Cruising down the Yangtze

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April 17th 2017
Published: April 22nd 2017
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You know you're not in Kansas anymore when the first prize in a competition is a three hour session in a Karaoke room!

Our Yangtze River cruise turned out to be an unexpected cultural experience as well as a chance to see the stunning three gorges. We had expected to be in the minority on our cruise given the large number of Chinese tourists we'd seen elsewhere on our trip. What we never expected was to be the only two westerners on a boat of 500 people. We should have know as soon as we arrived and went through security checks - before we'd even got to our e-ticket the policeman was pointing at our names on his list, which left us wondering how he'd figured it out!! Duh!?!

Our cruise was an opportunity to experience first hand just how rowdy the Chinese can be. I've never had the pleasure of travelling with such noisy people. We thought South America was loud but this is worlds apart. If you've ever had trouble with hotel room doors slamming then you need to experience it in China. It is next level loud, to the point of making your actual bed shake. But doors slamming can be a good thing, because another common occurrence is for people to leave their doors open and then bellow to the people in the opposite room (sometimes five floors above, or at least it sounds like they should be that far away given the decibels being used!)

The highlight of any Yangtze River cruise is seeing the Three Gorges, but it takes 1.5 days to sail to them from Chongqing. So we had time to kick back, relax and enjoy watching the world go by from our balcony (surrounded by noisy, smoking people).

We boarded the boat on Good Friday evening. Of course we were early, as always, but check-in was delayed for some unknown reason. By 7.30pm we were in our cabin and enjoying our sushi dinner (good old seven 11) on the balcony. This was our first River cruise and it's amazing how calm the water is. We were due to leave Chongqing at 10pm and were keen to see the skyline lite up as we left but we almost missed it because we departed early and didn't even realise we were moving!

We didn't get the best nights sleep that night due to the super hard bed, the TV blasting out from next door until midnight and the alarm going off at 6.30am.

We had an 8am excursion on the first day to see the City of Ghosts. We met our group in the boat lobby, which was louder than a children's playground, and discovered we would be part of a tour group with a typical Chinese guide, complete with flag and microphone! Oh dear! Everyone else in our group spoke Mandarin although there were a couple originally from Hong Kong and Taiwan who also spoke English. This was a godsend as our guide's English was not great and we were only getting about 20% of the information. About a third of the way through the trip our guide suggested we go with her friend who was doing an English only tour, so we hijacked that group and this rescued the trip. The temples we visited were nowhere near as impressive as those in Beijing, so it was good to get the background from the guide and to understand that by crossing a bridge hand in and with Paul and taking nine steps we were committing to being together in our next life! It's always good to know what you're getting yourself into!

After the tour we had lunch back on the boat and got our first glimpse of the chaos of having 400 Chinese people all trying to get to a buffet at the same time. Imagine a scene in a zombie movie where there is a fresh kill. It was worse than that. I swear people were actually clambering over each other like there was only enough food to feed 10. We didn't stand a chance and thought we may go hungry for the next two days, but soon discovered if you wait just 5 minutes everyone scurries to their tables to devour their food, leaving the buffet relatively quiet. We'd had the option to upgrade to the 'western' restaurant for £30 each which was an oasis of calm in comparison, but we decided to immerse ourselves properly into the Chinese experience. In for a penny...

Each place we've visited has gotten us more and more attention and we found we got lots of curious stares throughout our time on Yangtze Gold 5 and have even had people serupticiously taking pictures of us. When we met the other ten people on our dining table, a group of older ladies, they were delighted. Of course they started chatting away to us but all we could manage was a nihao (hello) and wo bu dong (I don't understand) which they laughed at. They tried to push the 5 year old grandson next to us as an excuse to take our picture but he was having none of it. We were happy to be photographed but trying to communicate this was impossible, so on our last night we took a group picture with the selfie stick which broke the ice for them to take loads of photos with us. It was like being a celebrity (but without the posh suite and suitcases full on money!)

That evening we enjoyed a cultural show put on my the staff on the boat. As you went into the bar you were given a hand clapper because standard clapping just isn't loud enough (obviously). Half way through there was a raffle (first prize being the karaoke session) and at the end they tried (and succeeded) to get people up dancing to the Macarena and the Birdie song! It was all a little surreal but quite entertaining to watch (the audience as much as the crew!)

The second day found us sailing through the first of the three gorges, Qutang Gorge which is the shortest of the three but apparently the most majestic. The start resembles a gate, and features in the 10 Yuan note and we nearly missed this because we were having a nap! We'd discovered the best time to sleep was when everyone was on the optional excursions. So we'd set the alarm for their return (not that we needed an alarm, it was pretty obvious when people were back) but the boat made it to the first gorge quicker than expected. Not clever! We got to the observation deck in the nick of time, and had to jostle for a good spot. The scenery was beautiful, large cliffs blanketed in green. We likened it to Cape Tribulation and Fiji (but without the ocean).

After lunch we made our way onto a smaller boat to do a trip down the narrower, Lesser Three Gorges. This trip was the reason we ended up on this particular ship, rather than one of the other cruise ships (complete with westerners) that we'd seen. We'd also paid to see the Mini Three Gorges, which only small fishing boats can access. Unfortunately the weather turned on us during the Lesser Three Gorges trip, and we found ourselves in the middle of a thunderstorm which made the scenery look even more dramatic, but meant they had to cancel the Mini Three Gorge trip.

Back on the boat we went through the second of the three 'main' gorges, Wu Gorge. Wu Gorge winds for 25 miles and the long deep canyons here mean there is little sunshine and hence lots of cloud and fog. It was definitely not clear when we saw them but this added to the majesty of the scenery. Unlike with the first gorge we were prepared and made it to the observation deck before anyone else. Equipped with rain coats and a massive umbrella we'd found in the wardrobe we were showing the stupid weather that we would not be deterred. We're British and used to sightseeing in the rain! We pretty much has the observation deck to ourselves - clearly the Chinese are sugar mice. Every cloud.....

Our last evening on the boat we had table service rather than a buffet. Never have I seen so much food! The ladies at our table insisted we have the first taste of every new dish that was squashed onto the central lazy Susan, a great example of the contraction of the Chinese culture. At first, I think it's fair to say you assume they are quite rude, with all the pushing and shoving, but then there will be a random act of kindness from a stranger that just totally takes you by surprise.

After dinner we discovered there had been a change to our itinerary due to lock maintenance at the Three Gorges Dam.This meant we had to be packed and ready to leave the boat at 7.30am rather than 1pm the following day. I was not a happy chicken, but a vodka and coke later and the promise of another night of awesome entertainment (talent show) cheered me up. I even managed to get my first dance in China, to YMCA, of course!

Too soon our cruise was over and it was our last morning. We've discovered during this cruise that the Chinese are a punctual lot. No matter how early we got down for the excursions we were always the last, and We were always the last down for excursions and when we went for breakfast on the last morning at 7am, reception was teaming with people with suitcases, ready to leave the ship!

Everyone was responsible for getting their own luggage off the ship, which sound fair until you see the gazillion steps you have to climb. We have rucksacks so were fine but most people travel with suitcases and had to lug them all the way to the top of the steps, regardless of their age or how heavy their cases were. Paul took pity on some older people and carried their suitcase for them so I offered to take his daypack which nearly killed me. I think he must be carry rocks around in it!

Our final excursion was to the Three Gorges Dam, a controversial project which completed in 2009. The result of which is the largest renewable energy source in the world providing electricity to half of China. But it came at a cost; over 1.3 million people lost their homes because their villages or towns were completely flooded. We should have gone through the five lock system on our cruise but due to maintenance didn't, which was a shame as it's the largest in stream boat lock in the world. I'm not sure what this means exactly but it sounds pretty awesome. This also meant we missed sailing through the third gorge (Xilinx), but did get some lovely view from the bus. Still, it's not quite as relaxing as sitting on your balcony!

Shortly after midday we waved goodbye to the people we'd met and found ourselves once again on our own hoping we'd be able to figure out how to get to our hotel. We'd not been expecting to be dropped off at the bus station but we easily managed to flag down a cab and a few minutes later were checking into the nicest room we've had on the trip so far (I say 'so far' optimistically!) There was definitely a mix up when we checked in, or we were given a free upgrade as the room we were given was absolutely gorgeous. We kept expecting a knock at the door to say there'd been a mistake! We both had the best nights sleep, which was good as the following day was our big China travel day; taxi, train and public bus to take us from Yichang to Zhangjiajie National Park. This part of the trip is the equivalent of one of Paul's crazy 3pm adventures we had in Big Sky!

*****Scroll down for. more awesome pics*******

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24th April 2017

Cruise sounds a bit of a mixed success !. At least it was 3days and not a week !. Sounds terrifying ( to me ! ) being the only two westerners amongst all those chinese people. But at least you were truly immersed in a genuine Chinese holiday experience. Bet you will never complain about noisy British hotels again !. Enjoy your ( hopefully ) restfull period in your posh hotels. Hope journey onward to Indonesia goes well. Love to you both xx.

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