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Navigating The Li River, China


Modified: December 27, 2023

by Cristin Mathew



Are you ready to embark on a breathtaking adventure along the majestic Li River in China? Prepare to be mesmerized by stunning natural landscapes, picturesque countryside, and ancient cultural treasures that await you along this famous waterway. Navigating the Li River is a bucket-list experience for travelers seeking unparalleled beauty and tranquility.


Flowing through the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in southern China, the Li River stretches for approximately 83 kilometers. It winds its way through karst limestone cliffs, lush greenery, and charming villages, taking you on a journey that feels like stepping into a mythical world.


The Li River is renowned for its captivating scenery that has inspired poets, painters, and photographers for centuries. Immerse yourself in a landscape straight out of a Chinese ink painting, with mist-shrouded peaks, cascading waterfalls, and tranquil river scenes that resemble a dream.


The best time to visit the Li River is during the spring and autumn seasons when the weather is mild and the landscapes are at their most vibrant. In spring, the riverbanks come alive with blooming flowers and fresh foliage, while autumn adorns the surroundings with a riot of colors as the leaves change, creating a picturesque and romantic atmosphere.


Getting to the Li River is relatively easy, with convenient transportation options from nearby cities such as Guilin and Yangshuo. Once you arrive, prepare to embark on a Li River cruise, a popular way to explore the region.


This article will guide you through the highlights of the Li River, including the enchanting Xingping Village, the iconic Mural Hill, and the fascinating Nine Horse Painting Hill. You will also learn about the different Li River cruise options available and get valuable tips to make the most of your adventure.


So, grab your camera, put on your adventure hat, and get ready to navigate the Li River, where every turn promises a new marvel and every moment is a testament to the beauty of China’s natural wonders.


Background of the Li River

The Li River, also known as the Lijiang River, holds a significant place in Chinese history and culture. It has been celebrated in literature, poetry, and artwork for centuries. The river begins in the Mao’er Mountains in Xing’an County, Guilin, and flows southward, eventually joining the Xi River in Wuzhou.


One of the most remarkable features of the Li River is its karst landscape. This geological formation consists of limestone rocks that have been eroded over millions of years, resulting in spectacular cliffs, caves, and uniquely shaped hills. The limestone scenery along the Li River is considered some of the finest in the world and has captured the imagination of countless explorers and artists.


The Li River is not just a place of natural beauty; it also has historical and cultural importance. The river was once a major transportation route for trade between Guangxi and Guangdong provinces. In ancient times, it played a crucial role in connecting the mountains and the water, offering a vital means of transportation for goods and people.


Throughout history, numerous historical figures and poets, including famous Tang Dynasty poet Han Yu, have written poems inspired by the Li River’s beauty. These poems describe the river’s serene waters, the surrounding verdant landscapes, and the harmonious way of life of the local people.


Today, the Li River is a popular tourist destination for its breathtaking scenery and cultural significance. It attracts visitors from all over the world who come to marvel at the picturesque landscapes, take scenic cruises, and immerse themselves in the rich history and traditions of the region.


Exploring the Li River is not just an opportunity to witness Mother Nature’s artistry; it is also a chance to step back in time and experience the authenticity of rural China. Along the riverbanks, there are quaint fishing villages, ancient temples, and traditional farming communities, all reflecting the charm of traditional Chinese culture.


The Li River is a testament to the harmonious coexistence of humans and nature. Its breathtaking beauty and rich history make it an iconic symbol of Chinese landscapes and an unforgettable destination for travelers seeking adventure and cultural exploration.


Best Time to Visit

The Li River is a destination that offers unique experiences and stunning scenery year-round, but there are certain times of the year that are considered the best for visiting. The ideal time to plan your trip to the Li River depends on your preferences and the kind of experience you are seeking. Here are two optimal seasons to consider:


Spring (March to May): Spring is a magical time along the Li River when the landscape bursts into life with vibrant colors. The weather is mild and pleasant, making it an ideal time for outdoor activities. The riverbanks are adorned with blooming flowers, the hills are clad in fresh green foliage, and the air is filled with the fragrance of nature. Spring is a great time for photography enthusiasts, as the beautiful scenery provides ample opportunities to capture stunning shots.


Autumn (September to November): Another fantastic time to visit the Li River is during autumn, when the scenery transforms into a palette of rich colors. The foliage turns brilliant shades of red, orange, and gold, creating a breathtaking backdrop for your journey. The weather is comfortable, with cooler temperatures and clear skies. Autumn is also the harvest season, offering a chance to indulge in local specialties and witness traditional farming activities.

It’s important to note that the Li River can be crowded during the peak tourist season, especially during Chinese holidays and weekends. If you prefer a quieter and more peaceful experience, consider visiting during the shoulder seasons, such as early spring or late autumn.


Keep in mind that weather patterns can vary from year to year, so it’s always a good idea to check the forecast before planning your trip. Regardless of the season you choose, be prepared for occasional rainfall and pack appropriate clothing and accessories to ensure a comfortable journey.


Ultimately, the best time to visit the Li River depends on your personal preferences, whether you want to witness the blooming beauty of spring or immerse yourself in the vibrant colors of autumn. Whichever season you choose, the Li River’s awe-inspiring landscapes will leave a lasting impression on your heart and mind.


Getting to the Li River

The Li River is easily accessible from various cities in southern China, making it a convenient and popular destination for travelers. Here are some common ways to get to the Li River:


1. Guilin: Guilin is the gateway to the Li River and serves as a major transportation hub. The city is well-connected with domestic and international flights, making it easy to reach from major cities in China and beyond. From Guilin, you can take a short bus or taxi ride to the main pier, where Li River cruises depart.


2. Yangshuo: Yangshuo is a picturesque town located along the Li River and is a popular base for exploring the region. You can reach Yangshuo from Guilin by taking a scenic boat ride down the Li River or by a one-hour bus ride. Many travelers prefer to stay in Yangshuo and explore the Li River from there.


3. Longsheng: If you are visiting the Longji Rice Terraces in Longsheng, you can also make a side trip to the Li River. From Longsheng, you can take a bus or hire a private car to reach Guilin or Yangshuo, where you can continue your journey along the Li River.


4. High-speed train: The high-speed train network in China is extensive and convenient. You can take a high-speed train from major cities like Beijing, Shanghai, or Guangzhou to Guilin. The journey is comfortable and relatively quick, allowing you to enjoy the scenery along the way.


Once you arrive in Guilin or Yangshuo, the next step is to choose your preferred mode of transportation to explore the Li River. There are several options available, including Li River cruises, bamboo rafting, and guided tours.


Li River cruises are the most popular choice among visitors. These cruises offer a leisurely and scenic journey along the river, allowing you to soak in the stunning landscapes and enjoy the serenity of the surroundings. You can choose from different lengths of cruises, ranging from a few hours to several days.


Alternatively, you can opt for a thrilling bamboo rafting experience. Sitting on a bamboo raft and navigating through the gentle currents of the Li River is a unique and memorable way to explore the region.


If you prefer a guided tour, there are many tour operators that offer organized trips to the Li River. These tours typically include transportation, cruises, and visits to popular attractions along the way, providing a hassle-free and informative experience.


Whichever mode of transportation you choose, getting to the Li River is a relatively straightforward process, allowing you to embark on an unforgettable adventure through one of China’s most enchanting natural wonders.


Highlights along the Li River

As you navigate the Li River, you’ll encounter a plethora of breathtaking sights and attractions that make this journey truly memorable. Here are some of the highlights you can expect along the way:


1. Xingping Village: Xingping Village is a charming riverside village that feels like stepping back in time. Its well-preserved Ming and Qing dynasty architecture, narrow streets, and idyllic setting make it a favorite among photographers and artists. Be sure to look for the famous “20 Yuan” note landscape, which features a view of Xingping and Karst peaks.


2. Mural Hill: Located near Xingping Village, Mural Hill is a natural wonder adorned with intricate ancient paintings. These vibrant and well-preserved paintings depict scenes of nature, folklore, and daily life, offering a glimpse into the rich history and culture of the area. The climb up the hill provides stunning panoramic views of the Li River.


3. Nine Horse Painting Hill: Nine Horse Painting Hill is another iconic landmark along the Li River. Legend has it that there are nine horses hidden within the contours of the hill, and those who can find them will be blessed with good fortune. The unique shape of the hill and the mythological allure make it a must-see attraction.


4. Elephant Trunk Hill: Located in Guilin, Elephant Trunk Hill is an iconic symbol of the city. The hill’s unique shape resembles an elephant drinking water from the Li River, giving it its name. Climb to the hill’s summit for a panoramic view of Guilin and the surrounding karst landscape.


5. Yangdi to Xingping Scenic Area: This section of the Li River is known for its dramatic karst scenery. As you cruise along, you’ll be treated to picturesque landscapes featuring towering limestone peaks, lush greenery, and serene river scenes. This area is often hailed as the most picturesque stretch of the Li River.


6. Impression Sanjie Liu: For a unique cultural experience, consider watching the Impression Sanjie Liu show. This spectacular outdoor performance takes place on the Li River itself, with a cast of hundreds of local performers showcasing traditional songs, dances, and stories of the Zhuang ethnic minority.


These are just a few of the many highlights that await you along the Li River. Each bend of the river reveals a new marvel, ensuring an enchanting and unforgettable journey through some of China’s most awe-inspiring natural landscapes and cultural treasures.


Xingping Village

Nestled along the banks of the Li River, Xingping Village is a hidden gem that enchants visitors with its timeless charm and stunning natural surroundings. This ancient village, located in Guangxi Province’s Yangshuo County, is renowned for its well-preserved traditional architecture and idyllic setting. Exploring Xingping Village is like stepping into a Chinese ink painting.


One of the village’s most famous landmarks is the view depicted on the back of the 20 yuan note. This iconic landscape features Xingping Village’s picturesque scenery, complete with towering karst peaks, winding waterways, and traditional fisherman boats. It’s no wonder the view has captured the hearts of countless artists and photographers.


As you wander through the narrow streets of Xingping Village, you’ll be greeted by well-preserved Ming and Qing dynasty architecture. Traditional dwellings constructed with grey bricks, stylishly curved tile roofs, and ornate wooden carvings paint a vivid picture of the village’s rich history.


One of the must-visit spots in Xingping Village is the Old Street, a bustling hub filled with shops selling local handicrafts, souvenirs, and traditional snacks. Take a leisurely stroll and soak up the vibrant atmosphere, browse the unique shops, and sample tasty treats like bamboo rice and Guilin rice noodles.


For panoramic views of the Li River and the surrounding karst landscape, hike up to the Laozhai Mountain. The moderate climb is rewarded with breathtaking vistas that will leave you in awe of nature’s grandeur.


If you’re interested in immersing yourself in the local culture, consider joining a traditional cormorant fishing experience. Witness the ancient fishing technique where trained birds dive into the river to catch fish, guided by their fishermen owners. It’s a fascinating display of cooperation between man and nature.


For those seeking a more tranquil and serene experience, take a relaxing bamboo raft ride along the Li River. Float gently downstream, surrounded by the beauty of the landscape, and let all your worries drift away. It’s a peaceful way to connect with nature and absorb the tranquility of Xingping Village.


Xingping Village offers a slice of authentic rural life in China, allowing visitors to escape the hustle and bustle of city life. The village’s timeless beauty, friendly locals, and breathtaking landscapes make it a perfect destination for those seeking a unique and immersive cultural experience.


Mural Hill

Located near Xingping Village along the Li River, Mural Hill is a captivating natural wonder that immerses visitors in a world of ancient art and breathtaking landscapes. As its name suggests, Mural Hill is adorned with intricate and vibrant ancient paintings that have been beautifully preserved over the years.


The hill boasts a collection of remarkable paintings that depict scenes from folklore, historical events, and daily life in China. These stunning and well-preserved artworks offer a glimpse into the rich cultural heritage of the region and provide a unique window into the past.


To reach the top of Mural Hill and witness the remarkable paintings up close, visitors can follow a well-marked path that leads to the viewing area. As you ascend, you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of the Li River and the surrounding karst landscape, which serves as a breathtaking backdrop to the artwork.


Once you reach the viewing area, take your time to explore the various panels and observe the intricacies of the ancient paintings. The details and colors are awe-inspiring, showcasing the skills and artistry of the artists who created them centuries ago.


Each time you look at the murals, you may discover hidden stories and symbols that provide insights into the culture and history of the area. From mythical creatures to scenes of daily life, the paintings on Mural Hill offer a fascinating glimpse into the past.


Aside from the magnificent murals, Mural Hill also offers panoramic vistas of the Li River’s meandering waters and the dramatic karst landscape. The combination of natural beauty and artistic marvels makes Mural Hill a truly extraordinary destination along the Li River.


For nature and art enthusiasts alike, Mural Hill is a must-see attraction that combines the beauty of the outdoors with the cultural heritage of the region. Immerse yourself in the captivating artwork, breathe in the fresh air, and marvel at the wonders of Mural Hill, a true gem along your journey along the Li River.


Nine Horse Painting Hill

Perched along the scenic Li River, Nine Horse Painting Hill is a captivating attraction that mesmerizes visitors with its unique geological formations and the legendary story it carries. This iconic hill, located near the town of Xingping, gets its name from the dramatic rock formations that resemble nine galloping horses. Legend has it that nine celestial horses once descended from the heavens and left their hoofprints on the hill, forever immortalizing their presence.


As you approach the hill, you’ll be greeted by a landscape that seems straight out of a Chinese ink painting. The towering limestone formations stand proudly, each one taking the form of a galloping horse frozen in time. Finding all nine horse shapes amidst the natural contours of the hill is like embarking on a treasure hunt, and the thrill of discovery adds to the enchantment of the experience.


To fully appreciate the majesty of Nine Horse Painting Hill, make your way to one of the scenic viewpoints. From these vantage points, you can admire the panoramic vistas of the Li River and the surrounding karst scenery, allowing the beauty of nature to complement the mythical allure of this legendary hill.


The allure of Nine Horse Painting Hill also lies in its place in traditional Chinese culture and folklore. Horses hold special significance in Chinese mythology, symbolizing strength, nobility, and freedom. The hill’s distinctive shape and the mythical tale associated with it make it an enduring symbol of good fortune and auspiciousness.


Many visitors choose to explore Nine Horse Painting Hill by taking a leisurely stroll through the surrounding trails and pathways. Along the way, you’ll encounter local vendors selling souvenirs and traditional crafts, providing an opportunity to take home a memento of your visit to this legendary site.


Whether you’re a nature lover, history enthusiast, or simply a curious traveler, a visit to Nine Horse Painting Hill is an exploration of both natural wonders and cultural significance. It is an experience that connects you with the ancient mythology and captivating landscapes that have inspired artists and poets for centuries, leaving an indelible impression on all who venture here.


Li River Cruise Options

Embarking on a Li River cruise is the perfect way to immerse yourself in the beauty of this picturesque waterway and experience the enchanting landscapes that have captivated travelers for centuries. There are various cruise options available, catering to different preferences and budgets.


1. Full-day Cruise: A full-day Li River cruise typically lasts around 4-5 hours and covers the most scenic section of the river. You will sail from Guilin to Yangshuo, taking in the breathtaking karst peaks, lush countryside, and serene river scenes along the way. This is the most popular and comprehensive cruise option, allowing you to fully appreciate the beauty of the Li River.


2. Half-day Cruise: If you have limited time or prefer a shorter cruise, a half-day option is available. This typically covers a shorter stretch of the Li River, allowing you to enjoy the highlights while accommodating a tighter schedule. While the duration is shorter, the beauty and charm of the Li River are still fully appreciated.


3. Sunrise or Sunset Cruise: For extraordinary views and a peaceful ambiance, consider a sunrise or sunset Li River cruise. These cruises offer a magical experience as you witness the sun casting its warm hues over the mist-covered peaks or bidding farewell with vibrant colors as it sets beyond the horizon. Be sure to bring your camera to capture these breathtaking moments.


4. Bamboo Rafting: For a more immersive and close-to-nature experience, bamboo rafting is a unique option along the Li River. Seated on a traditional bamboo raft, guided by local boatmen, you can leisurely navigate through the tranquil waters, surrounded by stunning landscapes. It’s a slower-paced and intimate way to appreciate the beauty of the Li River and get up close to the dramatic karst formations.


5. Luxury Cruises: For those seeking a heightened level of comfort and luxury, there are upscale cruise options available. These cruises offer spacious cabins, gourmet dining, and personalized services, providing a more exclusive and pampered experience along the Li River. The luxurious amenities and stylish interiors complement the natural beauty outside, creating an unforgettable journey.


Regardless of the cruise option you choose, you will have the opportunity to savor the mesmerizing landscapes, capture stunning photographs, and immerse yourself in the tranquility of the Li River. The cruises usually include onboard commentary to provide insights into the history, culture, and natural wonders of the region.


Remember to book your Li River cruise in advance, especially during peak seasons, to secure your preferred date and time. Whether you opt for a full-day adventure, a tranquil bamboo rafting experience, or a luxury cruise, exploring the Li River by boat promises a truly unforgettable journey through one of China’s most enchanting destinations.


Tips for Navigating the Li River

As you embark on your adventure along the Li River, it’s helpful to keep in mind a few tips that will enhance your experience and ensure a smooth journey:


1. Plan your timing: Consider visiting the Li River during the spring or autumn seasons when the weather is mild and the landscapes are at their most vibrant. Avoid peak tourist seasons if you prefer a quieter experience.


2. Pack appropriately: Wear comfortable clothing and sturdy footwear, as there may be some walking involved during shore excursions or exploring scenic spots. Bring sunscreen, a hat, and insect repellent to shield yourself from the sun and bugs.


3. Stay hydrated: Carry a water bottle to stay hydrated, especially during the warmer months. It’s important to drink plenty of water during the cruise to ensure your comfort.


4. Bring a camera: The Li River offers countless photo opportunities. Pack a reliable camera to capture the stunning landscapes, traditional architecture, and unique cultural experiences along the way.


5. Respect the local culture: As you visit villages and interact with locals, be respectful of their customs and traditions. Ask for permission before taking someone’s photograph and be mindful of their privacy.


6. Be prepared for occasional crowds: The Li River is a popular tourist destination, and certain spots might get crowded, especially during Chinese holidays and weekends. Patience and a positive attitude will ensure a pleasant experience.


7. Engage with the locals: Interacting with the local people can enrich your journey. Learn a few simple phrases in Mandarin and strike up conversations. The locals are often friendly and welcoming, and getting to know their way of life can be a truly rewarding experience.


8. Try local delicacies: Explore the local cuisine by sampling regional specialties such as Yangshuo beer fish, Guilin rice noodles, or bamboo rice. The Li River region is known for its gastronomic delights, so seize the opportunity to savor the flavors of the area.


9. Stay flexible: Weather conditions and the river’s water level can impact the itinerary. Be prepared for any changes and remain flexible to make the most of your Li River adventure.


10. Enjoy the serenity: Take moments to savor the tranquility and natural beauty of the Li River. Slow down, breathe in the fresh air, and let the calming scenery wash over you. Embrace the sense of calm and rejuvenation that the Li River offers.


By keeping these tips in mind, you’ll be well-prepared to navigate the Li River and create lasting memories of your journey through this stunning natural wonder.



The Li River is a destination that paints an exquisite portrait of nature’s beauty and cultural treasures. Navigating this enchanting waterway allows you to immerse yourself in breathtaking landscapes, witness ancient customs, and connect with the rich history of the region.


From Xingping Village’s timeless charm to the captivating Mural Hill and Nine Horse Painting Hill, each stop along the Li River offers its own unique allure. The panoramic views of the karst peaks, the meandering waterways, and the lush countryside leave an indelible mark on your heart.


Whether you choose a Li River cruise, bamboo rafting, or simply wandering the ancient streets, the Li River promises an unforgettable adventure. The whispering breeze, the serene waters, and the stunning scenery create a peaceful and awe-inspiring atmosphere that renews the spirit.


As you navigate the Li River, remember to immerse yourself in the local culture, engage with friendly locals, and savor the traditional cuisines. Take time to capture the essence of the region with your camera, allowing the beauty to live on long after your journey has ended.


From spring blossoms to autumn colors, the Li River offers different seasons with their own unique charm. Choose a time that suits your preferences and embark on a journey that will forever remain etched in your memory.


The Li River is more than just a scenic destination; it is a gateway to understanding ancient Chinese traditions and immersing yourself in the timeless beauty of nature. It invites you to slow down, take a deep breath, and appreciate the wonders that surround you.


So, pack your bags, set sail on the Li River, and let the captivating landscapes and cultural treasures guide you towards an unforgettable adventure. Discover the harmony between human and nature, and experience the magic and serenity of one of China’s most remarkable destinations.