China // Guangxi and Guizhou //

The Li River

The Li River meanders south for 85km from Guilin through the finest scenery that this part of the country can provide, the shallow green water flanked by a procession of jutting karst peaks shaped by the elements into a host of bizarre forms, every one of them with a name and associated legend. In between are pretty rural scenes of grazing water buffalo, farmers working their fields in conical hats, locals poling themselves along on half-submerged bamboo rafts, and a couple of small villages with a scattering of old architecture; the densest concentration of peaks is grouped around the middle reaches between the villages of Caoping and Xingping.

A cruise through all this is, for some, the highlight of their trip to China, with the scenery at its best between May and September, when the landscape is at its lushest and the river runs deepest – a serious consideration, as the water can be so shallow in winter that vessels can’t complete their journey. At the far end, the village of Yangshuo sits surrounded by more exquisite countryside, making it an attractive place to kick back for a couple of days, though subject to severe tourist overload during the peak summer season.