The longest river in China (third longest in the world), the Yangtze River has been an important part of China since the Han Dynasty. For centuries small villages rested along the shores of the river, a source of food and transportation, however that all changed when China decided to build the Three Gorges Dam, which displaced more than a million Chinese living along the banks of the river. Even now, almost six years later, the water continues to rise slowly, swallowing up small wooden docks, huts, and so on.
My ‘cruise’ up the Yangtze River started in Chongquing, just after the completion of the Three Gorges Dam. Of course I knew nothing about that, I had made my decision to travel on the river after a conversation with an American girl who was helping run a very cool hostel in Xi’an.
I took a long distance bus from Chengdu to Chongqing, politely eating whatever random food the Chinese woman beside me was offering me. Most of the time I would put the food in my mouth, pretend to like it, then find a way to spit it into my hand and eventually transfer to a napkin. It was very covert. When I arrived in Chongqing I walked to the nearest boat tour operator, bought a ticket for a four day trip up the Yangtze River, then shopped for snacks.
The boat was scheduled to leave the following morning, but I was permitted onboard and into my cabin. The only passenger spending the night onboard I turned on a Chinese soap opera and relaxed for the night.
The following morning the boat left the docks and we were on our way up the Yangtze River. And I was the only English-speaking passenger onboard, which meant I had a staff member on following me around everywhere to make sure I was happy at all times. A little alarming for a girl who loves to explore on her own, but I appreciated the gesture.
For the next four days I sat on the deck of the ship, watching the changing landscapes, mesmerized by the sharp cliffs, small villages, and agile wooden boats helmed by local fishermen.
While I spent most of my time on the boat, we did have three shore excursions that were included in the trip. The first being Fengdu Ghost City, a tourist attraction with beautiful buildings, and a gauntlet of vendors selling everything from snacks to t-shirts.
I was mildly fascinated by Fengdu, and totally enthralled by a small boat trip we took along the Shennong River where we were polled and shown where the river had swallowed up wooden docks and huts. It was an afternoon filled with interesting locals, and insights into river life before and after the dam, and spotting coffins balancing on wooden polls high up in the cliffs.
My trip to China and up the Yangtze River was eye-opening. My first trip in a country where I didn’t speak the language. It was challenging at times, but I fell in love with the history and the culture. And I also cursed the entire country whenever a taxi driver would refuse to drive me somewhere. China is complex, and full of history and culture. I just wish I had the time and money to explore China extensively. And the patience!!