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August 20, 2017

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Trip down Li River reveals picturesque China

YANGSHUO, China--A search for iconic China often takes tourists to the Great Wall in the north and the archaeological pits of the terra-cotta warriors in the nation's midsection.

But for a glimpse of China's natural beauty, take the trip south to the city of Guilin, and board a boat for a four-hour cruise down the Li River to the picturesque city of Yangshuo, nestled amid the limestone karst hills known as the gumdrop mountains.

It's a trip into rural China, past bamboo rafts, fishermen who use trained cormorant birds to make their catch, and farmers tending rice paddies with the help of water buffalo.

The trip starts in Guilin, a popular and growing tourist destination, with new roads, hotels and other buildings under construction.

One of the city's best attractions is Elephant Trunk Park on the west bank of the Li, named for its rock formation that with some imagination resembles an elephant drinking from the river. On the top of the hill is a pagoda that dates back to the Ming dynasty.

The park is a popular spot for young couples who stroll along the river and add their padlocks or wish ribbons, signifying lasting love, to an ornamented tree. Vendors set up along the riverside sell some interesting food, including fried bugs on a stick.

The government is building a canal that will allow tourists to take a boat and avoid what is a bumpy bus ride to another popular spot, Reed Flute Cave, one of several limestone caves in the region. This one features colorful, if somewhat garish, light displays on the stalactite and stalagmite formations, as well as lasers that make designs on the cave's ceiling and a bubble machine.

But the real show is the undisturbed nature of the river and surrounding hills.

The tour boats travel one way from Guilin to Yangshuo in the morning. A ticket will cost somewhere around 200 yuan, or about US$32, and usually includes lunch.

Most boats are air conditioned and one of the three restrooms on board ours included a "western toilet," for those averse to squatting.

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