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River cruising in Yangshuo, China

February 25, 2013 - Natasha von Geldern

ON my first day in Yangshuo, southern China’s legendary karst mountain landscape so overwhelmed me that I rushed to take a boat ride on the Li River. This is the scenery immortalised on the back of the 20 Renminbi note and attracts millions of visitors each year.

Yangshuo Karst Scenery and Li River. Pic: Natasha von Geldern.

Yes the scenery from the boat is spectacular, mystical, heart-stoppingly beautiful. I saw women doing their laundry and an old boatman wearing the traditional conical bamboo hat and a buffalo hide cape.

But where once people were poled downriver on bamboo rafts, now the boats are made from plastic piping and the constant sound of the outboard engine is on the air. I visited Yangshou in the off season but from the rows of large cruise boats tied up at regular docking stations along the Li River I could tell that it must be absolutely rammed in the summer.

Yangshuo West Street, China

Yangshuo West Street, China

So I was left feeling a little, well, disappointed. After the Li River cruise I caught a taxi from Yangshuo town to my accommodation at the Yangshuo Mountain Retreat.

This only took around 15 minutes but what a difference a few kilometres can make. Away from the bustle of touristy West Street and the calls of hawkers, the eco lodge is on the banks of the Yulong River, a tributary of the Li.

View from Yangshuo Mountain Retreat

View from Yangshuo Mountain Retreat. Pic: Natasha von Geldern.

The view from here is just too beautiful for words.  Enjoying a beer from the riverside garden I looked out at the sun lowering behind the mountains, faint pink clouds reflected in the tranquil river.

Feathery fans of bamboo arch over the water and from around the bend came a raft. A raft made of bamboo, silently poled along with a passenger relaxed in a deck chair.  You know what I did the next day!

In some places, the traditional ways are still alive. Pic: Natasha von Geldern.

In some places, the traditional ways are still alive. Pic: Natasha von Geldern.

This is a great base for exploring the countryside by bicycle, trying your hand at rock climbing or just relaxing and enjoying the delicious meals.

The eco lodge is staffed by young people from the local villages, creating opportunities and community involvement. The commitment to environmental preservation is impressive, with a zero contamination septic system, solar panels and a strict ‘no single use’ policy.

In the midst of a China that at times seems to be one huge construction site, here is a little piece of authentic paradise set among lush rice fields, forested hills and the karst peaks of Yangshuo.

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