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July 11, 2011

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A raft of summer fun

FROM Heilongjiang in the north to Guizhou in the south, China offers spectacular rafting through gorges, forests and delicate landscapes. Chen Ye puts on her life jacket.

Summer is about getting wet, whether sweating, splashing or swimming. In river rafting, you can have all in one, plus scenery and adventure, and China has plenty of rivers for both white water and more comfortable rafting.

There are raging rivers and rapids, and there are placid ones. They flow through canyons and gorges, past spectacular land formations, as in Guilin, and through green valleys and forests.

Southwest and southern China are famous for rafting, but northern China also has exciting destinations and nearby Zhejiang Province has possibilities as well.

Here are a few well-known rafting destinations.

Gourd Gorge

Jiande City, Zhejiang Province

The scenic Fuchun River in Jiande City, close to Hangzhou, is a popular route through a beautiful forested area. The river is gentle and lofty trees provide plenty of shade.

To drift in the gorge, visitors first need to pass through the Qi Li Yang Fan, a 20-kilometer-long waterway depicted in the famous painting "Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains" from the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). The painting was burned and half is displayed in the Zhejiang Museum and the other in Taipei's Palace Museum.

The route has become more popular recently since the painting was shown as a whole in Taipei? the two halves were reunited after more than 360 years.

Past the waterway are the Gourd Waterfall and Gourd Gorge, so named because two caves are linked together in the center like a giant calabash gourd.

The key stretch of rapids is 3 kilometers long, with a drop of 100 meters. Continuous barrages may be up to 4 meters high. In places where the water isn't rushing, it's so clear that visibility reaches 3 meters deep.

Advice: Easygoing

Cost: 215 yuan

How to get there: Take a bus from Shanghai to Xin'anjiang and head for Qiantan Tourism Dock.

Mengdong River

Yongshun County, Hunan Province

White water rapids, mountains, virgin forest, lush vegetation, green and clear water make the Mengdong River one of China's top rafting destinations.

The route starts from Hani Palace and continues to Monkey Jump, beginning with gentle drifting and then gradually intensifying as the river flows down toward mountains, with trees on both sides. The boat first drifts like a leaf, then turns into a galloping horse and riders have to hold on.

The trip takes around five hours and along the way many boatmen chant and sing, giving a folk flavor to the trip.

During tourist season, queuing and waiting are common.

Advice: For everyone

Cost: 124 yuan

How to get there: Take a flight or train to Zhangjiajie where a three-hour bus will take you to Mengdong River.

Maling River

Xingyi City, Guizhou Province

This is a rough and wet ride through the narrow, winding 15-kilometer-long Maling River Gorge with spectacular calcified waterfalls along the way.

"Maling River rafting is very exciting but not suitable for everyone, and even those of us who have been running rapids for 10 years get excited," says veteran rafter Xiao Guo. "It seems to bump into cliffs every second so I recommend that tourists go with experts."

The Maling River Gorge with spectacular karst or limestone formations is around 10 kilometers from Xingyi City: It's a long, deep rift in the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau cut by the surging Maling River.

Since the river is narrow, it's easy to run into cliffs, so this route is dangerous and not recommended for beginners.

There are more than 200 calcified waterfalls (flowing over rocks where calcium salts have built up) along a 50-kilometer stretch. Everyone gets soaked.

Maling River is the training area for the official Guizhou Rafting Team.

Advice: Go with rafting experts

Cost: 168 yuan

How to get there: Take a flight from Shanghai to Guiyang where a long-distance bus takes about 7 hours to Xingyi City. Maling River Gorge is only 6km northeast of Xingyi.

Guan River

Xixia County, Henan Province

There's a lot of variety along the 12-kilometer route, with something for everyone. There are placid stretches and around 20 tricky spots containing many small rapids.

There's not enough of an adrenalin rush for veteran rafters, but it's great for beginners. It usually takes 2 hours.

The river flows through spectacular forests and vegetation containing rare plants and tree ferns.

The nature area is well-developed for tourism, with reception center, parking and infrastructure.

Nearby is a dinosaur and fossil park, which children love.

Advice: Okay for beginners and parents with children

Cost: 128 yuan

How to get there: Take a flight to Zhengzhou and Guan River is 6 hours' drive away.

Huishui River

Jingxian County, Anhui Province

The 16.5-kilometer-long route is one of the most picturesque and ideal for people who are more into landscapes than adventure.

"At the beginning it's lots of fun and I felt like a fly on the surface tossed by raids, but then the river becomes calm like a mirror," says Vivian Wang who took the trip.

The landscape is typical of the region south of the Yangtze River. There are mountains, waterfalls, forests, bamboo, fish and singing birds.

The most famous feature is Early Fog Mountain, which is sometimes shrouded in mist; the mountain looks like a lady wearing fine gauze and dancing along the river.

Advice: For those who prefer landscapes to white water

Cost: 80 yuan

How to get there: Take a train from Shanghai to Xuancheng, about 7 hours, and then take bus to Jingxian County.

Balan River

Yilan County, Heilongjiang Province

This is a spectacular route that every year a national rafting festival is held here.

There are rough patches and easy stretches as it snakes along dozens of kilometers, with mountains, valleys, forests and blooming flowers in spring and summer.

One rafter says some parts require skill and caution.

"The slightest mistake will toss you into the river for a cold bath," says Si Nong, who visited Balan River last year. "Balan River is so amazing that one minute the river is as flat as a mirror and suddenly it turns into rapids."

Advice: For everyone

Cost: 200 yuan

How to get there: Take a flight to Harbin and transfer to bus to Yilan County (250km away), where Balan River is 40 minutes' drive away.


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