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09/12/2013

Bamboo Rafting Down the Yulong River in Yangshuo

Description:

Taking a ride on a bamboo raft down one of the many sections of rivers Yangtze River tour near Yangshuo is a quintessential thing to do while you're there. You might shake your head and say "too touristy". I did. I spent two days watching hundreds of tourists float by my balcony at the Yangshuo Mountain Retreat until finally I succumbed. It was 35 degrees outside, what better to do than take a meandering ride down the river, armed with water guns and places to stop for beers?

Touring Guangxi Region's Rivers:
Ask your hotel/tour guide/agency/taxi driver how to organize a river trip for you. Granted, there are multiple ways to experience the Guangxi region's rivers: by fast speed boat, by hundred-tourists-with-lunch large motorized boats, by big bamboo rafts, by two-seater bamboo rafts (our choice due to proximity). So you can think about your group, what you'd most enjoy and how much time you have. This profile will explain how floating on a two-person bamboo raft works.

The Bamboo Raft:
The two-seater bamboo rafts that ply the Yulong River China travel deals are simply constructed and rudimentary. They are comprised of about eight large bamboo logs put together, a two-seat uncomfortable bamboo and metal chair sits atop the raft with an umbrella for shade. The raft may or may not be equipped with life jackets. A rafter stands behind the seats with a long bamboo pole and guides you down the river. He may point out interesting scenes along the way that you may or may not understand. He will certainly make stops for you at photo purchasing stands (more on this below) and a designated snack/beer shop where he will say he's thirsty and you'll have to wait for him to have a beer and be asked to purchase it for him (not necessary).

The raft is pretty stable though you don't want to get too crazy. But you can stand up and walk to the front of the raft for photo opportunities and such.
What You'll Encounter on the Trip:
Our meandering trip along the Yulong River went something like this:

After purchasing water guns and hiring the boats, my son and husband boarded one boat, my daughter and I on another. We floated along, enjoying the scenery and allowing time for photography as my son filled his water gun.
We established Rules of Engagement for the water guns, e.g.
No squirting in the mouth
No squirting while Mom is taking photos
No squirting sister in the face
No squirting un-armed older people on neighboring rafts
No squirting people you don't know unless they squirt first
My son and husband then got into a heated water fight with a bunch of tourists from Hunan Province and became soaked through.
We approached a small dam where our rafters guided us down the small fall to the delight of my kids. Just in front of the fall a photographer is positioned taking photos of you on the raft and sending them to a small dock where folks at computers with printers show you your photos instantly and print them out and laminate them in about five minutes. It's hard not to purchase. On our ride, there were four opportunities to go over dams and then purchase photos of the escapade.
We continued on, lazily floating, looking for people to engage in water fights and enjoying the scenery top China tours.
At a dock with coolers, our rafters stopped for a beer so we did too. This stop enticed my son to start jumping off the dock into the relatively clear and clean looking river. He basically swam the rest of the time holding onto the raft intermittently.
Our rafters dropped us back at our hotel. The whole experience took about two hours.

Preparing for Your Raft Trip:
What to Wear:

Clothing that you don't mind getting wet.
Shoes that are easy to take off and that you don't mind getting wet.
Sunglasses and or hats that you don't mind losing.

What to Bring:

Cash to cover the hire of boat, purchase of water guns, any photos you want to purchase, incidentals such as snacks and drinks and a small tip for the rafter.
Camera
Large waterproof bag for your camera and money.

Who Can Go on the Rafts:
I would say the age limit has no upward issues. My daughter is about two-and-a-half and can't swim (at time of visit/writing). I originally thought rafting would not be suitable for her but there were life-vests (though I didn't make her wear one) and the water is relatively shallow so I felt confident that if she accidentally fell in I could easily save her. In the end, she did not dare to move much but did enjoy sitting on the raft with her feet in the water (while I held on to her). I would not take a child younger than two.
Overall Enjoyment Factor: 10 out of 10:
Like I stated above, I thought the whole thing was a ridiculous tourist trap but in the end, it might have been what we enjoyed most about our weekend in Yangshuo popular China tour package. All of us enjoyed the ride and scenery. My kids loved playing in the water and the rafters had fun playing with our kids - splashing them and swimming with my son. The water fight scene with guns is hilarious and totally unexpected. Where else can you shoot people you don't know with water and get away with it? Everyone on the river is having a good time and it's just really very pleasant.

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