Yangtsi River Cruise

The downside with having a guide book: You feel like you need to do lots of things, and the book makes them sound really special and spectacular. Maybe I am spoiled by other places (Norway?!), but for me the Yangtsi river cruise was neither. Plus I realized that I don’t like that style of travelling, but it did give me a good insight into Chinese national tourism: I was the only non-Chinese on the boat.
It all started in Chongqing, where middelaged men and women were working as “tourist-recruiters” and tried to usher me into some of the countless specialized travel agencies.

When I had my ticket it was almost time to get on the bus (the Yangtsi passes Chongqing, but the boat companies usually focus on the most interesting part, the “Three Gorges”). There was a guide on the bus, talking Chinese for the first hour or so. We made a stop in a small town, designed for tourists: Lots of photo opportunities in an old looking town center with the traditional buildings and an abundance of Chinese lanterns.

Tourist town

Tourist town

But I didn’t have to look too closely to see that it was all fake, like on a movie set. The wood, even the stones were actually painted concrete, all just a facade for selling souvenirs and making profit. My fellow travellers seemed to enjoy it…
On the boat another lesson: Don’t believe local travel agents (or rather: don’t use the services of travel agencies at all!). The cabin I got clearly wasn’t the one they had promised me, but what were my options?! I had not even gotten a real ticket, let alone anything in a language other than Chinese. So I decided to not care and be happy instead.
The couple that also lived in my cabin did not speak a word English, and when they asked me about something and I made signs that I did not understand, they would just repeat their questions louder and laugh at me. But apart from that they seemed to be nice, maybe a little narrow-minded, people.
At night it got icy cold: there were huge gaps around the window and doors so the wind could blow right through, and the boat did not have any kind of heating system. Which is not uncomon, as I later learned: There is an imaginary line north of Shanghai, roughly following the Yangtsi river, below which houses do not get equipped with central heating (although it would be necessary!). I have been in homes that had outside temperature, just above freezing in the middle of November. The inhabitants would just put on their down jackets when they came home…

Yangtsi River Scenery
During the next day the boat made good progress down the river. It stopped several times for people to go on paid side trips or walk through the villages on the shore. We passed the gorges; for the first minutes the decks were always full with selfie-shooting people, the rest of the passage I was often the only one outside. We passed by sandstone cliffs, forested mountains, orange tree orchards, rice paddies, small villages and the occasional big city, the whole time accompanied by low hanging clouds.

First of the Three Gorges

Chinese Countryside
I joined one of the side trips – the “Lesser Three Gorges”. We changed to a smaller boat that took us up a side arm of the river (which at this point is actually not a river but a huge reservoir). There was a guide, constantly talking through the speakers, advertising all kinds of stuff and stating the obvious, as my neighbor told me (“To the right you can see several red trees. They are red because it is autumn…”). In the breaks between his monologues people would stream outside, take pictures and selfies, and then continue to listen to the never ending stream of words.

Chinese tourists

The views were nice, I saw a monastery and a few monkeys on the shore. As the river got narrower we switched to yet another boat, a longtail fishing boat, with another guide. This one did not have a microphone so he was shouting throughout the ride, once switching to a flat singing, not hitting any of the notes, and afterwards charging for it. The nature around was vibrant and would have impressed me, had it not been for the ongoing noise.

Tourist boat in "Lesser Three Gorges"

My View 18.11.2015@12:34
On the morning of third day we had some time on the shore; I walked through the quiet hills, picking an orange or two and enjoying the countryside.

Orange Orchard

The “river” got wider and before noon the Three Gorges Dam emerged from the fog. It marked the end of the journey, a giant barrier, holding back billions of liters of water. The others all went on a last paid trip, to a viewing platform, probably on another selfie-quest, but I was good – I got to see the dam again from the bus that brought me to Yichang…

Three Gorges Dam


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