Yangtze is the third longest river in the worldThe Yangtze is the third longest river in the world, stretching 6,400km across China, so we knew we had to cruise it. And when I say cruise, I mean a triple-decker boat, complete with one karaoke parlor, four electronic mahjong tables, 500 Chinese tourists, and two westerners (us). We joined the tour to experience the beauty of the Three Gorges and history along this ancient trade route, but it turned out that spending time with the passengers was at least half the fun.

 

Dazu, home to 50,000 Buddhist cliff carvingsOn the way to the port of Chongqing, we made a stop at Dazu, home to 50,000 Buddhist cliff carvings. Sixteen km northeast of the city is the most impressive batch of sculptures–10,000 of them with some over 50-feet tall–etched into every rock niche and cave.

 

Zhao Zhifeng who raised the money for Dazu carvingsThe scale, detail, and color of these cliff carvings completely blew us away. Even if brand new and created by an army of artisans this would be astounding, but the fact that this was the life’s work of essentially one monk, Zhao Zhifeng, who raised the money, designed, and oversaw the project from 1179 to 1245, makes it mind-blowing.

 

This Sleeping Buddha of Dazu, ChinaBaoding Shan was built about the time when Confucianism started to mix with Chinese Buddhism so the display is not your average mix of Bodhisattvas. Scenes like this peaceful Reclining Buddha next to the gruesome “Hell of Knee Chopping” kept things interesting, especially in this comic-strip-style story layout.

 

Pagoda meets Twin Buddha complexThat night we went back to Dazu city, ate the real-deal Kung Pao Chicken (thanks for the recommendation, Frank Sun), strolled the tourist-free streets and by morning we were tracking down more carvings within the city at Bei Shan. While these 892-AD carvings weren’t quite as beautiful as Baoding Shan, we loved that our visit brought us to this neighboring pagoda-meets-twin-Buddha complex. (See the slideshow for more on this jam-packed 24-hours we tried to fit in this paragraph).

 

Yangtze river boat from ChongqingWe probably could have stayed in Dazu for days but the Yangtze river awaited us in Chongqing. 2,400 km upstream from Shanghai and the gateway between eastern and southwestern china, Chonqing has become a commercial hub and China’s fourth biggest city with 29 million people. (At that size you’d think we would have heard of it before, right?). We did a little shopping, ate the spiciest hot pot EVER, and strolled the riverside, but our real goal was to find ourselves a cruise through the Three Gorges to Yichang …

 

Three Lesser Gorges dockWith the help of tour-agent Jimmy Yin of Yangtze Dream (the one English-speaking guy listed in our copy of China Rough Guide 2007), we booked the three-day cruise in a “VIP suite.” The cabin in the brochure had a huge living room, plush sofas, crystal chandeliers, plus he was going to give it to us for the price of a normal first-class cabin. How could we say no?

 

Barney's Couch on Yangtze River CruiseNot exactly like the brochure pictures or as Jimmy’s flowery words had described, but this is our room. We are hiding the purple lacy beaded curtains and ripped wallpaper so that you can focus on the two walls of windows. So yes, we might have been slightly duped on this beater of a suite, but having the limestone gorges approach us from the panoramic comfort of our Barney-colored couch and frilly bed in the morning was worth a piece of our pride.

 

Hanging coffins in the cliffs of the YangtzeOn the three-day ride there where five optional stops to see temples, historical sites, and take side excursions down smaller channels. Though without ever getting off the boat we could spot mountain pagodas, climbing monkeys and ancient hanging cliff coffins tucked in the ombre-colored cliffs and caves.

 

HoneyTrek on the Yangtze RiverThe one excursion we did sign up for was the Three Lesser Gorges. We switched to this medium-sized boat then a smaller boat (complete with a singing Chinese guide with the most obnoxious microphone and of course….costumed photo ops) to explore its dramatic passageways. To give you a sense of this sensory overload, WATCH OUR VIDEO.

 

Chinese people taking our photographThis photo sums up life for us on the boat and the fact we have never felt more popular in our lives. For three days we were celebrities, novelties, or perhaps just the boat mascots–whatever it was, people wanted to take their photo with us..all the time! At first passengers would do sneak-attack photos, where they would stand behind us while their friend took a picture of us “together.” As the tour progressed and we started making more friends, the flood gates opened. Lines would form to hold peace-sign poses together then degrade into a snap-happy mob (like the photo above and in this VIDEO we took just to document).

 

Mist draped over the mountains on Yangtze RiverAfter a night singing in the karaoke parlor and looking at the stars from our Barney-esque sofa, we docked and awoke to this view. The mist draped over the mountains and wafted through the gorges all from the foot of our bed. Some of the tour went for more little boat tours but we opted to get out and hike the hills for aerial views.

 

Lizzie and Alex for some Hot Pot in Yichang ChinaWe arrived to our final port of Yichang and had a farewell hot pot lunch with our new friends Lizzie and Alex. If it wasn’t for them (the cutest honeymooners and the only two English speakers we met) we wouldn’t have had a clue what was going on during the cruise—from the time to board, eat, or evacuate the ship. Not only acting as subtitles in this foreign episode, this couple was our cultural translator, answering the million questions we had in a given day: How do you play majong? What do you think of communism? Why is everyone spitting? Do you wish you had Facebook…and more perplexing questions. To Lizzie and Alex and all Chinese passengers on the Yangtze, thank you for letting us into your world.

 

15 thoughts on “Cruising the Yangtze

  • March 8, 2013 at 12:56 am
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    So similar to our experience a few months ago. I actually still crave hot pot like we had in Chongqing! Man, that was good eating! Our boat seemed to be a fair mix of Americans and Indians, but the vast majority was Chinese. And oddly enough, I think we met Jimmy too. Did he still have a brace on his ankle and use crutches? When we met him in Oct/Nov he did. And we hooked up with him through someone we’d met in Xi’an, but it’s got to be the same Jimmy! So funny!

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    • March 12, 2013 at 12:56 am
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      Yes, ankle-brace Jimmy that’s him! That’s too crazy you know him! He’s a character. Who was your Yangtze tour organized with to have such a mix of boaters? Diversity is always nice but I have to say being totally out of our element with the locals was half the fun. Re: the hot pot…you must have tastebuds of steel–the spice nearly killed us!

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      • March 12, 2013 at 1:54 am
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        When I saw you mentioned him by name, I figured there was no WAY there were two English-speaking Jimmys in Chongqing! Not sure who ran the ship, but Jimmy was the one who hooked us up and had a Chongqing pole man meet us to lead us to the boat. I’d say there were about 10 English-speakers on the boat, and maybe another 10 Indians. I love WWII so we’d stayed in Chongqing a while to spend some time at the Stillwell museum there and to see some other notable historic sites. As to the taste buds, yes, I think they were fried by the time we got to Chongqing — we seemed to get food spicier than we wanted almost everywhere (well, my husband liked it, so spicier than I wanted).

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  • March 8, 2013 at 3:01 am
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    Somewhere in China right now, a Yangtze river cruise passenger is showing pictures to their family that they took with two oblivious white people, and telling them it’s Anne Hathaway and Mike Myers.

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  • March 10, 2013 at 8:07 am
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    Did you guys get to, or will get to, Tiger Leaping Gorge? That was my only trek in China, but it was really nice. Also, I hear ya about the spitting – WHAT’S WITH ALL THE SPITTING??? ARGH!

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    • March 11, 2013 at 1:44 am
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      We actually drove right past Tiger Leaping Gorge with our faces pressed against the window but couldn’t get the bus driver to stop. Glad to hear it was a nice trek!

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  • March 11, 2013 at 9:18 am
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    Karaoke on a boat? Sounds like fun! We’re glad you included people in the photos of the monuments for scale–those are huge! The night shot (#104) is gorgeous, too.

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    • March 12, 2013 at 1:09 am
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      The karaoke lounge took the kitsch cruise factor to a new level of awesome for sure. And yea those Dazu sculptures were larger than life to say the least. So glad you enjoyed the shots!

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  • March 12, 2013 at 7:50 am
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    I love the picture of you two being celebrities 🙂

    I remember someone telling me just before I visited Hiroshima that lots of schoolkids would rush to get my autograph when I was at the Peace Memorial Park. Sure enough, that’s what happened. But I loved it 🙂

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  • March 15, 2013 at 12:03 pm
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    Absolutely beautiful scenery, but my God, that microphone! That guy sounded like the screech of a demon chalkboard. I might have tossed it into the river if I was there.

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  • May 5, 2013 at 12:15 am
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    Great post and it certainly brings back memories for me. I did a Yangtse cruise probably about 5 years ago now. The cruise was a bargain… 4 days and I think it cost around £80 each. Me and my partner, and three english guys were the only white people on the boat. We tended to play cards in the evenings together whilst the Chinese sang karaoke all night long (unfortunately it sounded like a cat was being strangled!). The scenery we saw was stunning and I’m so glad we decided to do it and would recommend it to other people.

    Reply

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