Postcard from the Dragon River

It turns out taking a float trip is not just something we like to do in Missouri. On my travels last year, I took a Chinese float trip. The trip was on the Dragon River near the popular tourist town of Yangshuo in Southern China.

The scenery is very different from the Meramec River, but it has some things in common. The famous teacup-shaped mountains rise steeply from the river valley. And around them are rice paddies still worked by straw-hatted farmers and water buffalo, the same way they have been for hundreds of years. The water is clean, a rarity in China these days.

Locals wait on the river’s edge and hawk rides on their bamboo rafts to foreign and Chinese tourists. A ride for a couple of hours costs about 7 bucks a person, pretty expensive entertainment by China standards. The rafts are long and flat, made of large stalks of bamboo with upturned ends, which keeps water out of the hollow bamboo and reduces drag. You don’t get to paddle, instead you get to sit in chairs under an umbrella as the local driver poles you down the river (In China, active outdoor recreation hasn’t caught on big yet). Every quarter mile or so there is a small overflow dam meant to keep the water high enough to navigate. But the dams are just part of the fun, and the driver will carefully pole you over the edge and down a couple feet as you hold on tight.

Floating down a beautiful river in a small hand-propelled boat, enjoying the natural wonders of creation is a human pleasure that recognizes no national boundaries.

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