Li River Bamboo Raft Tour: Yangshou China

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Dreaming of exploring the stunning, vast, mystical limestone landscape of these dragon-teeth peaks as they reach up to the deep blue sky? Visualising inner peace and clarity as you soar along these idyllic waters and watch the peaceful world go by? Forget it. It’s possible but the Li River Bamboo Raft Tour from Yangdi to Xinping in Guangxi, China is most definitely not the answer: this tour sucks. Read on to find out why it’s a let down and where the cheaper, calmer and more local experience is

Li River Bamboo Raft Tour

I would love to say that I’m a clever and savvy traveller who does her best to experience genuine and humble travel experiences.  Sometimes though, even after five years in Asia, I take the wrong pill and end up on a travel roller coaster I want to immediately get off. Everyone travels differently and everyone has their preferences but you can do better in this stunning beautiful area of China.

Coming back from the tranquil and  tingly happiness of the dragon’s backbone rice terraces in Guilin, I decided, ‘Hey, why not take a cool bamboo raft to Xingping rather than a bus? It will be super lovely!’ Wrong. The warning bells were going off from the start of the tour.  I’ve only got myself to blame. If you hear the bells, listen and take heed my friends. Don’t do what I did!

How much is the Li River Bamboo Raft Tour and what does it include?

220 yuan (It’s seriously expensive).  This includes 1) a bus picking you up from your hostel and taking you to Yangdi Pier which takes about one hour twenty minutes. 2) A one hour bamboo raft ride along the Yi River from Yangdi Pier to ‘Nine Horses on a Fresco Hill’ in Xingping. 3) A mini golf buggy taking you from Xingping pier to the village bus station. 4) A bus to Yangshou.

Li River Bamboo Raft Tour Bus

The start of the tour: bus pickup

I was picked up at my hostel in a minibus with four others and taken to a main pick up point: this is where four became eighty on a big coach. I was branded with a ‘I’m a tourist’ sticker and told when I could pee and when I could buy souvenirs.  I was then told how I should pay an extra 100 yuan to get past everyone else, ride an actual bamboo raft without an engine, ride a water buffalo to ‘impress my girlfriend’ and pose with a fisherman and his bird. This went on for twenty minutes.  I was starting to fret.

The one hour bamboo raft ride

Coming off that tour bus was kind of like being in the special forces, deployed to embark on a serious mission. ‘No time to pee, go go go!’ screeched KFC as he shoved a ticket into my hand (yep, my tour guide’s English name was KFC). I’d been prepped by KFC to jump on a boat as quick as possible because once they were full and gone, I’d have to wait another two hours. Just like any war film, I lost KFC in the chaos as he was swarmed up by the masses.  I never saw KFC again.

Yangdi Pier Guilin

I ran down to the water and started to get my hustle on. I can speak a little Chinese, most certainly enough to get on a boat but this mission was on the verge of mission impossible. The other tourists pushed me out the way (totally expected) and the boatmen kept telling me, ‘No, not this one, go to this one’ (unexpected). After going back and forth between boats I quickly cottoned on that no one wanted to take me. I’m still not sure why.  I guess the Chinese tourists get lots of commentary on the way down by the boatmen and then tip? Things started to get real. After thirty minutes of trying to get on a boat, me and a band of foreigners got on one and refused to get off it.  Essentially, if you want to get on here, be assertive and sit your ass down. You paid.  You got a ticket to ride baby.

Li River Bamboo Raft Tour Anchor

Once the boat sets off, it is an amazing place. The scenery is stunning to say the least. Breathe it in. It’s glorious.

Li River Bamboo Raft Tour Xingping
Li River Bamboo Raft Tour Locals

Once you get to Xingping pier, you then have to jump off and get in a mini golf buggy.

Li River Bamboo Raft Tour Xingping Pier
Time to jump ship on Xingping Pier

The mini golf buggy from Xingping pier to the village bus station

Like a terrible Jurassic Park ride, you’re carried onto a buggy by a sea of people. The drivers whisk you off along the road and they stop you at the point where you can see the actual place on the back of the 20 yuan note. Super cool in theory; bit of a tourist nightmare in reality.

20 yuan note

You’re then taken on to Xingping village where you have one and a half hours to look around. Xingping is magical and it is totally worth a visit. I’ll be writing much more about it this week and next. Before I even set off on the raft tour, I had decided that I would get off here and leave the tour group. Words can’t describe how happy I am I made that choice because I could not get out of that rubbish quick enough.

The bus to Yangshou

Didn’t make it that far. Screw you tour.

Moral of the story?

Carefully consider what kind of travel you like and how you like to experience different places. This was far from my normal cup of tea. I must have been smoking the weird stuff when I decided to book this tour. However, I did the Honda Bay Island Hopping Tour in Palawan, Philippines and loved every second of it. Read blogs like this if you have a certain tour in mind to see how sane it is. Then, make your own decision.

Is there a better way to get to the bamboo raft experience along the Li River?

Yes! Teacake has cracked it and a cheaper, happier, calmer and truly local Li River experience is right here!

Teacake’s Stars

It’s a 1 out of 5.  It gets a 1 for the scenery (it’s seriously amazing) and a big fat no for all the rest: the expense, the chaos and the crazy.

Do you like hiking and historical villages?

Make sure to go hiking here, visit Xingping Village and hang out with Bill Clinton in the nearby Fishing Village.

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Li River Bamboo Raft Tour Yangshou Guilin China

12 thoughts on “Li River Bamboo Raft Tour: Yangshou China”

    • There’s definitely other ways to do it. The landscape here is absolutely stunning and unmissable. I will write about other alternatives to experience the magic in the next couple of weeks :)

  1. OMG i’m literally writing about this now. We must have done the same tour! I couldn’t believe it when I realised I had joined a Chinese style tour. Did you have Sugar the tour guide? She was feisty!

  2. Hahaha, I’ve just found this via your Twitter posts! I loved the area so much and I’m glad now that we shunned the tours and did it ourselves, especially opting to go by bus to Xing Ping and staying at the lovely hostel there. The bamboo rafts looked fun but we did everything by bicycle instead.
    The only tour we did was to one of the psychedelically lit caves, which sounds just like your tour. A little bus that became a big bus of squillions of Chinese tourists. It was Christmas day and we got given a sticker and that was it, they totally left us behind in the cave to wander by ourselves, shunning the gift shopping opportunity we managed to get back to the bus ages before the rest of them did! It was hilarious!

    • Haha it is an experience to be on one of those tours, that’s for sure! It sounds like you experienced both sides of it and that’s a good thing! Now you know what you like and you’ve clearly become a travel master already by learning to dodge the gift shop haha! Rock on Rachel.

  3. You just saved me a nightmare. My hostel guy tried to get me to take this tour and it didn’t feel right. Found your blog and now I’m definitely getting the bus!

    • It’s a bit of a controversial subject. Some readers feel I should accept it’s a touristy area. I get that actually – I’m not going to go everywhere and have everything to myself – that would be selfish >< I just want to communicate that it is all a little crazy there and if you do want to get away from the crowds, there are definitely cheaper and quieter alternatives.

  4. Crazy adventure! My friends and I are heading out there at the beginning of October and want to do the bamboo rafting as well. We are expecting busy since it will be a holiday here in China. Have you since found any reputable groups to do this? Or can we just show up somewhere and pay at the river?


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