Bamboo Rafting Down the Li River

Written By: The Planet D

A visit to Yangshuo, China would not be complete without a bamboo cruise on the Li River.

Booked through Lucy’s restaurant, our driver picked us up bright and early to beat the rush of tour boats.

It was 6:30 am when we departed for our 1-hour drive to Yangdi to catch the boat to XingPing.  We were the first ones there and the mist had barely started to rise above the numerous limestone cliffs.

bamboo rafting li river china our raft
Our raft

Our boat was more modern than we expected.  I had visions of men using bamboo poles to push us down the river as we teetered on a thin hull.  Instead, we boarded a large raft of plastic piping in the shape of bamboo that easily seated 4 people.

The engine started up and put an end to the quiet dawn.

Bamboo Rafting Down the Li River

As we sipped our very strong coffee in paper cups we took in the scenery and waved to other boats captained by men heading to work for the day.

We weren’t disappointed to be on a motorized boat.  It is a long way between Yangdi and Xinping, the Li Rivers’ most picturesque stretch and I couldn’t imagine how long a traditional bamboo raft would take to float from one town to another.

bamboo rafting li river
Bamboo rafting with a motor

Lucy was right to have us leave early.  We didn’t see another tour boat until an hour into our trip.

We watched life on the river with little obtrusiveness.

The scenery of the Li River lived up to its reputation.

li river bambo raftin gchina

Much of this part of China is shrouded in fog year round, but that added to the mystique of the river.  Looking around I could envision farmers and fishermen navigating these waters thousands of years ago.

Stepping Back in Time on the Li River

Other than the addition of engines, people are living their lives the way they have for centuries.  Laundry is done on the rivers banks, people washed their pots and dishes in these waters and women collected seaweed by hand.

We couldn’t communicate with our captain, but he was a friendly man that called to us regularly to show us sites. He held up a Kleenex box with the exact picture of the mountain range that we were viewing right now.  Another spot showed the image on the 20 Yuan bill.

We were definitely in one of China’s most beautiful locations.

li river bamboo rafting featured image

Foreigners have been attracted to Yangshuo for over 20 years.  It is clear to see why it was one of the first places to open up to tourism.  Yangshuo and the Li River offer some of the most extraordinary views on the planet.

The calm waters snake through giant karst formations rolling off into the distant mist.  Around each bend a more enchanting sight came into view.

It is clear as to why this is the most photographed region in all of China.

We spent 2-hours on the river on a cool morning.

But with our down vests, waterproof jackets and woolen hats, we stayed toasty warm.  As the other tour boats started to rush pass, we were grateful for our early start and just as we had enough of our time on the river, it came to an end.

We pulled into a busy little port filled with bamboo rafts waiting to take the throngs of tourists that were about to arrive.  People were friendly as usual and an old man happily posed for Dave’s camera.  He was even more happy when he saw the photo.

a local man on the li river

As we drove back to Yangshuo in our private minivan, we saw the lines of other vans and buses pulling in and we were satisfied with our solitary trip on the Li River.

We were back at our hotel by 11:00 am and free to get out to explore more of the delightful town.  It is nearing the end of the tourist season here and things are slow and laid back.   With a mellow atmosphere and well established backpacker infrastructure, Yangshuo is a place that we could easily hang out in for days on end.

But that will have to be another trip.

Fast Facts of Bamboo Rafting the Li River.

  • You can book a trip to the Li River anywhere in town.
  • Prices range from 50 to 200 Yuan
  • We paid 150 Yuan for transfer and boat trip
  • Make sure to book a trip between Xingping and Yangdi.  There are bamboo boat tours in town, but the Xingping stretch is the most beautiful
  • 1 USD = Y6.6
  • 1 CAD = Y6.6
  • 1 UK£ = Y10.3

Read More:

Cycling the Countryside of Incredible Yangshuo

The Serious Fisherman

Where to Get Off the Beaten Track in China

Top 10 Things to Do in Shanghai, China

Spectacular Mutianyu Great Wall – Your Travel Video Coffee Break


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About The Planet D

Dave Bouskill and Debra Corbeil are the owners and founders of The Planet D. After traveling to 115 countries, on all 7 continents over the past 13 years they have become one of the foremost experts in travel. Being recognized as top travel bloggers and influencers by the likes of Forbes Magazine, the Society of American Travel Writers and USA Today has allowed them to become leaders in their field.

Leave a Comment

16 thoughts on “Bamboo Rafting Down the Li River”

  1. Be sure you avoid Monkey Jane Hostel in Yangshuo
    This is the most dirt hotel in China , if they give stars for dirty infested hostels then Monkey Jane deserve 5 stars

    Never see such a dirty place in my life

  2. To Heidi and Davendeb,

    Lucy is a very lovely lady. That is her website and I am happy to have had the pleasure of her company for our China Family Adventure in March 2008. I have only just managed to locate her website again, as I had lost her email. You will have the best trip – Heidi, Good Luck.

    Our family is planning to visit with Lucy and go to Yangshuo again – we loved it.



    • Hi Loene,

      I actually found another guide who was able to arrange last minute plans for us. Thank you for suggesting Lucy. I’m sure she’s lovely.


      • Hi Heidi, I am glad that you had a great time. Sorry I cannot leave the link up of who you went with in Yangshuo. I don’t know that company and I cannot endorse something that I don’t know. Lucy was lovely, Cheers.

  3. Is Lucy’s a restaurant or a friend that you met in Yangshuo who was able to help organize a trip?

    I’ll be going to Yangshuo in a month and would love to get somewhat prepared since I’ll only be there for 2 days and won’t want to waste too much time organizing once I’m there.

  4. Wow – the photos are so stunning! I understand the need for a motor but it’s almost a shame they have to use it – I can easily imagine that the same trip without the noise would seem almost other-worldly. I’m so happy for you two that you’re getting to see such beautiful places!
    .-= Trisha Miller´s last blog ..When A Guest Post Just Doesn’t Make The Grade =-.

  5. Suberb photos of a mystical journey on the Li River. I travelled to North China on 3 trips,
    found it to be fascinating in 1979. Your photos of this area are tantalizing and definitely
    demand an on site exploration!
    Hugs to both of you! Marylouise