Yangtze River Cruise

Panda bear, Chongqing, China

Visiting the Pandas (and other sights) in Chongqing

Chongqing, formerly known as Chungking, was the end destination for our Yangtze River cruise. We disembarked the cruise ship in the morning and visited three sights in Chongqing that day: the Chonqing Zoo (known for its panda bears), downtown Chongqing (for a walk through its modern center and lunch), and finally the nearby old town of Ciqikou, known for its porcelain.

Chongqing Zoo

Of course China is famous for its panda bears, and this was our one chance during the two week tour to see the pandas in their homeland (as opposed to a U.S. zoo).

Chongqing Zoo, China

The crowds entering the Chongqing Zoo, most stop at the panda exhibit and don’t go much further.

The zoo is large (over 100 acres), and if you happen to be a panda bear, you’re treated like a king, if you’re not, then your living conditions didn’t look as comfortable. The panda enclosure was large with lots of vegetation and things for the pandas to play on, but for other animals, the enclosures were smaller and more barren.

Panda, Chongqing Zoo, China

Panda enjoying the large play area.

Chongqing Zoo9

A panda scratching an itch with its left hind leg.

Panda bear, Chongqing, China

Another panda view. They are cute with those black eyes and ears!

Red panda, Chongqing Zoo, China

Here’s a red panda, also found at the zoo. I had not seen a red panda before, and although it’s called a panda, it’s quite different than the black and white pandas–it looks more like a cross between a fox and raccoon!

In addition to the pandas, we saw many typical zoo animals. In such a huge city, this zoo provides a nice respite from the concrete, noise and traffic of this municipality of 18 million.

White tiger, Chongqing Zoo, China

This rare white tiger was not happy, it kept pacing back and forth along the fence.

Chongqing Zoo, China

Monkeys with mom keeping watch.

Chongqing Zoo, China

Asian elephant (the ears are smaller than African elephants).

Downtown Chongqing

Like almost everywhere we went in China, I was amazed at the overwhelming size of the city and the endless apartment towers and ongoing construction everywhere. It seems like Chongqing (as with most Chinese cities) has grown up overnight.

Chonqing54

Some of the never-ending stretches of apartment buildings in Chongqing.

Chongqing, China

Example of the interesting architecture found in parts of Chongqing.

Chongqing, China

Modern square in Chongqing–almost like Times Square in New York!

Chongqing, China

A panorama shot of the same square in Chongqing. With all the high end shops nearby, it’s clear the economy must be doing well.

Old Town of Ciqikou

This was one of the most interesting stops on the tour for me, and unfortunately our visit showcased why I don’t like traveling with tour groups. We arrived at the old town, which is in the Chongqing metro area, on a Saturday afternoon towards the end of the Chinese National Holiday period.

Old Ciqikou, Chongqing, China

One of several views of the crowded streets in Old Ciqikou.

Given the historic nature of the town it was jammed with “locals” on holiday (vs. tour groups). However members of our tour group were so nervous walking through the crowded area (“they might pickpocket me!”) that after several complaints from the group our guide shortened our visit considerably, leaving those of us who wanted to see more of the town less time to explore this interesting village. For the record, neither my wife nor I ever felt unsafe or threatened.

Old Ciqikou, Chongqing, China

Another view of Old Ciqikou.

Ciqikou reminded me a bit of old medieval villages in Europe where every little street has something to reveal. The town is about 1,000 years old and provides a view into what Chongqing might have looked like a hundred years ago.

Ciqikou Old Town, Chongqing, China

Flags flying in Ciqikou Old Town for the Chinese National Holiday.

The town sits on a small hill at the confluence of the Yangtze and Jia Ling rivers and was known for its production of porcelain. However, time didn’t allow for us to explore the porcelain shops (not that we need more trinkets!). As a side note, we saw lots of tempting street food too – we tried some savory chicken on stick!

As we hurriedly visited what we could, we turned a corner and saw stairs leading up a short hill to an interesting Buddhist temple, called Baolun. The lower streets were packed with the holiday throngs, and yet when we climbed up to this temple, there was hardly a person in sight. The temple is over 1,000 years old, with interesting halls, courtyards and architecture everywhere.

Baolun Temple, Old Ciqikou, Chongqing, China

Climbing the stairs up to the Baolun Temple. I guess it looks a little steep to other visitors crawling the streets below.

Baolun Temple, Ciqikou Old Town, Chongqing, China

The architecture of the temple and halls is beautiful. The main temple was built without use of nails!

Baolun Temple, Old Ciqikou, Chongqing, China

The main Baolun Temple structure, Old Town Ciqikou.

 

Baolun Temple, Ciqikou Old Town, Chongqing, China

Buddha on a lotus flower.

Baolun Temple, Ciqikou Old Town, Chongqing, China

A representation of Bodhisattva, demonstrating compassion with all the arms.

Baolun Temple, Ciqikou Old Town, Chongqing, China

View from the Baolun Temple, overlooking the endless apartment towers on the outskirts of Chongqing in the distance.

As the saying goes, “you haven’t been to Chongqing if you haven’t been to Ciqikou Old Town”. While our visit to Ciqikou Old Town was short, it was definitely worthwhile.

Chongqing can keep the visitor entertained for a long time. We had just a day here, but I would highly recommend spending at least a few days in this sprawling city if you have the chance.

 

Cruising Up the Yangtze River

My wife and I have been on a number of cruises over the years, and although it’s not our preferred method of sightseeing, we have enjoyed the cruises we’ve taken (various Caribbean cruises and one in northern Europe). As part of our tour of China, a Yangtze River Cruise was included*. This was a four night trip, and prior to its start, our guide touted the cruise as a highlight of the tour. To be honest, we found the cruise a bit boring, especially after the first couple of days.

The reason I say this cruise was somewhat boring is because we are used to a lot of shore excursions and on board activities on other cruises. However, on this trip, other than a few organized stops, we were “stuck” on the ship and since a river cruise ship is smaller, it really didn’t offer a lot of entertainment options–there were a few shows, a few shops, a swimming pool and the typical buffet meals and that was about it.

Yangtze River Cruise, China

Our Yangtze River cruise ship – the Yangtze Gold 8.

Cruise ship, Yangtze River, China

The pool on our cruise ship.

If you want a quiet cruise with little to do, this might be the one for you. My advice – bring a couple of good books, download some movies or games and enjoy the quiet time.

Overall, I was impressed with the cruise ship itself, it of course is smaller than ocean-going cruise ships, but it still had a number of amenities and comfortable staterooms, every stateroom has a river-view balcony.

Yangtze River Cruise, China

Our stateroom on the Yangtze River Cruise.

The food on the ship was reasonable, but if you get a late night craving, it’s a good idea to bring your own snacks!

The cruise started in the city of Jingzhou and travelled up river, ending in Chongqing (a total distance of about 700 km or 435 miles). We briefly toured Jingzhou before embarking on the cruise. It is a very historical city and has a good museum.

Jingzhou City Wall, China

Jingzhou has an old wall surrounding the city, not unlike Xi’an and cities in Europe. This is one of the gates.

Jingzhou Museum, China.

This is a mummified corpse found near Jingzhou from the Han Dynasty (221 BCE – 24 AD). Note the facial and teeth detail. The Jingzhou museum has artifacts discovered in this region of China dating back 4000 – 5000 years.

A number of cruise lines offer cruises of a similar length and itinerary. The Yangtze River is the longest river in Asia and the third longest in the world. It is a major industrial thoroughfare, with continual freighter traffic moving all kinds of goods up and down the river.

Yangtze River, China

Typical freighter traffic on the Yangtze River. The scenery around us on the first couple of days was quite beautiful. Unfortunately it was pretty cloudy with a continual threat of rain.

The first part of the cruise was interesting, with gorgeous scenery. You go through the locks of the Three Gorges Dam the first night. Three Gorges is the largest dam in the world, a controversial project that took about 18 years to complete.

Three Gorges Dam, Yangtze River, China.

A view of the Three Gorges Dam. It was hard to get a photo that conveys the immensity of the dam, since tourists get very limited viewpoints. The dam is 594 ft high and 7661 ft long.

Yangtze River Cruise Three Gorges Dam1

A view of the locks at the Three Gorges Dam. Ships can be seen in the closest lock–our cruise ship passed through these locks.

We then visited the Water Village, and while this stop is a bit of a tourist trap, the scenery  along the Long Jin stream feeding into the Yangtze and traditional buildings on this part of the tour were beautiful, along with narrow canyons and mysterious peaks all around us.

Water Village, Yangtze River Cruise, China

The Water Village, along a beautiful stream that empties into the Yangtze River.

Water Village Tour, Yangtze River Cruise, China

View along the Long Jin stream near the Water Village.

Water Village Tour, Yangtze River Cruise, China

Another view of the Long Jin stream near the Water Village.

Water Village, Yangtze River Cruise, China

Food vendor in the Water Village – with fish on a stick!

Another highlight was the Wu Gorge, where we transferred to small boats that took us up into the narrow passageway with waterfalls and wildlife visible.

Wu Gorge, Yangtze River Cruise, China

Going up the Wu Gorge in our tour boats.

After the first couple of days, the river widens out, appears more polluted and the shoreline becomes more populated, with endless high-rise apartment buildings and large cities lining the banks.

Shibaozhai Pagoda, Yangtze River Cruise, China

One other interesting place we visited near the end of our cruise was the Shibaozhai Pagoda, with its 12 levels built into the mountainside. Through a narrow stairway you can climb to the top. It was originally built in 1572, and is the highest ancient multi-story wooden structure in China.

Shibaozhai Pagoda, Yangtze River Cruise, China

The hill on which Shibaozhai Pagoda sits became an island after the building of the Three Gorges dam, the pagoda was protected by building a large wall, visible at river level. At the top of the hill a Buddhist temple contains displays of numerous gods, with explanations on their importance.

Shibaozhai Pagoda.

Display of two Buddhist gods in the Shibaozhai Pagoda Temple.

Shibaozhai Pagoda, Yangtze River Cruise, China

Tourist market near the Shibaozhai Pagoda.

The cruise ended in Chongqing (formerly Chungking), a huge and fast growing city (the metropolitan area’s population is about 18 million).

Chongqing, China

View of Chongqing and the Yangtze River.

In Chongqing, we visited an interesting old section of the city and a zoo, specifically to see the cute Panda bears. I will cover Chongqing in another post.

*I just learned that Sinorama Tours, based in Vancouver, Canada, has ceased operations as of August 2018. They were the company we used to arrange our China Tour. This is unfortunate, they offered a great tour value.