Yangzi “Cruise”

We usually share just the highlights of our trip with you, we try to spare you the bad, the boring and the mundane. But occasionally, an experience comes along that’s bad enough that it’s worth writing home about.

The guide book says one of the top things to do China is to cruise down the Yangzi river on a boat. It said something similar about Ha Long Bay, so we didn’t want to miss out. Let’s just say rose petals weren’t sprinkled on our bed on this “cruise”.

Unfortunately, Yangzi cruises are incredibly expensive (China is expensive), particularly the ones with English-speaking staff. So, we cut that corner and opted for a “Chinese” cruise. Not a big deal, we haven’t understood anything in weeks. The only real decision was to share a room with another couple or not. We had a good time sharing sleeping quarters in Laos while living in a treehouse and we figured it was worth the savings. We didn’t agonize much on which boat to sail on, because the next one up the luxury ladder was about six times the price and not an option.

In a word, the boat was a shitbox. And I am not comparing this to Western standards, the Chinese tourists we befriended complained far more than we did.

Our room was tiny, but fairly clean. Unfortunately, our attached bathroom was a shower head with a squat toilet instead of drain – and it wreaked like an outhouse. Did I mention our room was tiny?

But you don’t spend a cruise in your room right? Wrong. Aside from our room and the dining room there is no other place to sit on the boat (technically there was a bench, but with 250 people on board we didn’t think that qualified as outside seating). For a small fee, we were able to upgrade to the “VIP Viewing Deck”. We splurged.

The VIP Viewing Deck consisted of 6 picnic tables, a couple dozen plastic chairs and an exhaust pipe that made half of the deck uninhabitable. There were also two air conditioned rooms with card tables. We sat down to play cards at one of them and were told that would be an additional charge.

The cruise itself started in Wanzhou and brought us through China’s famous Three Gorges – Qutang, Wu and Xiling — and ended at the Three Gorges Dam. A gorge is basically a tiny river sandwiched between hulking mountain faces that make you feel really insignificant. The gorges were impressive, though it’s pretty clear that before they built the dam they were much more so. As we chugged down the river, it was sad to think of the deserted cities that lay just beneath the water and the over one million people displaced by the dam’s construction.

The dam was huge. Deathstar huge. The locks that allow boats to travel up and down river accomodate 4 cruise ship size boats at a time. It really is a monument to Chinese engineering except that a lot of people are quite convinced that one day soon it’s going to break and kill the four million people living in, Yichang, the city beneath it. According to predictions, they’d all die in less than an hour. To lend credence to this theory, in 1999 inspectors found 100 top-to-bottom cracks in it — features that are apparently undesirable in a dam. People were further unnerved when, after 20 years as a state secret, it was revealed that two dams collapsed and killed 230,000 people in Henan province in 1975. Secrets secrets are no fun.

For all our complaining here, we weren’t miserable. We made some great friends and enjoyed the adventure.

Our advice to fellow travelers: Unless you’re loaded and want to splurge on a fancy cruise, skip the three or four day boats, take the hydrofoil. You’ll save yourself money and time.

6 Responses to “Yangzi “Cruise””
  1. Christine says:

    I also did that cruise (before the dam) on a Chinese boat…the river was amazing, I had to share a room with it seems like the whole boat load of folk! Ask for the loo…can you imagine what that was like? I couldn’t eat ANYTHING so I am certain I lost weight that trip….pity it hasn’t got any better..Your account certainly brought a smile to my face!!!

    love you guys!

  2. Susan says:

    Please, please don’t edit out all the “bad” and boring stuff–you must give us a “true” picture of your life on the road. It takes the edge off all the envy. Haha. Still…I will take your advice and go for the hydrofoil next time I am contemplating travel on the Yangzi Cruise. Also, the “cheaper” boat explains that I only saw Chinese in your photos–no other westerners (traveling like the locals always has its pluses and minuses). Has that been true of most of your time in China?
    Also, not planning to move to Yichang, either. :-))

    • Joshua Peck says:

      China has been the most westerner free place I’ve ever traveled. Our first 5 days here, we didn’t see a single other westerner — not one! Now that we’re in cities it’s more common to see folks, but still less so than other countries.

      When we were in the more rural areas (just 3 or 4 million people to a city) we felt like celebrities. People stared every where we went. They asked to take pictures with us at least 5 times a day, but far more just came and stood next to us or near us to take a picture while we were doing our own thing. I’ve even been handed babies.

  3. Phil says:

    I took this cruise too when the dam(n) was still under construction and not all of the towns behind it were flooded. Sad to think of all that history 150 meters now underwater.

  4. Tony says:

    My son and I traveled this trip before the dam was finished. We had a great time. We did a boat with english speaking staff and found all the accomodations clean but not luxurious. I can’t imagine doing this trip after the dam as most of the coolest parts were below the dam line.

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