The Three Gorges
The Three Gorges have been hailed as one of China’s greatest sights for nearly 2,000 years, and they remain undeniably spectacular. However, the building of the world’s biggest dam at Sandouping has consequences not only for the people and wildlife of the region, but also for its natural beauty.
In spite of the dangers, part of the allure of the gorges was their swirling currents and the sheer height of the cliff walls; when the dam is completed, the gorges will appear some 400 feet lower than they were, and the raging river will be a placid 375-mile-long lake.
For these reasons the rush to see the gorges before 2009 is on and, although the government is actually predicting an increase in visitors after completion, tour operators anticipate dwindling numbers as the water level rises.
Cruises operate between Chongqing and Yichang, Wuhan or even Shanghai, but the crucial Three Gorges stretch runs between Baidicheng and the dam site at Sandouping. Ferries and cruise boats both offer splendid views of the gorges themselves and also stop at a collection of temples along the way.
As you’d expect, the more you pay, the classier the vessel and the onboard services and facilities should be. Cruises typically last three nights for the Chongqing-to-Yichang section, but some of the upscale boats go at a more leisurely pace and can take as long as five days for this stretch, longer if they travel as far as Wuhan.
Types of Cruise.There are three principal styles of travel along the river : international and domestic cruise boats, ferries (which stop at all the tourist sights) and, finally, the 13-hour straight-through hydrofoil, which offers no more than a fleeting visit and is only worthwhile if you have financial or time constraints.
Cruise Boats. Some international cruise boats are effectively hotels on water and offer essentially the same facilities as you’d expect in a good hotel, although rooms are understandably a little smaller. Most rooms will have river views (check when you book) and the suites can be positively luxurious. Domestic cruisers can be nearly as good, but equally may not.
Also, damp rooms and variable water temperature in the bathrooms can be issues. Facilities on the better ships might include a gym, as well as several lounges and dining areas, plus expansive viewing decks. Cruisers of all standards may offer the chance to learn something about Chinese culture, from tai chi to mah jong, and in the evenings you can usually enjoy some evening entertainment in the form of a show, disco or the ubiquitous karaoke.
On the better boats, all meals and excursions are generally included in the price. The only things you should have to pay for are drinks. Drinks are generally signed for and the bill is settled on the final evening. A few drinks are usually included with meals but, outside of these times, beverages (especially alcohol) and snacks tend to be drastically overpriced. So it’s worth stocking up in Chongqing or Yichang.
It’s also customary to tip the boat staff and a recommended amount is often mentioned, but pay what you think befits the service you’ve received.
Cruising the Yangzi
If you’re booking a cheaper cruise, you should check exactly what is included in terms of excursions – frequently these are “extra” options which you will have to pay for. No matter what style of cruise you choose, you may find the schedule and guiding to be somewhat authoritarian and controlling, with musical wake-up calls and demands over the loudspeaker system that passengers assemble “immediately” for sightseeing excursions!
Guides on the better boats should be of a good standard, but on cheaper cruises their English ability can range from excellent to unintelligible. However, given that most of what they are talking about on board relates to the perceived shapes of rocks, and that separate guides are available for onshore trips, this isn’t crucial.
Ferries are at the bottom of the line, but really not that bad given the price. They manage to zip along from Chongqing to Yichang (or vice versa) in around 40 hours. Prices are as follows:
1st Class in a two-berth cabin – ¥1,022
2nd Class in a four-berth cabin – ¥463-510
3rd Class in a six-berth cabin – ¥297-327
4th Class in an eight-berth cabin – ¥229-252
There are cheaper classes, where you simply claim a space on the floor, but these are best avoided unless you have no choice or want to take the term “adventure travel” to its limits. All excursions, meals and drinks are extra, so budget (and stock up) accordingly. In terms of the excursions, you’ll be approached the second you step off the boat. Make sure you arrive back at the boat by the designated time as ferries aren’t averse to leaving without tardy passengers.
Booking a Cruise
The Three Gorges are one of China’s premier tourist attractions and a must see on many people’s lists. Cruises sell out quickly in peak season when it’s worth booking at least a week in advance, and two months or more for the better international boats. As a single traveler, whatever kind of boat you choose, you’ll have to pay a supplement if you want a twin room to yourself. There are flights and trains on to major destinations from Yichang but they can get very booked up so it’s worth arranging onward transport in advance through the agent that books your cruise in order to minimize layover time.
Booking from Overseas
For top-of-the-line boats try:
President Cruises has a range of boats to suit different budgets from US$300.
China Regal Cruises – US$500-650.
Oriental Royal Cruises – US$700-900.
Victoria Cruises – US$800-2,100.
Booking in China
Hotels, hostels and travel agents in other tourist cities will be able to book a cruise for you, along with connecting transport needs but, if you get to Chongqing with nothing secured, head to Chaotianmen at
the eastern end of the peninsula, where you’ll find the Ferry Ticket Booking Office (daily
), which also has a plane and train ticket booking service.
Alternatively, there are a host of travel
agents over the road on Xinyi Jie, who can arrange all categories of boat and will facilitate the process
by getting you to the right mooring, which can otherwise be a tricky process. John Zhang at Changhang
Jiangshan Boat Company is recommended, he is friendly, helpful and can look after your luggage while you head off to explore the city before commencing your cruise.
For more upscale cruises the Chongqing Yangtze Impression International Travel Service on the 18th floor of the Baifu Hotel on Bayi Lu is a good bet. Cruises with these agencies can start from as little as US$150 but, for a better quality boat, expect to pay US$300-500 between Chongqing and Yichang and more for the journey to Wuhan.
Three Gorges pictures
Three Gorges attractions
Three Gorges Dam & Yichang
Chongqing travel guide
maps of Chongqing and the Three Gorges
Cities and regions of China homepage
China Travel Guide homepage