Our first day on the trip and first of the New Year was wonderful. It started with a short bus ride to Xingping, a small fishing town between Guilin and Yangshuo. After walking down a 1,000-year-old street with, of course, a handful of souvenir vendors, we arrived at the Li River. Here we boarded a “bamboo” raft for a couple of hours up and down what Mulan said is the most beautiful section of the river.
The raft was patterned after the traditional fishing rafts except bigger, with seats, a small outboard motor and a canopy and was made of PVC pipe instead of bamboo. It was just the four of us with our raft driver and was magnificent.
Almost right out of the gate you come to the section of river that is printed on the 20 Yuan note and it just gets better from there. Even though there were several other rafts on the river and the motors hummed all around, it was extremely tranquil and very beautiful.
Along the way we passed hundreds of karsts rising high above the ground covered in green, thickets of bamboo that looked more like gianormous palm trees, and many people going about their daily routine by washing clothes in the river, bringing their water buffalo down to graze and loading pomelos into a boat to go to market.
At two points we brought the raft up on to the shore. First was a planned touristy stop where a bunch of local vendors have snacks for sale, a local fisherman has his cormorants for photos, and photographers are soliciting you to take your picture for a small price. We took our picture with the cormorants and were pursued by just about every vendor since we were the only foreigners on the rocky sand bar.
Our second docking was to see some water buffalo that were brought down to the river to graze. At first they were a little scared of us because of the orange life vests we had on, but once we shed those, our raft driver went and grabbed the rope of one so we could get pictures. Aaron tried to pet it but it didn’t want to be touched.
One of my favorite parts was right before we turned around to head back to Xingping. The driver stopped the motor, and we just sat in the middle of the river. There were no other boats around, and it was so quiet and still. This was such a peaceful moment in a beautiful, clear river surrounded by some of the most magnificent scenery I’ve seen around the world. That few moments will linger with me for a very long time.
The raft trip was 1.5 to 2 hours long. I hope I can go back some day when it is much clearer for a ride down the Li River. After the rafting we had lunch in Xingping at a delicious little local place. I only wish we had found a place like this every day of the trip.
After a short bus ride we got off at the village of Fuli. Here Rong led us through some of the back streets until we were walking down another supposed 1,000-year-old street. Here we learned and witnessed many things. The highlight was the series of workshops in people’s front rooms where they made paper fans. We stopped at the workshop of the guy who paints the fans and watched and participated. We each ended up buying a fan or two direct from the artist.
We also saw the homes of farmers down this little alley-like street where they had a gate at the front of the house to keep the animals like chickens and ducks inside and where they had a small stable right next door for their water buffalo. At the end of the street we found the path that leads to the fields down some steps through the buffalo pasture.
On our way back to the bus stop, we saw the living conditions of the locals and saw them going about their business. Most of them had power, but didn’t use it for heating or lights. Instead, most of the houses had the TV on and a little fire to keep warm. I still don’t understand why there aren’t stoves or fireplaces built into their homes for warmth. It’s the same thing in Hefei.
That night we meandered down the famous West Street of Yangshuo full of shops and restaurants and an unnerving amount of clubs. We had fun bartering with the vendors and exploring what they have to offer here. Food prices are definitely inflated for tourists, but there is a wide assortment of Chinese and western eateries including the fall-backs of McDonald’s and KFC.
In addition to the lively atmosphere, the city casts flood lights on the surrounding mountains, which the city is built right in the midst of, so you don’t forget the scenery you’re walking in the shadow of.