Yangtze River Cruise

 
4 Day Yangtze River Downstream Cruise | 5 Day Yangtze River Upstream Cruise
7 Day Yangtze River Upstream Cruise  | 9 Day Yangtze River Upstream Cruise

The Yangzi River (Changjiang, or Long River, to the Chinese, the Yangtze to traditionalists) offers travellers many kinds of expeditions. Although steamers no longer ply upriver from Shanghai (improvements in road and rail links have made this an uneconomical alternative), there are a variety of modern and luxurious cruise ships that explore the stretch of river between Wuhan and Chongqing, including the spectacular Three Gorges. But for those keen to see the remote upper reaches of the Yangzi—impossible to navigate due to its turbulent course through mountain meadows and narrow gorges—overland expeditions to northern Yunnan, Tibet, and even as far as the river’s source in Qinghai, are possible.

Yangzi travellers can choose the slower upstream journey, embarking at Wuhan or Yichang, or the downstream trip embarking at Chongqing. The legendary journey through the Gorges can be made in style on a variety of comfortable, international standard cruise ships. The cruises usually involve daily shore visits or excursions on small boats to explore tributary streams.


The Long River (Chang Jiang)

 

The Chinese name for the Yangtze is simply "Long River." This, the third longest river in the world, flows from melting glacial waters in Tibets to the East China Sea at Shanghai, almost 4,000 miles. Physically as well as culturally, the Yangtze has always served as a natural divide between northern and southern China. Since ancient times, its beauty and grandeur have inspired poets and artists alike, while its importance as a commercial thoroughfare and cultural lifeline remains central.

 


Three Gorges

 

Few travellers can fail to be impressed by the dawn voyage through the towering walls of the Three Gorges. The most spectacular of the gorges, the Qutang Gorge, was known to foreigners in the 19th century as ‘The Windbox’. The name seems inappropriate on a fine day with a light mist hanging between towering cliffs, which themselves soar in deep shadow to over 1,200 metres (4,000 feet) either side of the river. Yet in a storm, with a high water level, the gorge was impossible to navigate, and many lost their lives while travelling through the Qutang. Look out for the Meng Liang stairway, a series of holes on the rock face which stops halfway up the river cliff. High on the slopes of the rock face were found some of the 2,000-year-old coffins from the state of Ba.

The twelve peaks of Wu Gorge all have poetic names. They include Fir Tree Cone Peak, the Gathered Immortals Peak, and the Assembled Cranes Peak. As the Chinese have a great love of weaving legends around strange natural phenomena, these gorges and mountains are therefore among their best-loved landscapes. The most renowned peak in this sense is Goddess Peak (Shennu Feng), which is said to resemble the figure of a maiden kneeling in front of a pillar. Legend has it that the young goddess was the daughter of the Queen Mother of the West, who fell in love with this lonely spot and made her home here.

 







Three Gorges Dam

 

Three Gorges Dam, the largest water conservancy project ever undertaken by man. The Dam is now being built in Sandouping, which is in the middle of the Xiling Gorge, the logest of the three gorges on the Yangtze River.

The massive Three Gorges Dam (Sanxia Ba), about 40 kilometres (25 miles) upriver from Yichang. Rising water levels in the gorges have made necessary the relocation of over one million people and scores of historical sites. The waters rose a further 40 metres (131 feet) between 2007 and 2009 to a final height of 175 metres (574 feet) above sea level, and the Daning River has subsequently disappeared. Yet the ‘taming’ of the Yangzi has not taken away the sense of adventure.

The construction of the project will cost 230 billion Chinese Yuan, an equivalenl of 28 billion US dollars. The building of the huge dam is for the purpose of flood control, electricity, navigation, and imigation.


Few travellers can fail to be impressed by the dawn voyage through the towering walls of the Three Gorges. The most spectacular of the gorges, the Qutang Gorge, was known to foreigners in the 19th century as ‘The Windbox’. The name seems inappropriate on a fine day with a light mist hanging between towering cliffs, which themselves soar in deep shadow to over 1,200 metres (4,000 feet) either side of the river. Yet in a storm, with a high water level, the gorge was impossible to navigate, and many lost their lives while travelling through the Qutang. Look out for the Meng Liang stairway, a series of holes on the rock face which stops halfway up the river cliff. High on the slopes of the rock face were found some of the 2,000-year-old coffins from the state of Ba. It is a picture of the entrance to Qutang Gorge that appeared on the reverse of the old five yuan banknote (still to be found in circulation), and now decorates the latest ten yuan notes.

The twelve peaks of Wu Gorge all have poetic names. They include Fir Tree Cone Peak, the Gathered Immortals Peak, and the Assembled Cranes Peak. As the Chinese have a great love of weaving legends around strange natural phenomena, these gorges and mountains are therefore among their best-loved landscapes. The most renowned peak in this sense is Goddess Peak (Shennu Feng), which is said to resemble the figure of a maiden kneeling in front of a pillar. Legend has it that the young goddess was the daughter of the Queen Mother of the West, who fell in love with this lonely spot and made her home here.

 




Chongqing

 

Chongqing is the usual embarkation point for the journey downstream. The new municipality, established in 1997, is the main industrial centre of southwest China. It served as the country’s capital during the Sino-Japanese War, when the city’s notorious foggy weather saved it from Japanese bombers. Chongqing’s history dates to the fourth century BCE, then known as Yuzhou. Its modern name Chongqing means ‘Double Celebration’, adopted by a Song dynasty prince-cum-emperor from Yuzhou.

The following riverside towns are in the same order as they appear going downstream from Chongqing. While historical background is given, bear in mind that most of these towns have been partially or completely submerged by the new dam. Entire new towns constructed nearby lie above the final water level.

 





Yunyang

 

South across the river, the town of Yunyang is famous in stories from the Three Kingdoms period (220–265). It is said that General Zhang Fei of the Kingdom of Shu (which covered most of present-day Sichuan) was assassinated in Yunyang. In his honour, the Zhang Fei Temple was built and contains stone carvings from the fifth and sixth centuries. The temple has been relocated above the projected water level about three kilometres (less than two miles) upstream, opposite the new town.

Fengjie, guarding the western entrance of the Three Gorges, is also associated with the Three Kingdoms period. It was here that Liu Bei, the King of Shu, died in despair after his armies were routed by the forces of Wu. The famous general of the state of Shu, Zhuge Liang, trained his troops in military strategy in the fields around Fengjie.

 




Shibaozhai

 

The name of Shibaozhai means ‘Precious Stone Fortress’; the precious stone in question is a 220-metre-high (720-foot) rock on the north bank that, from afar, is said to resemble a stone seal. (Seals in traditional China were carved at the base and used as a form of official signature.) In 1662, during the Qing dynasty, a temple was built on top of the rock. Originally the temple could only be visited by climbing up an iron chain, but in the late 19th century a nine-storey wooden pagoda was built next to the rock so that the ascent could be made by staircase. An extra three storeys were added in the 20th century, and now the 12-storey red pagoda rises alongside the rock to the base of the temple. The rising waters of the river now surround the pagoda, which has been preserved on an island behind a dam of its own.

 




Wanzhou

 

Like vigilant sentries, Wanzhou's two nine-storied pagodas watch over the riverside entrance to the city. Steep stairways wind up from the river to the center of the town high above the Yangtze. The locally famous rattan and cane market buzzes with buyers and sellers bargaining for the handmade mats, fans, hats and baskets.

 
Guichi  
On the southern banks of the Yangtze, Guichi is the closest port for day excursions to visit the sacred Buddhist mountain retreats of Huangshan or Jiuhuashan.  




Shanghai  
China's business center, and gateway to the Yangtze River. Once called the "Paris of the East," Shanghai's European past is on display at its waterfront Bund. The Old Quarter's twisting alleys, ancient temples and shops are not to be missed. Modern skyscapers are testament to the city's prosperity, while world-renowned museums pay homage to the nation's past.

 

Fengjie

 

Fengjie, guarding the western entrance of the Three Gorges, is also associated with the Three Kingdoms period. It was here that Liu Bei, the King of Shu, died in despair after his armies were routed by the forces of Wu. The famous general of the state of Shu, Zhuge Liang, trained his troops in military strategy in the fields around Fengjie.

 




Wanxian

 

Wanxian (now called Wanzhou) is an ancient river port and once had a thriving
junk-building industry; the boats were constructed from cypress wood found in the nearby hills. The city’s market is well known for delicious, locally grown citrus fruits and a wide selection of bamboo and rattan handicrafts. On the outskirts of the town is Taibai Rock, where the Tang dynasty poet Li Bai (Li Po) is said to have stayed. The rock face around the memorial pavilion to the poet is covered with stone inscriptions.



 




Baidicheng

 

Baidicheng—or White Emperor City—can be reached by ferry from Fengjie. It
offers splendid views into the mouth of the Qutang Gorge, and has a temple which was originally dedicated to the mythical White Emperor. In the Ming dynasty the temple was re-dedicated to General Zhuge Liang. One of its halls contains a ‘Forest of Stelae’, a collection of tablets which includes several rare stone carvings. The Bamboo Leaf Poem Tablet, on which the characters of a poem are engraved in the form of three bamboo branches, is one of only three of its kind in China.


 




Wuhan

 

The triple city of Wuhan, which spans the confluence of the rivers Han and Yangzi, is for many travellers the end or the beginning of their river cruise. Wuhan has always been the Yangzi’s main inland river port, since it marked the furthest point to which seagoing vessels could sail. In the 19th century, the city became a Treaty Port and grew rich on the tea trade which was centred on Hankou (one of the three connected cities).

Hankou, still the commercial centre of Wuhan, was declared a treaty port in 1861 as a result of concessions forced on China following the Opium War. Five Foreign Concessions (British, Russian, French, German and Japanese) were established shoulder-to-shoulder astride the north bank of the Yangzi River. The foreign concessions were all closed down by 1927, but many fine examples of turn-of-thecentury European architecture still grace the bund area along Yanjiang Dadao and the streets north of the bund. The Wuhan City Government began to renovate many of these buildings in 2000.

 




Fuling

 

Fuling was the site of the royal tombs of the state of Ba (fourth to second centuries BCE). The most important archaeological treasure in Fuling is a set of carvings consisting of 14 fish and stone inscriptions giving information on ancient hydrology and cosmology, the oldest of which was carved in the Tang dynasty (618–907). Known as the White Crane Ridge, the carvings have been preserved in situ in a specially constructed, 250-metre (820-feet) long, underwater museum.

The nearby town of Fengdu was traditionally known by its nickname of ‘Ghost City’ and it has a temple dedicated to the King of the Underworld. This strange association dates back to the Han dynasty, when two scholar-recluses who lived in the town were believed to have achieved immortality. The combination of their names results in the title ‘King of the Underworld’. It is most apt, as Fengdu township was torn down before the rising waters of the Yangzi could smother it. The temple, however, is above the waterline and is protected.




 




Hanyang

 

In Hanyang, there are two famous sights—the Lute Pavilion and the Buddhist
Guiyuan Monastery. The Lute Pavilion comprises a series of terraces and pavilions set amidst attractive gardens. It lives up to its musical name, since it is now a popular place with elderly music lovers who gather here for open-air performances. The Guiyuan Monastery was founded in the Qing dynasty and became an important centre for Chan (Zen) Buddhist scholarship. It has a collection of 500 carved and gilded luohans (Buddhist disciples), which are considered works of great craftsmanship. Inside the monastery is a vegetarian restaurant.



 




Wuchang

 

Wuchang, which sprawls along the opposite bank of the Yangzi River, is linked to an important event in Chinese revolutionary history. It was here that the military uprising started, which was ultimately to topple the Qing dynasty and bring about the founding of the Republic of China. Visitors can see the Headquarters of the 1911Revolution, which is known locally as the Red House. A statue of Dr. Sun Yat-sen stands outside the building.

Another place of special interest in Wuchang is the Hubei Provincial Museum, which houses artefacts excavated from the Warring States period tomb of the Marquis of Zeng. An impressive collection of 65 bronze chime bells forms only part of the tomb’s treasures.

 




Xiaogushan

 

Xiaogushan, below the mouth of the Poyang, is a small riverine island which, through silting, has now become part of the north bank of the river. Legend tells of a maiden, Xiaogu Niang Niang, who when eloping with her lover on a flying umbrella, dropped her slipper into the river. The slipper miraculously turned into an island. The girl and her lover fell from the sky and became mountains divided by the river. There is a temple on the island dedicated to Xiaogu Niang Niang, which is visited by infertile women who come in the hope of bearing a child. Downstream, again on the north bank, is the octagonal Ming-dynasty Zhenfeng Pagoda of Anqing.

By now the Yangzi is in Anhui Province. Anhui’s two great scenic sites are the mountains of Huangshan and Jiuhuashan. The town of Wuhu is situated at the confluence of the Qingyi and Yangzi rivers. As this was a danger spot for navigation, a pagoda was built to act as a lighthouse. It was named Zhongjiang (‘Mid-River’) Pagoda, and does indeed mark the mid-point of the lower Yangzi, from the mouth of Poyang Lake to the estuary above Shanghai.

 




Huangshan

 

Renowned are the "Four Ultimate Beauties" of Huangshan (Yellow Mountain) - ancient pines, sea of clouds, fantastically shaped rocks and its hot springs. Revered throughout China, Huangshan is not easily accessible. After taking a gondola three quarters of the way up, the adventurous may continue via stairway. The reward is a truly unforgettable experience of walking into a living Chinese ink painting, as dramatic vistas are on display before you.





 




WuShan

 

Wushan is situatd at the confluence of the Yangtze and Daning rivers, just above the western entrance to the Wu (Witche) Gorge. The town has existed since the later part of the Shang Dynasty (c.1600 - 1027 BC) and is now home to 30,000 residents. The name of the town originates with Wu Xian, a respected Tang Dynasty doctor in the Imperial court who is buried on Nanling Mountain on the opposite bank of the Yangtze River. Wushan is the administrative site of Wushan County, a mountainous region rich in medicinal herbs that encompasses the Daning River valley and half of the Wu Gorge.

Wushan is the starting point for the popular boat trips through the Lesser Gorges on the Daning River. The river winds its way 33 kilmeters (20 miles) through the beautiful Lesser Gorges; birds singing and monkeys chattering can be and sometimes seen from both banks. The water is strikingly clear in contrast to the muddy, turgid waters of the Yangze.

Traditional courtyard style homes line the streets in Wushan, which are named after the 12 peaks of the Wu Gorge. This is the starting point for a day excursion up the Daning River to view the spectacular Small Gorges - Dragon Gate, Misty or Emerald. Continue on by sampan to the picturesque mini-gorges of the Ma Du River for more amazing scenery.


 




Dadong

 

Disembark at Badong for a trip via small boat up Shennong Stream to view its dramatic gorges. The scenery is sure to amaze at every bend of the stream.


 
Yichang  
At the eastern end of Xiling Gorge, just past the dam site, is Yichang. Already a thriving economic center, Yichang is on the threshold of becoming a major tourist destination with its close proximity to the dam. The mountain roads around the city offer panoramic views of the Xiling Gorge below.  




Nanjing

 

Nanjing has served as China's capital several times in China's history. Hong Wu, the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty, relocated the imperial court to Nanjing in the 14th century. The Yangtze River Bridge, upon its completion in 1968, provided the first direct overland link between the lower Yangtze River Valley and Beijing. Visit the blue-domed hall of the Dr.Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum, reached by climbing 392 granite steps, an impressive memorial to the world famous former leader. A Qing Dynasty style bazaar that surrounds a Confucian Temple provides a fascinating experience.