Yangtze River Cruise
The Chongqing page is used mainly for the Yangtze River Cruise info/photos, more will be added gradually.
I am 'half-way' reorganizing this page. Besides the content on the main page here, please also see the travelogues (direct links will be added soon) for more photos (more text later).
Three-Gorge Dam Construction Plan:
Phase I (1993-1997): Building byways, preparing construction site; water level raised from 65 m to 75 m;
Phase II (1997-2003): Building hydroelectric plant, dam body, and 5-lock complex; water level will be increased to 135 meter in 2003;
Phase III (2004-2009): Start to generate electricity, project complete; water level to 156 m in 2006 and 175 m in 2009. Annual power generating capacity 8.4 trillion KWH.
The three-gorge/San Xia dam is located at San Dou Ping town of Yi Chang city, in Wu Han province; 40 km upstream from already built Ge Zhou Dam. It will be 1,853 m long, and 185 m high. The final winter water level will be 175 m, raised by 100 m from without the dam. The reservoir up the dam will be of 600 km long with widest point of 2,000 m, and of about 1,000 sq.m. of water surface.
Some descriptions about the project are in this webpage:
Yangtze River Cruise
We took the cruise September, 2000, the 28 generators (680,000 KW capacity of each) were not installed until recently. Most of the cruises include a multi-hour tour to the dam construction site. Currently, the 'byway' is used to carry the water traffic around the dam construction site.
When a boat cruises along, huge signs of ‘135 m’ and ‘175 m’ are seen on the hills along the river banks. The former one indicates the water level when Phase II completes, and the latter, end of Phase III. You know everything under those signs, the villages, towns/cities, those rice/corn fields (many of them are human made terrace with rocks - hard work!), houses, schools, culture sites, will all be gone.
Constructions are everywhere above the 175 m water level: new highways and bridges above the old, new apartment buildings instead of the old small country houses etc. Exploding sounds of construction can be heard from cruise boat, when local people explode off those mountain rocks to build everything they need. People are digging out sand from river banks and ship it to all construction places.
If you go there before 2003, everything should not be much different, in terms of the scenes. Even after the project is finished in 2009, the water level will be increased by 80 meters, while the cliffs along the three gores are of about 1,000-1,500 meters high, so the dramatic visual ‘effect’ will remain. Some smaller gorges along Yangtze's tributaries will become less dramatic than they are now.
Most of the cruises include a half day tour, excursion, along some of these tributaries: you will be transferred to a smaller boat. Some cruises offer motor boat tour, while others using wooden boats with 10-people capacity plus several local village boatmen rowing the boats to the deep of some of the tributaries. Such tour could last from 3-6 hours. We liked the wooden boats better, as there is no motor noise disturbing the natural serenity. The water in the tributary is greener while the water of the mighty Yangtze was yellowish grayish (at least at the time we were there), a ‘border line’ between the two colors of water at the entrance of those tributaries can be seen from the middle of Yangtze River from your cruise boat.
You can also visit some of local ‘minority’ villages (mostly know as Tujia people) around there. If you are lucky, time allows, and water level is shallow enough, boatmen have to using huge ropes to haul the boat, similar as what they would do in the old times along the Yangtze river, except in the old times, very narrow and winding paths were built long the cliffs (can be seen from your cruise boat).
Choose your boat wisely. There are about 20 or so cruise boats (star rated by the Chinese National Tourist Bureau) specially designed for non-Chinese tourists which offer more comfortable condition, and ‘better’ designed entertaining programs. If you are a back packer, you can take those boats that local people take, lots cheaper, and then you can hop to any small town wherever you want to, at a cost of a less comfortable ‘living’ condition, not quite clean etc comparing to the ‘luxury’ cruise boats.
But the best way to enjoy the grandness of the three gorges, my opinion, is looking down from above, from those towns high on the cliffs along the river, instead of viewing from the bottom of the hills from a cruise boat. Unfortunately, most of the tourists do not have the opportunity to do that, unless you are a back packer, and you can hop among those towns (not easy); or if you are lucky, hire a jeep and a guide to fulfill your dream.
When booking a cruise on your own, several things need to be examined carefully if you are a picky traveler as we are (in terms of schedule, things to see, etc), otherwise a travel agency can help you to book one:
1. Schedule (to match your own travel schedule and connecting points):
Most boats have their schedule on internet. The schedule are detailed by boat name, upstream or downstream and exact embark and disembark dates; some further provide information on excursion schedule.
2. Embark and Disembark Location (determine the length of the cruise by days):
Many boats go between Wuhan and Chongqing which will take one more day longer than between Yichang and Chongqing. Many sources (experienced travelers, and tour books) stated that the scenes between Yi Chang and Wu Han was boring, better skip it unless you want to see Wuhan.
3. Cruise Boat Info :
The boats are of various capacities, ranging from 160-280+. We liked the smallest one (it is huge, you will never have ‘sea’ sick on those cruise boats there), as you can see the scene better especially when the boat passing through the three gorges and everyone clusters on the upper deck trying to have the best view, fewer people the better, to us. Also, you do not have to wait for a long seating time to get to meals.
Smaller boats have some advantages big ones lack of. For one of the excursions we had at Shi Bao Zhai, a big boat will not be able to dock at the small dock of this small town. Even the smallest boat (160 capacity) cannot dock there if water level is not high enough.
Cabin location is important as well. You need to find where the public areas (nightclub, public exercise room etc) are, and you do not want your cabin under those. You might want to stay away from the engine. Its vibration noise could be a problem to many despite they are very low. For choosing cabin location, we learnt a lot from the book 'Unofficial Guide to Cruise’ (can be found in any bookstore).
We also looked when each boat was built by whom, the experience/reviews other tourists have.
4. Excursion and Entertaining Program Information:
Most of the cruises offer three-gorge dam site visit, a tour to one of the tributaries, and a tour to a local town, or the ‘ghost city’, or Shi Bao Zhai. Every boat provided some kind of seminar kind programs showing Chinese medicine (acupuncture, massage etc), culture and history. Many provide ensembles performing traditional/folk dances, Chinese operas (not necessarily Peking Opera), and tourists can participate in some of those as well.
Some boats provide only Chinese food, while others offer both Chinese and limited non-Chinese food.
5. Cruise Costs:
Knowing the right place to book your cruise can save you lots of money without sacrificing any enjoyment/comfort. We booked through a ticket agency specializing in Yangtze River cruise, it cost us $480 per person (all included: board, cruise, excursion, food, transportation to the excursion) for a upstream cruise on its top 5-star boat (smallest); while it can easily cost an American $800 per person via AAA or any travel agency for a boat of 280 people. Be careful reading the details. Most travel agency should give you the cabin number when tickets are obtained while others do not (like ours, but the ticket person let us be the first people on board, and we can choose the cabin we want).
If you take those boats that local people take (or Chinese tourists take usually), it could be much much cheaper and takes longer. And you might have a chance sharing the boats with hems, pigs etc when taking boats used mainly for local water traffic.
We chose the best boat, a 5-star, the East King, taking upstream from Yi Chang to Chong Qing, per our schedule and interests. We were lucky, since most of the tourists taking downstream, the upstream cruises are less crowded (only slightly cheaper, not a significant factor). East King (and its sister boat, East Queen) has a capacity of 160, but we got only 40+ people on board, everything was so pleasant as it is not crowded.
Click the link for Yangtze Cruise Ship Info
Shi Bao Zhai
One of the excursions we took was visiting Shi Bao Zhai Temple (stone treasure stronghold, click for more photos in travelogue), located at a small village/town bearing the same name.
It is a 12-story wooden structure temple built on top of a singular cliff 300+ years ago, it is 56 meters high perching the Yangtze River. Bigger cruise boats are not able to dock at the small dock of the town with the same name. We wandered around the little Shi Bao Zhai Town (click for more photos in travelogue), strolling along its pebble stone roads lined with old houses. Many souvenir vendors are also there, just like anywhere else. We climbed to the top of the 11th floor of the temple, there, you have a grand view of the Yangtze river and the countryside. There are some very steep wooden stairs even ladders. There is only a small 0.5 m by 0.5 m square hole to the top floor, I had to put my camera bag on to the floor first then climbed into the room through a 1 foot wide ladder.
If you are not physically able, or you do not mind, there are about 30 ‘human’ sedans await to carry you up to the top of the temple from back of the cliff. A ‘human’ sedan is a chair tied onto a pair of bamboo (or wooden) bars and carried by two people. On our boat, there were 20 or so Hong Kong people, and the rest 20 westerners. Americans are most unlikely being carried by human beings among all (despite some of them are in the bigger size hence difficult to climb to the top of the temple). Those human sedans are the first thing you see once you step onto the dock.
Many other boats would lead you to the so-called ‘ghost city’, where many statues of devils, or scenes in an imagined ‘hell’ are created. From photos we saw, it is colorful (so as the architecture in that area, all very colorful), but we’d rather to see something more interesting such as Shi Bao Zhai than this (after the dam completed, there will be a wall surround the base of the temple, otherwise 1.5 meters of the base will submerge in the water). If you do not have choice, and you are not interested to see those ‘hell’ statues, at least it is located on a hilltop town, you can have a nice view of the river.
The East King took us to Shen Nong Stream Rafting (click for more photos in travelogue) as the third excursion.
Basically we were each given an orange color safe vest to wear, then transferred at Badong dock to small wooden boats, rowed by local Tujia people, to the deep of Shen Nong Xi (xi=stream). There were about 15 people plus a staff member from the cruise boat sitting in one boat with 4 rowers. A local guide introduced the culture/history and scenery of the area along the stream, also sing some Tujia folk songs, sometimes together with the boat rowers.
Our rafting trip was rather pleasant, the hills along the streams are greener and closer, all we heard was birds singing and the rowing sounds from the wooden oars, very peaceful. The temperature was rather cooler along the tributary area than on the cruise boat, where fully exposed to bright sun.
Just found out the site below offering a Yangtze River Hiking Tour:
http://www.chinahighlights.com/tours/ch12/index.htm. According to its itinerary, one actually could do some hiking along the Yangtze River, thus to have a great birdview of the gorge, besides taking boat for part of the tour. To me, hiking part sounds more exciting than just taking a boat cruising at the bottom of those cliffs.
Visiting in July should be okay, if there is no flood. Sometimes a higher water level helps (enable a boat to dock at certain places). Summer is definitely the tourist season.