Chongqing to Yichang on the Yangtze River
I arrived at Chongqing International Airport around noon on September 30, 2016 after spending the previous two days in Yangshuo. A waiting bus took me from the the airport on the 40-minute drive through traffic into the city to the Yangtze River where the river cruise ship Victoria 5 was docked below the Qiansimen Bridge. That evening I would depart Chongqing and spend the next few days, until midday on October 3, cruising down the Yangtze.
|View from the boat on the Yangtze River below the Qiansimen Bridge
Official check in wasn't until 6:00 pm, but they let me aboard and into my room anyway. I dropped my bags off and then headed back ashore for lunch at a small restaurant a few blocks from the boat. I spent the afternoon exploring the city, which was remarkably difficult to navigate as the city center is situated on a relatively narrow strip of hilly land between two rivers.
The overall feel of Chongqing was drastically different than all the other megacities I've visited in China. Chongqing definitely isn't much of a tourist destination, with most foreigners visiting at either the start or finish of their journey on the Yangtze. The terrain also resulted in fairly unique transportation options in the city. The metro system consists of the world's largest operational monorail network, and two cable car systems stretch across the rivers.
|Chongqing viewed from the eastern end of the cable car
|Qiansimen Bridge (the cruise ship is hidden behind the trees below it)
I eventually made my way to one of the cable cars, which was an attraction for many of the Chinese as well. After about 15 minutes waiting in line, I boarded the cable car for the journey across the Yangtze River. On the other side I disembarked, took in the views of the city, and later boarded the cable car for the return trip. On the return walk to the boat, I stopped at a supermarket for extra snacks and drinks for the next few days.
As 9:00 pm approached, I went up to the ship's upper deck to view the lights of Chongqing as we began the trip downstream. I awoke the following morning with the Victoria 5 docked next to several other cruise ships. I didn't disembark the boat until later in the afternoon at the day's second stop, Shibaozhen. Shibaozhen is a hill with a temple and pavilion constructed on it. Originally constructed around 1819 along the Yangtze River, a concrete wall was constructed around it to protect it from the rising waters of the river that resulted from the construction of the Three Gorge Dam. I walked around the hill, up the pavilion, through the temple, and then back down the hill before returning to the ship.
|View from the top of Shibaozhai
Meals on the the cruise ship were decent and mostly traditional Chinese food (only about 15 of the 150-200 passengers were not Chinese). Breakfast and lunch were buffet-style, whereas dinner was table service. On October 2, I again awoke with the ship docked. This time we were at a small town just upstream of the entrance to the Qutang Gorge, the first of the Three Gorges. Qutang Gorge is also the shortest in length of the Three Gorges, but the mountains still towered above the river.
|Entering Qutang Gorge
|Entering Goddess Stream
About an hour and a half after passing through Qutang Gorge, we passed the city of Wushan and entered the Wu Gorge. I thought the Wu Gorge was the most scenic of the Three Gorges, and as we were nearing the end of the gorge, the ship stopped for the second time in the day. This time we boarded smaller boats that took us on the short trip up Goddess Stream, a small, narrow side gorge. As with all the excursions, a guide told us all about the area during our ~1.5-hour journey.
Back on the cruise ship, I sat on the the upper deck as the boat traversed the rest of the gorge and the sun set before dinner. Around 11:30 pm the ship arrived at the locks at the Three Gorges Dam. I again watched from the upper deck as we entered the locks, two other cruise ships packed into the same lock, and we were lowered. I only stayed around for the first lock as traversing the entire set of locks takes 3.5 hours, although I was routinely awakened by the screeching sound of the ships rubbing against each other and the side of the locks.
|Sunset on the Yangtze River
|Another cruise ship entering the locks
The morning of October 3 the boat was docked downstream of the Three Gorges Dam for our last excursion. This excursion was to the dam itself, where we were able to view the locks and dam from a small hill between the two. The excursion ended at the northern upstream end of the dam. We were not permitted to go anywhere on the dam itself for security reasons, and poor air quality made getting a good view of the dam from the downstream side during the drive to/from the ship difficult.
Back aboard the cruise ship, we passed through the last of the Three Gorges, the Xiling Gorge, which is the longest of the three, but still very scenic. Before noon the boat docked at the end of our journey in the city of Yichang. After disembarking, I had the afternoon to explore this unremarkable city of 1+ million people, but since it was very hot and I had my bags with me, I ended up spending most of the afternoon at a restaurant in a shopping mall.
That evening I boarded an overnight sleeper train to my next stop, Xi'an. On this train I was placed in a cabin with six beds, all occupied by other westerners. The ride to Xi'an was a bit rougher than the next overnight train I would take, but I only woke up a couple of times during the night.
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