One of the top tourist activities to do in China is a cruise on the Yangtze. Cruises are available for all budgets, on this occasion we decided to put the budget to one side and splash out on one of the luxury cruises and we got an excellent deal on a last minute trip using Yangtze-river-cruises.com.
The cruise took 4 days to travel from Yichang to Chongqing and it passed through the impressive 3 Gorges Dam. This left plenty of time to relax on board and take in the beautiful scenery.
We started the trip in the usual backpacker style with a local bus from Yichang town centre to the out of town port.
We got on the local bus using our phones gps to monitor our progress towards the port marked on the map. Our bus took off in the right direction which is always a good start! About half way towards the port, the driver pulled into the side of the road and we were told something in Chinese; a moment later it became clear everyone had to get off. So reluctantly we got off unsure about how we would get to the boat. It was still a good 3-4 miles down the road.
Once off the bus, we asked the fellow passengers what was happening and how to get to the port. They then explained that we needed to wait a few minutes. We could then see that the bus had pulled into the next building and was just refueling. Another passenger who overheard us talking came over and asked us in perfect English which ship we were getting. We gave him the ships name and he told us he was getting the same ship. It turns out that getting kicked off the bus was a blessing in disguise as he then offered to show us the way once we got to the port.
Near the port on the phones gps map, the man got up and told us that this was the stop. We got off at the stop where there is no sign post or any indication that this was the right place to be. We were thankful that we were being looked after!
We walked an odd way down to the port, through paths which look like garden paths with about 7 others from the bus. It was becoming obvious that the bus had been full with crew returning from shore leave between cruises.
It turned out that the passenger showing us the way was the customer relations manager for the ship. He showed us to reception, talked to the receptionists for a second in Chinese and said good bye and left us to it.
The receptionist then checked us in and gave us a free upgrade to a deluxe suite. We are still not sure if we just got lucky by arriving at the right time or if was due to arriving with the customer relations manager. But either way we appreciated both the help finding the boat and the deluxe room.
The cruise was very relaxing. Each day we had one trip included and the possibility of a second optional trip. We went on all the included trips but passed on the optional trips which gave us an opportunity to relax on the sun deck and read; just what we needed.
The first day of the cruise we sailed up to the 3 Gorges Dam and visited the tourist centre on the dam. The dam is impressive to look at but I cannot help thinking there should have been a lot more information about how it was built. Unfortunately whenever you are on organised tours you are herded around in large groups which makes it difficult to take in all the information, even if it did exist at the site.
That night our ship passed through 5 massive locks to get past the dam which took about 4 hours. This is impressive, our ship entered a lock with another cruise ship and two cargo ships. Our cruise ship was 203.8m long and 16m wide, the other cruise ship in front of us was approximately the same size. The two open deck cargo ships which contained sand where about 12m wide and sat to the left of the cruise ships. The convoy moved very slowly into each lock and was then fastened to floating anchors. It took about half an hour to fill the lock to the next level. During this time the floating anchors are dragged up a cutting in the sides of the lock making a loud noise like nails on a blackboard. At the start of the journey through the locks this is interesting, but as the hours pass you increasingly just want to be in the upper gorge so that you can settle down for some sleep!
The following days excursion was a trip on a small boat up a tributary to see more impressive scenery and some ancient hanging coffins. The rest of the day we simply relaxed, ate, drank, read and talked to fellow passengers.
The final full day we went to a “ghost city” which was another rebuilt Buddhist cultural relic. Like so many of the religious sites in China it was destroyed by the red guards during the 70s in an effort to eradicate old superstitions or belief systems which they believed undermined their authority. Like so many of the sites, the rebuild appeared to have been done purely for tourists. Therefore it included: the standard Buggy of Doom trip from the port to the entrance, to save a 3 minute walk. The stalls selling t-shirts of chairman Mao – obviously to celebrate the destruction of historic monuments and their replacement with a theme park. The walk is nice but the site was very crowded due to so many different companies’ cruises having identical itineraries.
The rest of the day was spent on the sun deck reading and admiring the views which was well worth it.
The next morning we arrived at our final destination and left the ship just after breakfast. The cruise was very enjoyable, the food was good and accommodation a lot higher quality than expected.