At WildChina we take pride in showing people unseen corners of the country, but sometimes we like to visit the places that everyone else goes, places that we typically don’t take clients, just to see what we might be missing.
One recent evening we hopped onto a Chinese cruise boat to head down the Yangtze through the Three Gorges, something we hadn’t done since the flooding of the formerly magnificent gorges a couple years back.
Unfortunately, the trip was as disappointing as we feared it would be.
We boarded in Wanzhou, a few hours down the road from Chongqing, and checked into our first-class cabin, which had two clean beds, a squatty toilet and a nonfunctional shower head.
Our first scenic spot to check out was Zhang Fei Temple, or actually, the new Zhang Fei Temple, as the original was submerged a couple of years ago. It was hard not to sigh when thinking back to what the temple had once looked like, much further down the side of the mountain upon which we were standing.
Back on board, we decided to head up to the top deck and were a bit surprised to be stopped by boat staff asking us to pay 40 yuan for a two-day pass, just for the top deck, which was the only place to sit and enjoy the outdoors. We paid and ascended the stairs, discovering a deck with people, chairs and little else.
After grabbing a high-backed dining chair, we propped our head up and looked at the moon and stars for a very relaxing hour or so before heading downstairs to sleep.
The following day featured a few nice sights, especially the Wu Gorge, but it was hard not to think about how much more spectacular it had been before the Three Gorges Dam had been built.
The second night, our boat was moored for the entire evening, the engine idling noisily, making it difficult to sleep soundly. In fact, we calculated that by the time the trip was over the following afternoon, our boat had been moored about 70 percent of the time.
It was less of a cruise and more of a series of stops where we were being encouraged to buy things. Especially when we got to the Three Gorges Dam, which, despite being an impressive engineering feat, felt a bit like it had been built primarily to sell tour packages and souvenirs.
Why go on a stale trip like this? Partly to keep our finger on the pulse of the development of tourism in China and to check up on what used to be one of our favorite China journeys, but mainly to reinforce why we exist: to offer an alternative to fast-food style tourism on the mainland.
After flying out of rapidly developing but the generally characterless city of Yichang, we were travel-weary, feeling like we had drained our batteries rather than recharge them. This, we realized, was the main difference between most travel in China and WildChina journeys: our trips are aimed at rejuvenating and inspiring, not controlling the client and squeezing every cent possible from their wallet.
Photo credit: Globe Images