The Yangtze River Cruise, offered as an extension to Imprint’s China Tour, was one of those experiences for which I had little expectation. And while it did not stack up to much else I’ve experienced in China, it was surprisingly fun and pleasant. We started in Shanghai. Now that city blew me away! Shanghai is bursting with a vibrant and youthful energy and is a fitting showpiece for modern China. The historic Bund waterfront with its 19th century colonial architecture is brilliantly contrasted by the new city across the river. Our guide informed us that 20 years ago there was nothing there to speak of. Now it is like a CGI backdrop scene from a Star Wars movie. The pictures posted her are mere hints to the energy one gets from being here. The scores of skyscrapers put on a light show at night that has your chin scraping the pavement. And the variety of creative architectural design is as pleasing as it is impressive. I saw at least 30 new structures in Shanghai that would be signature buildings in most American cities.
After our one night in Shanghai it was on to Chongqin in Sichuan. They claim a population of 32 million citizens. Our Shanghai (24 million) guide had told us that the claimed Chongqin number includes the entire region (but it’s not a competition). We had some free time so we had a meander through the charming old town, a nice dinner, and then boarded our cruise ship, the Yangtze Explorer. For our departure, we gathered on the very nice forward observation deck to view Chongqin’s skyline “wall” of light show skyscrapers (but it’s not a competition). During the cruise we were to pass many more high-rise, high-tech cities and many new bridges. All the bridges are architecturally creative and beautiful, and at least one came with performing lights: lanterns; Chinese figures; even swimming fish!
The Cruise itself was top drawer – large cabins (bigger than many hotel rooms), everything in pristine working order, a full scale theater, meeting rooms, gym, spa, and clinic. The boat offered many interesting activities. Tai-chi lessons in the morning, other Chinese craft demonstrations, Chinese medicine demonstrations, a reflexology demonstration, and movies shown in the theater. The boat also boasted gorgeous and comfortable public spaces, early and afternoon coffee, great food, sumptuous breakfast buffet, and friendly English-speaking service.
One of the shore excursions, to the Ghost Village (not because it was abandoned, but rather because it is the traditional place where spirits go to enter the underworld) turned into an instant highlight. We stumbled onto the Tomb Sweeping Holiday festival celebration. It was very colorful and fun for us with costumed characters, Chinese music (not so wonderful), a parade-like procession, and plenty of firecrackers (they do love those noise makers!). After enjoying the festivities for a while we continued up to the 2000-year old, combination Confucian/Buddhist/Taoist temples above. Both the gateways and the temples were manned by extraordinarily colorful demons and gods.
Our ship sailed through some dramatic gorges and by very nice scenery. The Wu Gorge was particularly dramatic. To visit the Lesser Three Gorges (Longmen, Bawu, & Dicui) we transferred to a smaller boat. More impressive scenery. Then, for the final gorge, we transferred to boats rowed by 4 men, demonstrating the traditional way of river transport. Our guide sang local songs and entertained us with anecdotes of river life.
On our last morning we were transferred by bus to visit the great dam itself. It is a very impressive piece of engineering with immense locks, a small boat elevator (9 min vs several hours), and a nice modern visitor center with handy topographical map. We were then transfer to Yichang where we had lunch in a cave, wandered through the nearby park with nice views and a pavilion or two, and concluded with a visit to the Three Poets Cave. We then transferred to the airport for our flight on to Beijing to begin the regular tour. Quite an adventure.