Three day cruise down the Yangtze River
A friend of mine visiting Beijing from Western Australia wanted to travel out of Beijing so we decided on a cruise down the Yangtze River. Global Easy Tours pulled together a great program and we flew from Beijing to Chongqing, Sichuan Province to board the MV Victoria Grace for a three day cruise to Yichang in Hubei Province. The ship also departs from Yichang and travels up the river to Chongqing but as this is against the flow the cruise takes a little bit longer. We arrived in Chongqing and drove through downtown before taking a tour of the Huguang Guild and the ancient village of Ciqikou.
Huguang Guild is a complex of residential houses, prayer houses and shops built by immigrants from Guangdong, Hubei, Guangxi and Hunan during the Qing Dynasty. It was the culture, social, religious and business centre and meeting place for people from the southeast and eastern provinces of China for over 200 years.
Various buildings have identifying names like Guangdong Hall for the Guangdong people and Jiangnan Hall (south of the river) for people from the area south of the Yangtze River.
Ciqikou is an ancient town in the Shapingba District of Chongqing and during the Ming Dynasty gained prominence as a commercial port and market town; shipping goods by both land and water.
The town has been described poetically as ‘in Ciqikou one thousand people greet each other during the day..(and) ten thousand lamps flicker at night’.
Little shops sell porcelain, handicrafts and you can also buy the usual souvenirs that can be found anywhere in China. It actually reminds me of West Street in Yangshuo – a pretty street with lots of lanterns and many shops selling Chinese souvenirs.
Around 6pm and after a delicious hotpot meal, which my friend absolutely loved, we boarded the ship and went straight to our cabins. We selected standard cabins on the top floor however I heard from a friend that the suites were lovely, so we went to take a look. We were offered an upgrade (at a cost) and I immediately said ‘yes’ and my friend said ‘no’ as he was already on an expensive ten day/three province trip from Australia. The staff were very concerned that my friend would not upgrade and ended up giving us two suites for the price of one – very happy.
Overnight we sailed about 180 mms to Feng Du where we were given the option to take a shore excursion. This happens every day and some of these excursions are already paid for in the ticket price and others have an additional charge.
There are also so many activities on the ship, movies (Red Sorghum the first evening), Tai chi, an introduction to the Yangtze River/Three Gorges, a presentation by the ship’s doctor on Chinese medicine and welcome drinks with the ship’s captain. Both evenings on the ship, we were entertained by the staff who sang, danced and did magic tricks and generally performed for us passengers. On our first night of entertainment we had a wonderful rendition of the Joe Cocker song ‘you can leave your hat on’ – excellent entertainment.
In the afternoon of our first day, we had champagne and canapés with the captain, who looked incredibly handsome in his white captains uniform, and docked at Shi Bai Zhai which literally means Stone Treasure Fortress and took a shore excursion to the Red Pagoda.
Shi Bai Zhao is a rectangular rock with sheer cliffs standing on the riverside; it has a red wooden pagoda which is twelve stories high build against the rock wall. Our lovely tour guide met us at the ship and walked us to the pagoda – this usually takes about two hours however you can either walk to the top of the pagoda (we didn’t) hence the two hours or walk around (which we did) and on the way back got to see a magnificent sunset as a backdrop to the pagoda.
Along the Yangtze, we initially sailed through two of the famous There Gorges – Qutang and Xiling. Qutang Gorge is the shortest and said to be the most majestic of the Three Gorges (I agree) and winds eight kilometres along Wushan County. Xiling is the longest gorge among the three and is named after Mount Xiling. Both spectacular to see.
On our second day we took a shore excursion to Shennong Stream which comprises two beautiful gorges; Parrot and Long Chang and runs for sixty kilometres. We first boarded a larger boat and enjoyed the scenery for about an hour then left to board a much smaller wooden boat and travelled for about forty minutes through a stream to enjoy more fabulous scenery.
Around 11pm that evening we travelled through the five ship lift locks. I didn’t think this would be all that interesting but it was an incredible experience. We went up on the top deck for a while and saw the great gates open and shut and then went to my suite to sip champagne for a while.
In my room were were able to both hear the gates open to allow us through but also touch the walls of the lock – an amazing experience.
Due to the construction of the dam, ships must be lowered or lifted over ninety-one metres and because of this height, the water pressure required for one single lock would be too much for one gate so instead the dam uses five locks. Each of these five locks lowers or raises the ship nearly twenty metres.
On our last morning we were taken to the Three Gorges Dam site which was very interesting and afforded us the opportunity to have a bird’s eye view of the five ship lift lock.
We then set sail once again and saw the last of the Three Gorges – the Wu Gorge. This gorge is known for its deep valley and forest covered peaks and said to be the most notable of the Three Gorges because of the unusual shaped rocks surrounding the Gorge and the short daily periods of sunlight which allow for the Gorge to be surrounded by fog and clouds in a variety of shapes.
The three days were so enjoyable; they afforded me the opportunity to sit and relax and either read my book or view the river and sights along the way including the hanging coffins. I enjoyed the short sightseeing trips on the shore and the opportunity to practice my Chinese as there were only about fifteen westerners on the ship along with hundred or so Chinese. As soon as some Chinese heard me speaking Chinese to the wonderful staff, they came and spoke to me and engaged me in conversation – I enjoyed that immensely.