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Described as "China’s River of Heaven", the Yangtze River’s a powerful force that the Chinese have only recently managed to tame.
The Yangtze River has a strong claim to being the world’s most fascinating river, with a huge variety of tourist attractions, breathtaking scenery, and diverse culture along it’s length.
The Yangtze’s the longest river in China and Asia. It also holds several world records. The Yangtze’s the third longest river in the world, but the longest river within a single country.
A total of 6,380 km (3,960 mi) from source to sea, the winding Yangtze, if straight, would stretch across the whole of China, or from China to the UK or the US. No wonder the Chinese name for it is Chang Jiang, literally 'Long River'.
The upper reaches start 5.34 km above sea level on Mt. Geladandong in Tibet. Some parts are well worth exploring on their own merits, particularly if you like hiking.
Stone Drum Town in Yunnan has impressive modern day statues, a history of trade, a thriving market, and a cheek to jowel existence with pigs. Lijiang is where you’ll hear the Tiger Leaping Gorge story.
The middle reaches between Yibin and Yichang is where most of the touristy scenic spots and attractions are.
Most of the Yangtze cruise companies concentrate on the Three Gorges, with it's awesome scenery, intriguing culture, and modern wonders.
The lower reaches include Wuhan, with its Yellow Crane Tower and East Lake Park, Yangzhou’s elegant gardens, and Nanjing, the former capital, before eventually flowing into the Pacific Ocean at Shanghai.
The best way to see all the many scenic spots, as they are on both sides, is to be on the river.
As to a best time of year to go on a Yangtze River Cruise — apart from avoiding any Chinese Public Holidays (when everywhere will be ridiculously crowded) — there isn’t one, just different photos, that is any time of year is good.
Going in peak summer may be too hot, sightseeing all day, as most ancient places have very little shade. Monsoon season (from spring to fall) can be very wet. Both of these problems are sorted by purchasing a sunbrella.
Autumn gives you amazing red gorge photos as the trees turn, but timing this for the short Chinese autumn could be hard. Winter is cold, but that means there’re less people. It’s your choice.
If you have never cruised before, this journey’s ideal for you. Rivers are calmer than sea voyages and if you are not sure how you will travel there is much to distract you. The best thing is seeing all it’s scenic spots without having to pack and unpack every day. Dress code on board is casual.
Beginning (or ending, depending if you’re sailing downstream or up) at Chongqing, after testing it’s famous hotpot, maybe a cable car trip over the Yangtze, or time watching peanut brittle made by men physically beating it with mallets, you are now ready to board.
Bangbang men will run your bags to your ship, threading the handles through a thick bamboo pole and balancing it across their shoulders.
At Chaotianmen Dock, where you board, you can see a distinct meeting of two rivers as this is where the clean water of Jialing River meets the brownish yellow of the Yangtze that has picked up silt and sand from the bottom.
Cruise liners are guided by computers and sonar, but also the naked eye of a ship’s crew as you sail equidistant from the two sets of markers on the river sides.
"I was invited to view the bridge of the Victoria Lianna on my 50th birthday."
— writes Lynne Buddin, a China Highlights customer, who has cruised the Yangtze and has authored most of this page from first-hand experience.
Beautiful and dangerous river cliffs: Locals name all the beautifully shaped, hard granite mountains — like The Frog, or the Three Ladies, but maybe it’s only possible to see them after drinking their strong rice wine! Some rock is a much softer limestone. The Government had to abandon a much-wanted road being built between villages after six men died building just 2 miles of it 100 feet up. It remains incomplete.
Fengdu, Shibaozhai and Qu Yuan Temple: These 3 stops along the Yangtze show travellers the history, architecture, art and culture of the people living here. You can’t help but be impressed by the buildings and the tour guides do a great job in conveying the way of life of the ancient people.
Don’t be put off by Fengdu’s name, “Ghost City”. Statues and figurines everywhere represent the spirit world. We chose between health or wealth routes to allow us passed armed men in national costumes into eternal life. We run up 33 steps in one breath and balanced on one leg stood for a minute on a stone inside a box, each a test to prove our worth for the after life.
Shibaozhai ('Stone Treasure Village') is a trip over quite a wobbly wooden bridge and up long flights of steps to a giant red pagoda that looks like its been pushed into the mountain by a giant hand. It is bui
On the face of it maybe a visit to the biggest hydroelectric power station in the world may seem dull, unless you like engineering. But believe me — it’s far from dull! Impressive isn’t a big enough word for the Three Gorges Dam — it’s breathtakingly massive.
More seriously though it’s stopped the flooding which caused so many deaths and allows China to harness the power of the mighty Yangtze.
It boasts the largest water conservancy project ever undertaken by humans. Begun in 1994 and fully completed in 2009, it shows Chinese efficiency being 2 years early! It serves three main purposes: flood control, hydroelectric power production and improvement to ship navigation through the Yangtze River.
The sheer size of it’s mind blowing. Short of taking a helicopter flight (available) the only way to appreciate this modern wonder of engineering is to view the scale model in the museum.
Your specialist Dam Guide explains the workings and the process of it here for you. Then you have free time to wander round it yourself and marvel that you now know the incredibly powerful and fascinating Yangtze River.
Contact us to have the Yangtze in your tailor-made China journey, or maybe start your personalized tour plan from one of these recommendations.