Many people have their reservations about going to China. Pollution, overcrowding and personal space, or just plain culture shock. First of all, do not believe everything that you see on TV. I have been a few times now and it is one of those countries that I would keep going back to. If you only go into the super large cities it is easy to get overwhelmed and those can take on their own adventure. But take a leap and meander elsewhere will reveal a country that is hospitable, welcoming and has so many wonders to see, a year long trip would not be long enough to see them all. Which of course means I will be going back at sometime, but let me focus on The Li River Valley that I have been to twice now, and would go again at the drop of a dime.
In the south of China, in the province of Guangxi lies the city of Guilin and its tiny sister, Yangshou, 83 kms to its southeast. Guilin is the major center and starting point, but if you prefer a quieter small feel getaway, Yangshou is what you may be looking for. The Li river which runs form one to the other looks like something that jumped off the pages of some fantasy book that you read as a teenager. Either choice and you will be floored by the natural beauty of the area.
The river itself has been used in a few movies, Tomb Raider 2’s opening scene where Laura Croft skydives into China for example. The area is marked with tall, skinny limestone pinnacles that protrude at random out of the earth as if God himself were playing his own kind of chess game. Because of the properties of limestone, a lot of the pinnacles over time have eroded out by rainfall and are now carved out caverns that can be visited. Some are enormous and have small musical concerts in them to enjoy the natural acoustics.
Anywhere in either Guilin or Yangshou there are various tourist agencies that are advertising boat rides along the calm waters of the river. Once there, take your pick of vender and enjoy an afternoon coasting down an avenue of tranquility unlike any I have found around the world. My wife and I enjoyed our own personal handmade bamboo raft with our guide in the chair behind us just drifting slowly down the river. It literally felt like an intimate gondola ride, except exchange the buildings of Venice for nature at its finest. Of all the places you can think of in China and pollution over its cities, it is sometimes overlooked that places this clean and clear do exist there.
Guilin is very easily accessed from across China on numerous airlines. However, train and bus in China is another adventure on its own. If you are feeling daring and on a bit of a budget, take a bus. This is maybe not the most comfortable way to travel and unless you are ok with 10 hours in a sardine can with one potential bathroom break and Chinese men smoking at the front door, I would recommend flights. We did do it for the adventure but sometimes there is no value for your own comfort.