My Journey on the Yangtze River
Last updated by vincentg1991 at 2016/4/5; Destinations: Chongqing,Yichang
Before the Journey
Having waiting for a leave for a long time, it finally comes to me in the late June. I have always wanted to try the Yangtze River cruise. Plenty of homework gets done while waiting.
About boat choosing
It is a toughie to choose the right ship out of so many options. Yangtze River cruise ships amount up to 20 some with different companies and different service standards. Internet and experience from my friends help me out a lot and I finally come down to the President 7 by the President Fleet.
Reasonable price is my first consideration and it is met by the President 7. Reasonable price doesn’t have to mean tight on budget, instead, it is another word for great value, which is a general outcome comparing the price itself and the services together.
The ship is a foreign-concerning ship. Despite its young age (firstly launched in 2013), its crew is an experienced team of the company. Its experience serving Lipeng (李鹏), the former Premier of the State Council, and other foreign important political leaders has raised the service bar higher than those for domestic travelers.
Fully equipped with new facilities is one of the biggest selling points of the ship. I am going to skip some of the land excursions. Therefore, the free movie theatre, swimming pool, gym and lounge, they should keep me entertained the whole time.
Purchasing the ship online is quite easy. After online payment by AliPay is done, a confirmation is sent to my mailbox and cell phone. It will be the access to the ship, no need for paper tickets.
Packing is always my favorite part of a trip. The packing list for a Yangtze River Cruise, however, is shorter than regular holidays: good walking shoes, fast-dry T-shirts, bathing suit, sunglasses, sunscreen and most importantly, passport. I print out the confirmation massage just in case.
Transportation in Chongqing and Yichang
Some homework about the area is favorable for a first-time visit, especially transportation-wisely. After landing in Chongqing, I can take the airport shuttle bus to downtown and change to public bus to Chaotianmen Pier (朝天门码头). Exit of Yichang, the destination of this cruise, is also sorted out: a high speed train to Shanghai.
There are discount flights from Wuhan, Zhengzhou, Xi’an, Guilin, Changsha, and Taiyuan to Chongqing, which require a 1-month-ahead booking. Leaving Yichang, high speed trains to Shanghai, Chengdu, Wuhan, Xiamen, Zhengzhou and Hangzhou are good choices. Low airfare flights are available to Chengdu and Hangzhou, a bit limited, though.
Day-1 Chongqing Short Tour & Embarkation
The flight from Guilin arrives in Chongqing in the late morning. I got 8 hours to kill before the embarkation time between 18:00-20:00. I take the metro to get to downtown and have lunch. A short tour of Chongqing is in order.
The Monument to Liberation of People (解放碑) is the icon of the city center. A BCD district extends out the area and present a scene familiar to Shanghai in this mountainous city. Happy shoppers idle around the pedestrian street and travelers like me just browse through all its hustling.
Goose Neck Park (鹅岭公园) is a bliss for people living in the city center. It is just 10 minutes away from the People Liberation Monument. Covering a vast land overlooking two rivers, it used to be a former private garden to a merchantman in the late Qing Dynasty. People in Chongqing cherish this park for good reason: lush trees, graceful garden, peaceful ponds and a high pavilion with superb view of the whole city.
Sauntering in Chongqing seems quite liberal yet I wouldn’t want to miss the time. Hongya Cave (洪崖洞) is my last stop before boarding, a good place to have dinner whilst river views and do some easy shopping for the journey.
There are numbers of small sections inside Chaotianmen Pier. The S section is exclusively for the Victoria Cruises and other ships are all anchoring in section 1-9. As informed this morning, I am supposed to embark at section 3. After checking my passport, the receptionist gives me a room card and pamphlet. Later, I learn there is a room upgrade available. As I can hear the engine on the 2nd floor, CNY300 is immediately paid for a room on the 4th floor, which turns out a right decision.
For solo travelers, the ship provides two pricings: one is to take the room exclusive with higher price and the other is to share the room. I don’t mind sharing. The room is spacious and homely-decorated. I go to bed after settling down and have a sweet dream.
Day-2 Shibaozhai and Free Time on the Ship
I wake up at about 5:30AM and it is all scary dark outside the balcony. It is a great chance to explore the interior of the ship as nobody else is awake, I figure.
The first floor is the crew dorm and now most of they are already up and preparing breakfast. Down there is a basement-like leisure center, featuring with massage room, gym, beauty parlor, swimming pool, steam room and a medical room. Up the 3rd floor to the 6th floor, which is the top, I find shopping centers (on F3 and F4), restaurants, Mini Golf course, KTV room, kids’ playground, conference room, cyber café and finally the sun deck.
I spend some time alone on the sun deck, in hopes to watch a sunrise. Later, more and more people come up and some of them are practicing Tai Chi with a master in white. I join them before breakfast on the second floor. The breakfast is a Chinese-Western-style buffet with various choices. I hardly feel the ship moving unless looking out the window. It’s a nice dining experience with fresh yummy food and gorgeous landscape passing by.
The first land excursion comes at Fengdu (酆都), a small riverside city along the Yangtze. Fengdu Ghost City (丰都鬼城) is not covered in the ship price so I might just as well skip it. 2 hours are spent in the movie theatre before lunch.
The inclusive land excursion to Shibaozhai (石宝寨) is scheduled at 3:00PM. Literally meaning stone treasure fortress, this attraction is a mountain along the bank of the Yangtze River. A traditional 12-storied red pavilion lies against the mountain slope and it requires a 30-minute climb.
Originally built in the Qing Dynasty, the 9-storied pavilion and temple were dedicated to Manjusri with the meaning of 9 Skies. The pavilion’s base would have been beneath water level once the Three Gorges Dam was completed. The locals built up a small dam around the base as a protection.
It’s dinner time when we get back to the ship. The dinner banquet, which requires smart dressing, is held in the restaurant on the second floor. The captain shows up with a great toast and later the crew presents a nice show featuring dancing, singing, magic tricks and occasionally interacting with the audience.
Day-3 Gorges and Streams
I sleep late this morning, thanks to yesterday’s climb. There is a land excursion to Baidicheng (白帝城) in the morning. Extra cost is CNY280/person and I heard there will be a longer climbing up the mountain. So I decide to indulge myself in movies. The ship stays still during the land excursion. When the group of visitors comes back from their excursion, the ship sets off. In the following hours, we pass through Qutang Gorge (瞿塘峡) and Wu Gorge (巫峡).
Qutang Gorge (also called Kuimen Gate) is the shortest one of all gorges in the Yangtze River, yet its scenery has no lack of charm. The Yangtze River breaks through between the steep switchbacks. The entrance of the gorge is called Kuimen Gate (夔门), which is the print of CNY10 bill and formed by Chijia Mountain (赤甲山) on the north and the Baiyan Mountain (白盐山) on the south. It’s just 150 meters at width and it almost feels like I can touch the mountain rocks as the ship passes through.
Wu Gorge is widely known from the poems in the Tang Dynasty yet its appearance on documents dates back to the the Three Kingdoms Period. As the downstream of Qutang Gorge, it is a boarder water straddling between Wushan County (巫山县) and Badong County (巴东县). Mountains overlapping one another and waterway sneaking between cliffs, the 20-minute cruising here is a truly pleasure.
After lunch, we hop onto small boats, aka the peapod boats to navigate the Shennong Stream (神农溪). Each peapod boat holds 11 passengers and 3 boatmen standing at the front and back. The boatmen are from the mountainous villages near the stream, all Tujia minorities. After the dam was built, boat pulling is no longer needed for the stream yet they still give us a good show.
The boat trip in the stream features with soaring cliffs around us, cool water splattering as the boatmen row diligently and Tujia ethnic girls singing on shore. After 40 minutes or so, we return to the cruise ship while the boatmen start their rowing back home.
When the cruise is passing through the Xiling Gorge (西陵峡), the on-board speaker asks us to seek for sign of the hanging coffins above the mountains. It is hard to get a clear look at the coffins as they are all hanging up high above the water and sizes are beyond eyesight. I am luck, however, to spot one with some effort at Shilong Cave (石龙洞). It is a natural cave forms a chamber for the stone coffin, a tiny tip of which can be seen on board.
Documents of the hanging-coffin custom date back to the Warring States Period. The coffins were usually made a whole piece of wood or stone, jointed without any nails. Minority people, especially the Ba People, considered a hanging coffin would be a blessing for the family and also a perfect protection from the beasts and birds. They drilled holes in the coffins and used ropes to rail down from the mountain top.
Another banquet, Night of the Yangtze, wraps up the day perfectly. Everybody seems to have a blast with all the delicious food and nice wine. At around 10:30pm, the ship is about to pass through the ship locks of the Three Gorges Dam. Most of the passengers are already asleep, leaving a few on the deck to watch such a spectacle.
With water level rising up, the ship slowly floats upon the gate of the next chamber. There are four gates to pass. The 45-minute process is worthwhile offering a special experience like riding on a spaceship.
Day-4 Three Gorges Dam of Yichang
The ship is finishing up the downstream of Xiling Gorge, which is the longest of all Yangtze River gorges. I take my time at breakfast while the ship is slowly approaching to the pier at about 9am. It is Sandouping Pier (三斗坪码头). Come up is the highlight of the trip: The Three Gorges Dam (三峡大坝).
All the passengers switch to travel coach after landing. The coach goes to Tanziling (坛子岭). The interior of the dam is under military control and not open for visit. Hence, the highest point that is Tanziling is the only place to admire this manmade wonder.
Two security checks, at the gate and before entering Tanziling, require visitors to discard lighters, matches, metals and liquids of any kind. Escalator is a traveler-friendly facility that cuts off long waiting lines into 3-minute lifts. First thing first, we learn some basic stuff about the dam at the display hall. Later, the coach takes us to the flood discharge outlet at the south shore, followed with some free time on our own.
Completed in 2006 with a total funding of RMB 95.46 billion, the Three Gorges Dam is without a doubt the new pride of China. The whole dam stretches out for 2.3km with hydroelectric power plants at two ends and flood discharge outlet in the middle. The construction of the dam brings the area, as well as southern part of China, with three-folded benefits: flood control, power generation and navigate improvement.
The whole visit at the dam lasts for 2 1/2 hours and we back to the ship. Processing along the Xiling Gorge, the ship hits the Sanyoudong Dock (三游洞码头) of New Century Pier (新世纪码头) at noon. The pier is at the city center of Yichang so it is easy to take a cab to the railway station, just in time for the high speed train.
Useful Information for a Yangtze River Cruise
Best time for the cruise
Unlike traditional attractions that are available year-round, Yangtze River cruises operate during March – November. It is subject to the water flow of the river. The first cruise is usually in late March while the last one in late November. Summer to autumn, July – September to be specific, is regarded as the best time for a cruise.
Start the planning ahead and keep posted for promotions. Prices vary to different nationalities, especially for those foreign-concerning boats and for tipping. Nevertheless, some summertime promotions might surprise you with a tipping-included price.
Upstream or downstream
Upstream cruise is from Yichang to Chongqing, takes 5 days and 4 nights. The downstream takes me 4 days and 3 nights from Chongqing to Yichang. Itinerary and sites are all the same. The upstream cruise is more often chosen by domestic travelers. For Westerners whose travel itinerary leads them to Chongqing after Chengdu, downstream is a good pick with extend to Shanghai.
If time and budget allow, longer cruise, from Chongqing or Wuhan to Shanghai, offers more days navigating along the Yangtze River.
Price inclusion and exclusion
All meals, room facilities, room service and some of entertainment facilities and land excursions are included in the ticket. Optional visits are extra cost paid up front, so is the tipping to the crew. Wifi service is around CNY200-400 for the whole journey per person and laundry is charged by the piece. It is smart to check without accidentally ordering some services that you may not know the prices.
Room upgrade is the first upsale approach by the crew once onboard. The basic price that you pay is for the basic rooms, which are oftentimes the ones on the 2nd floor. If you pre-paid room doesn’t have a balcony, an upgrade to one that does is penny well-spent, because you wouldn’t want to miss out the moving painting scroll that the Yangtze River is.
If booked via a travel agency, you might be encouraged for an upgrade during booking. However, the cost is lower to upgrade when you are onboard. That’s because upgrade availability and pricing are dependent on room occupancy. Plus, you get to check the room first before deciding.