide-open views that the raft ride offers, we would suggest a zoom of 24-70 or a travel zoom like 24-200.
  4. Keep your camera bag on the spare seat next to you, as the occasional rare wave can wash over the flat deck if a large cruise ship passes by closely.

Li River is more beyond cruising. Humble villages hidding in the bamboo like a  forgotten-by-the-world. You'll also pass by a few secret sunrise photography spots that only we take you to on most routes, but we can no only stop and shoot at will. The police boats don't allow rafts to stop anymore. For specific focus, such as photography or outdoor, we have more ideas to get you inspired and excited. Do contact us!

Other ways to see the Li River

Here's why we feel the raft ride is the best option for just about all travellers.

Mountain Top Views

The Li River: Selected by National Geographic Magazine as one.

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Riverside Hiking

The raft is a covered flat wide motor raft with seats for 4 people.

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