The world’s waterways have given birth to successful metropolises and booming civilizations, a fact that is much in evidence in China. River cruising has become a luxurious and efficient way to see some of China’s most fascinating cities. It’s a great strategy for seeing a large portion of China’s huge landmass in comfort and style. River tour boats are much smaller than the ocean liners used for cruising the open seas, and provide a more intimate experience.
The Yangtze River is the largest river in China (the third largest river in the world, in fact!) and it runs from the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, just north of the Himalayas, to the East China Sea at Shanghai. It is central to the historical, cultural and economic development of the country. While cruising, you will enjoy the scenery of the Three Gorges and see the ancient cultural sites that line the river. Take a day excursion to Fengdu Ghost city on Ming Mountain where you will see a fusion of Taoist, Buddhist and Confucianist notions of ghosts and the afterlife. Not for the faint of heart, the Ghost City temple depicts the journey to hell, complete with demonic images and a bridge which symbolically connects the real world to the afterlife. In Wuhan, take a land journey up Snake Hill and see the famously scenic Yellow Crane Tower. The tower has a long and complicated history, beginning as a military watch tower, later being destroyed and rebuilt seven times, and now standing as a cultural attraction and museum with an exhibit on every floor. The Yangtze is by far the most popular river cruise in China for its scenery and cultural sites.
The Yellow River, called the “cradle of Chinese civilization”, offers visitors a glimpse of Northern China. Enjoy a trip through the mountains of Qinghai Province, the through the Ordos Desert, an easterly extension of the Gobi before turning south to where the river picks up unusual soil deposits that give the water the yellow hue for which it was named. Sail past the Bingling Temple Grottoes, where you’ll see giant images of the Buddha carved into the sandstone cliffs and caves filled with colourful statues and carvings of Buddha. Day excursions may include a trip to the Gansu Provincial Museum to see well-curated exhibits of cultural and natural history (the Neolithic pottery collection is dated to 7000-500 BCE), and the Lanzhou Zhongshan Bridge, known as “the First Bridge over the Yellow River.”
Several smaller rivers in China offer fantastic scenery, for example the lush Heilongjiang River and the Songhuajiang River, a favourite in the winter. Special tours or private yachts may be arranged for those wishing to see these lesser-traveled rivers.