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Touring China’s Magnificent Gorges with Viking River Cruises

viking cruise china

Photos Credit: Patti Morrow

China can be a logistical challenge for foreigners. The country’s recent tourism boom has put this country on many bucket lists, but maneuvering by plane or train is still difficult due to the language barrier and cultural differences. Touring by boat, however, is a different story. Viking River Cruises provides a luxurious, stress-free journey throughout much of the country, including the stunning Three Gorges, considered by many to be the trip of a lifetime. From Chongqing to Wusan, the floating luxury hotel stops for exploration of temples and pagodas, floats past misty monolithic bluffs, and pampers guests every inch of the way.

The Emerald

From the moment I stepped onto the gangplank, greeted by a Chinese dragon, I knew this was going to be a memorable trip. The 256-passenger Emerald did not disappoint. The exterior of the ship was unexpected—it did not look like a luxury vessel, but was intentionally designed to fit in with Chinese-style crafts. Inside was the familiar state-of-the-art Viking sophistication; from the spacious, tastefully appointed suites, each with sliding glass doors leading onto a veranda, to the formal dining with panoramic views, lounges, spa, and shops. 

The menu onboard changed every day with Asian and European entrees and buffet items. The staff mingled with the guests for happy hour every evening before the scrumptious dinner, and wine and beer were served with the meal. The highlight was always the communal dining experience, where new friendships were forged, often times lasting beyond the cruise itself. Guests can gather at any time of day on the partially shaded sun deck to socialize while gazing at the emerald green water and towering craggy cliffs.

viking cruise china

Chongqing

The cruise embarked in southwest China at Chongqing, making it the perfect jumping off point for the Three Gorges. The mountainside city with its Manhattan-like skyline served as the country’s capital during World War II. It’s known as the "Fog City" because of the high probability of being fogged in. 

viking cruise china

Shibaozhai

Rising sharply from the banks of the Yangtze River, I saw the Buddist temple of Shibaozhai, which is often considered a national treasure. I crossed the “Drunk Bridge,” named because of the floating wooden planks that move as people cross. In front of me perched on a rocky hill, the temple seemed almost inaccessible, but I was not to be put off. Ascending the 12-story spiral of rickety, wooden stairs, I emerged at the red pavilion on top. What a spectacular 360-degree panorama of the Yangtze River and surrounding countryside! The walk to get to the temple will take you through the local town and market where I found the best variety and price of local handcrafts and antiques in the country.

viking cruise china

The Three Gorges

For the next 150 miles, our ship navigated along the placid Yangtze River, through the adjacent scenic gorges, classified as an AAAAA scenic area (the highest level) by the China National Tourism Administration. With mist-laden cliffs rising up on either side of the river canyon, the sunrise on Qutang was the first to greet us. At only five miles long, it’s the shortest gorge and also where warrior’s coffins were discovered, some of which still rest in the caves.

The 20-mile Wu Gorge was next on the agenda. The cliffs here are very tall and sheer, making for a very dramatic entrance. Near the end of the Wu Gorge is the Goddess peak, which marks the entrance to Wushan and of one of the lesser gorge tributaries, called the Goddess Stream. At this point, I left our Viking ship and stepped into a small sampan boat to explore the jewel of the gorges. Off we went, into the narrow, sparkling green tributary embraced by the vertical rock walls and regaled with history. The stream has retained its unspoiled beauty and splendor, and offered the most dramatic scenery that I witnessed in China. It was certainly the highlight of the Three Gorges cruise.

viking cruise china

The Locks

We traveled through the lock system at approximately midnight. It was dark, which only added to the mystical experience. The passageway that the ship has to navigate is so tight, I could reach out and touch the wall from my balcony! In reality, the locks and “ship elevators” which lift or lower ships into the locks, make the previously dangerous gorges safer to navigate, especially for freighters.

viking cruise china

Three Gorges Dam

Damn. No literally… dam. In the middle of Xiling Gorge, we came to the infamous Three Gorges Dam in Sāndòupíng—the world’s largest hydroelectric dam. Unfortunately it was too foggy to see much of the massive structure. The dam, built in 2011, was designed to control the destructive flooding of the Yangtze River, but has been cloaked in controversy. The ecological mass relocation of more than a million people in the cliffside towns and villages is reasoned against the newly accessible temples, pagodas and historic sites which created more tourism.

viking cruise china

Jinzhou

Jinzhou is an ancient city with 2,000 years of history and culture. During the Three Kingdom Period (220-589), the city was the focus of many disputes and wars. Subsequently, the city was established as the capital and political center by 11 emperors and is one of 24 famous historical and cultural ancient cities. I was very fortunate to get a unique opportunity to visit the local markets with head chef Danny Tang from Viking.

viking cruise china

Wuhan

The cruise ended at Wuhan, the capital city of Hubei Province and home to financial, cultural, political with artifacts dating back to 433 BC. Before you go, climb the Yellow Crane Tower for a panorama of the river before heading to the land-based city of Shanghai.

Patti Morrow

Patti Morrow is a freelance travel writer, founder of the award-winning blog Luggage & Lipstick – an adventure guide for baby boomers, and author of the book “Girls Go Solo: Tips for Women Traveling Alone.” Patti has over 100 bylines in 35 publications, including The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, International Living Magazine, Travel Girl, CNN iReport, Epicure & Culture, and Ladi...(Read More)

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