The Yangtze River is possibly one of the most famous rivers in the world. It is the third largest river in the world, and about a third of China’s population lives along it. The river has been instrumental in the development of the Chinese people.
I’d heard a lot about how it had been diminished with the building of the Dam, but I still wanted to experience the river and see the famous gorges.
After all, I hadn’t seen the river before the dam was built, so I couldn’t be disappointed by the change.
And I’m glad I went. I don’t know what the gorges looked like before, but they are beautiful and definitely worth visiting today.
There are two general types of cruises; the expensive luxury English language/ foreign language cruises, and the local style cruises on a Chinese tourist boat.
I took a trip on the latter. I’m not sure how expensive cruises get, but I saw some absurd prices while searching. The expensive luxury ships will have more, well, luxury, but I was there for the view not the extra comforts.
I also find that travelling the way the locals do is much more rewarding (if sometimes harder) than expensive foreign aimed transport.
What to Expect on Board a Yangtze River Boat
Third class is fine; there were six beds in the room and a rather compact bathroom with a squat toilet for each room – so it stayed quite clean with only six people using it. If you want a hot shower, I recommend getting in first. It never lasted more than two people, although if you got it, it was good, and the pressure was decent.
I saw a second class room. There were four beds instead of six, they looked fancier – made out of metal instead of wood, and had a bit more room in the main room and in the bathroom. You could also enter the rooms from the inside, (third class cabins could only be entered from the small deck running around the side of the boat.) and go out onto a part of the deck that was fenced off so each second class room had their own little section of deck.
I didn’t really see anything that I thought would be worth extra money, but I don’t mind ‘roughing’ things.
My cruise went from Chongquing to Yichang. It was a 3 night/4day cruise, although there was a 2 night/3day option as well. Each trip off the boat was optional, and cost more. I recommend deciding on what you want to see and paying beforehand. You can change your mind and join an excursion during the cruise, but I think that trying to pay the right person etc would cause unnecessary issues while the guides are busy ferrying groups off the boat.
Meals weren’t included, but they said Chinese food would be available for about 20 yuan, which is quite reasonable. When I go there – the cheapest was 50 yuan. Others were more expensive. It looked ok, but also rather uninspiring. I was so glad that I had packed my own food from land.
Be suspicious of your itinerary. I booked my cruise from my hostel and got an itinerary in English from them. It said that we would visit Jiuwan Stream on day 4. We didn’t. I asked about it, but it didn’t seem to exist in the plan.
The itinerary also said that to go up on deck you needed to pay 30 yuan. I saw no evidence of that at all, and certainly didn’t pay it.
An alarm went off a 5am each morning, I cursed it. I’ve never been a morning person. My charming roommates liked to get up at 4am, and they were noisy. Be prepared for little sleep.
My Yangtze River Cruise Schedule
Each cruise schedule will be different, but I think this was standard on the cheaper local trips.
I was picked up from up hostel at 6pm. I think this varies depending on where your hostel is in relation to where the ferry is docked. The boat left Chongquing at about 9pm. To me this is a pretty funny version of ‘day’. Oh well.
7am – 9am Fengdu Ghost town.
We went past Shibaozhai pagoda, other cruises sometimes stop there.
10pm – 11pm Zhangfei Temple
7am – 9am the White Emperor City.
This is the day that we actually passed through the three gorges. The first gorge is the gorge that is shown on the Chinese 10 yuan note, so everyone was really excited to see it. It was really cool to see a sight that is so iconic in China.
The boat was further away from Chongquing by this stage so the omnipresent city smog had lessened a bit. It was a constant throughout the trip.
12pm – 5pm 3 Little Gorges
This was my favourite of the excursions from the boat. We explored the little gorges in small wooden boats. This area was very clean and very scenic. I think it was the most expensive trip off the main cruise boat, but I thought it was by far the best.
After the 3 Little Gorges, we went through gorges 2 and 3. I actually thought that these were more scenic than the first gorge, although almost no one else seemed to care about them, and most people were in their rooms.
I was a bit annoyed I had to head in before we actually left the gorges, because it grew dark. My boat had left the 3 little gorges late because all the other boats that had docked by attaching themselves to us had to leave first.
What I did see of them though was very beautiful.
7am we departed the boat and then took a bus to the Big Dam for a three or four hour tour. I admit I that I opted out of this trip and just got dropped off at the train station. I was really tired and rather sick at this stage. I had been really tired in Chongquing and 4am wake ups hadn’t helped. My legs hurt and all I wanted to really do was sleep and eat comfort food. My bus went past the Dam (it’s massive), but I skipped the 3 hour tour. Thinking back to how sluggish I felt at the time, I can’t say that I regret it.
The gorges were very impressive, very beautiful. To properly enjoy the view however, I found I had to make sure I didn’t look down at the river. I have to admit I was disappointed by the sheer amount of rubbish in the river.
Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by growing up in New Zealand with only 4 million people, but I’m not ridiculously idealistic. China has over 1.3 BILLION people. That is so many people it just blows my mind. Chongquing, the city the cruise left from has 29 million people, hell Harbin has about 12 million people and it is considered a second tier city.
So I expected to see some rubbish; sad, but pretty hard to avoid with so many people.
There just seemed to be so much of it.
Sometimes the boat would go through clear periods, and I’d be happy and looking out the window. Then a flood of rubbish would come – plastic bottles, paper, plastic bags, processed wood, cardboard cartons, all sorts of crap – and I’d try to ignore it, but in the end I’d go back to reading because it just seemed impossible to ignore.
Other times there would be miles and miles of the river littered with floating polystyrene.
The locals on board don’t help either. I cringed while watching them happily throwing their rubbish overboard.
I still enjoyed the trip, despite the rubbish and 4am wake ups. The gorges were beautiful and the stops were interesting. My favourite was definitely the tour of the 3 little gorges. A cruise on the Yangtze River is one of those experiences you just have to do once.