Floating down the Li River

The big thing to do in Guilin is to take a boat down the river from Guilin to Yangshuo. The scenery here is incredible and while the town of Yangshuo is the right size for about 15,000 people, 25 million tourists tramp through it each year. Hence, we found the place to be a cesspool of tourist traps and crooked travel agencies.

While the boat trip was a little pricey, Jeff and I decided we should spring for it and see what all the fuss was about. Our hostel offered to book a “Western” boat tour with an English guide for 370 RMB, but the tour agency downstairs from the hostel offered a “Chinese” tour for 240 RMB. Naturally, we wondered why the huge cost difference. The kind people at the agency explained that a Western tour had an English guide and a Western boat. After much vacillating, Jeff and I decided on the Western tour so that we would have better chances of meeting other young, English-speaking travelers.

As soon as we boarded the bus to go to the boat, we knew something was amiss. The bus was half filled with Chinese, half with foreigners. Our tour guide explained in Chinese that the Chinese tourists would have to be patient because he was going to repeat everything in English for the rest of us. It didn’t take long to figure out that the whole “Western” tour was a scam. Our tour guide’s English was not great, and he hardly told us anything. When we got to the dock, we saw several boats. Most were two-story, beat up looking things filled with Chinese tourists, and one was three stories and full of white people. We didn’t get on that boat.

Here’s our “Western” boat, complete with dragon decorations, Chinese crew and Chinese passengers. As we floated down the river, pirates would hook their boats onto ours and sell trinkets and food to passengers on board.

From China: Moreventures

We felt a little better when we found out that everyone else was getting ripped off with us, and I gave the tour guide some grief as well. Most of the other white passengers had paid 400 to 500 RMB, so I guess we got off easy.

At any rate, the scenery was lovely. One of the mountains is featured on the back of the 20 RMB note, as you can see below.

The area has a lot of caves and towering peaks, which were really stunning.

While tourism has certainly “ruined” much of the area, most people still farm for a living and the forests there look virtually untouched. We saw lots of small villages by the river, where people raised water buffalo and fished on bamboo rafts. It’s not hard to imagine that with years of continued tourism, the area won’t look this way much longer. Tour boats seem to leave every few minutes, polluting the water, where I saw lots of fish belly-up. The people have also latched onto the tourist industry as a new way to get by. As a white tourist, you have to be very forceful with fending off peddlers and crooks, and suspicious of pretty much everyone in the area. Despite the natural beauty, the merits of Guilin are diminishing quickly.

From China: Moreventures

Our tour guide was selling an afternoon tour, but we opted to take our own route, ditched the group and started exploring at Yangshuo.