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The Yangtze River Trip to the Three Gorges Dam


More Adventure travel tales in China:
Great Wall of China
Modern Beijing
Terracotta Warriors
Yangshuo
Dali Yunnan
Other Asian Tales:
Angkor Wat temples
Lake Baikal, Siberia
Sapa Valley, Vietnam
Kuching, Malaysia
Luang Prabang, Laos
Bukit Lawang, Indonesia


One of the three gorges of the Yangtze river
From Chongqing many Yangtze River trips are organized. The Yangtze river is the longest river in China and runs through three magnificent gorges on the stretch between Chongqing and Yichang. At the end of the third gorge at Yichang, however, Chinese government has decided to build the huge three gorges dam. As a consequence, the gorges will be filled with water and some of the scenery will be gone. The dam is almost finished, and the water is already rising, the highest water level will be reached in 2009. Before that, every Chinese wants to take the scenery Yangtse River trip, and so do we.

Making fliends

In the train from Xian to Chongqing we share our compartment with a number of loud Chinese. They carry a lot of liquor, and become more and more noisy. We try to ignore them, with little success. We are an attraction for them and they like us to drink with them (“Cheels”).

Planning your Yangtze river trip

Yangtze river trips come in different types. As we have experienced, not all of them are equally good. Travelling on a budget, you may choose a Chinese Yangtze river trip as we did. Put it is probably better to come prepared, knowing at least the itinerary of the trip. Where are the stops, what can be seen there, when will you pass the gorges. Adding English speaking guides and more luxury (a Yangtze river cruise) will increase the costs of the trip, but may well be worth it.


They also try to communicate but their English is worse than our Chinese, so that’s no success either. At a certain point they think to have found a translator, but all he manages to ask us is to be “fliends”.

The Chinese national hobby is to ignore rules, so our non-smoking compartment is full of smoke. They also carry on talking, laughing and arguing, so we have a turbulent night. We are glad that they are leaving the train the next day and we have the compartment to ourselves. We enjoy the views over mountains and rice paddies, as far as they can be seen through the fog.

Buying Yangtze river trip tickets

A few hours before we arrive in Chongqing a man with flyers walks through the train. He appears to sell tickets for a Yangtse river trip through the three gorges. That is very convenient for us, so after watching the flyers and some explanations from him with hands and feet, we decide to follow him. Upon arrival in Chongqing he takes us to the ticket office and an hour later, we’re on a Yangtze boat.

Cattle boat on the Yangtze riverThe Yangtze boat is less luxurious than appeared on the flyers, but we expected that a little. We share a cabin with three Chinese men, and again we are the only foreigners on this Yangtze river trip. But what really disappoints us is that there is no heating on the boat, not even in the restaurant. Since we know the Chinese will not celebrate new years eve today, we decide to go to bed early.

Happy New Year

No fireworks for us this year. But the boat did stop a few times during the night to visit some points of interest. We didn’t book the additional tours, so we didn’t get to see the temples along the route. The scenery during the first day isn’t spectacular either because of the fog reducing the visibility to 100 meters. The sun has much difficulty piercing through it and it is pretty cold. Not a very good prospect for the next day, when we will pass the gorges.

In the afternoon we arrive at Wanxian. Our guidebooks mention that all boats stay here for the night, but our boat ignores that rule. We ask the guide on the boat, who speaks a little English. We hear that our boat will move on to just before the gorges, stays there on the river during the night, and moves on in the early morning.

Just before dusk the boat makes one more stop at a temple. We decide to leave the boat for this excursion. The temple looks nice from the outside, but we have more interest in the accompanying village. It consists of many sheds, where the people live in. Poor, but it strikes us that everybody just drops garbage everywhere, making it a filthy whole. When we get on board in the dark, it seems that the fog has cleared a little, judged from the fact that we can see the lights on the shores. It is less cold as well, so we decide to take a beer on deck, to celebrate the new year.

We are waked the following day at 6.30 AM when the boat approaches the first gorge. We get dressed quickly and move to the front deck. But it’s still very dark so we can only see some contours of the surrounding mountains. A bit disappointed we head back to our cabin.

Side trip to the baby gorges

Starting point of the baby gorges tourAn hour later our boat stops at a side branch of the river, for a tour along the baby gorges. We decided to join this tour and so we get a tour hat and we follow the guy with the flag as we have seen at the other tourist attractions in China. First we are transferred by bus to the other side of the town, where we are shipped in smaller boats, to move up the side branch of the Yangtze river. The water here is not very deep, so we are scrubbing the stones and hitting the rocks occasionally. On the front deck are a few men keeping the boat with long poles in the deepest part of the river. They also have to push the boat further when the power of the boat isn’t enough.

Visibility is still limited because of the fog, but since we are moving close to the gorge we can see the rock formations. There are steep rock walls, caves with stalagmites and stalagtites, and colorful vegetation on the slopes. The commentary on the boat is in Chinese only, so our own eyes are all we have. At a shallow stretch of river we have to release the boat from our weight. As a coincidence, there are many souvenir and food stalls here. Apparently, there are more people making money from these trips.

Baby gorges tour boatAs we move along the baby gorges, the fog is clearing and the sun comes through. It is still cold in the boat but the views get much better. We can even see some monkeys jumping in the trees, which is an extra highlight. But most excitement occurs when boys are fishing for money with nets on long sticks. Everybody likes it and donates some money. We thinks it’s a bit sad, especially when the money fishing is done by adults as well.

At the far point of the trip there are some more souvenir and food stalls to visit before we head back. Downstream is a lot faster, but it takes until 3 PM to get bak. A good thing we joined the trip, otherwise we would have been doing nothing for 7 hours.

The Second Gorge

All on board again we’re heading for the second of the three gorges on our Yangtse river trip. This one is forty kilometers long and arriving there, everybody heads for the front deck again, where somebody gives explanations in Chinese. Strangely, everybody leaves the deck when the explanation ends, although we’re still in the middle of the gorge.

We stay on the deck, enjoying the view. We see numerous small villages on the slopes and think what it would look like once the water rises. On the slopes are signs with the numbers 135 and 175. This year (2002) the water will rise to 135 meters, and eventually, it will reach 175 meters. A large part of the gorge will remain visible but many villages are located below or near the signs. These will have to be evacuated, some already are.

When dusk arrives and it gets colder we go back inside. Before we reach the third gorge it will be completely dark. Apparently, the Yangtze river trip in this time of year is merely about the side trip to the baby gorges. Because of that trip, two of the three gorges are passed in the dark. Although the baby gorges are surely worth it, we regret not having seen all of the big ones.

The three gorges dam of the Yangtze river

On 9 PM we are called outside again. We have passed the third gorge and in the dark they are explaining something in Chinese about the lights we see on the river banks. Before we understand that this is the place where they are finishing the last part of the three gorges dam, we already passed it. Just before arrival in Yichang, however, we can see the first part of the dam. In an enormous lock the boat is lowered 30 meters before we can enter the harbor. Quite an impressive experience, although we cannot see all of the dam in the dark.

Meanwhile we are yearning for a normal bed. We are glad we are transferred from the boat to a hotel. The following morning the enthusiasm is gone when the room still isn’t warm, there is no warm water, and worst of all, Sabine is full of itching bumps, probably from bed bugs. We decide to leave as quickly as we can. On our way to the train station we see that Yichang does have a nice park. And while waiting for the train we can sit in the sun with only a T-shirt for the first time during our trip. Everything is well that ends well.

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