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Highlights of a Yangtze River cruise tour

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6 March 2017 by Julia Hudson

Cruise manager Scott Anderson maps out his favourite spots and top highlights from cruising the Yangtze River in China, onboard the Viking ship Viking Emerald.

The ship

“The ship’s crew made us feel very welcome,” recalls Scott, “even down to offering a Western-style dinner our first evening onboard. The Viking ships are the only ships on the Yangtze that have both Chinese and Western kitchens.”

In the evening it was Captain's Welcome Dinner – a sumptuous feast of Chinese food prepared by the 19 chefs onboard and designed by celebrity chef Martin Yan. Food on board the Viking Emerald (pictured above) is of a very high standard and all meals delicious. 

The ship is really a floating luxury boutique hotel, with space for 256 guests, hotel-style beds in every suite and stateroom, and every cabin boasting panoramic windows and a private verandah.

Three Gorges Dam

Home of the Three Gorges Dam, Yichang is a common starting point for many travellers, with groups often flying here from Shanghai after recovering from jet lag for a few days. During Scott’s trip, the ship remained docked overnight, and travellers went by coach to see the dam in the morning. The weather can be unpredictable, and while Viking provided plastic ponchos, travellers would do well to pack their own rain gear as well, for comfort and warmth.

“On the journey to the dam, our guide filled us in about the villages that were displaced from the floodplain and gave us a history of the dam and the river. At the dam itself it was very interesting and there was a model of the dam and the area, which really gave you a fantastic overview of the whole project. We had plenty of time here to explore and look at the dam, the ship elevator and the massive locks before boarding the bus to return to the ship for our lunch.”

Three Gorges

The Qutang Gorge

The longest of the gorges is Xiling Gorge, and this is often the first gorge you’ll cruise along. Even in mist, the view is impressive, so be sure to snag a spot on deck to appreciate the scenery. The other gorges are the Wu Gorge and Qutang Gorge, the smallest and narrowest of the three.

Lesser Three Gorges

On the Daning River, one of the Yangtze’s main tributaries, you’ll find the Lesser Three Gorges, a scenic and more tranquil passage for visitors seeking lush Chinese countryside. However, large cruise ships cannot travel here, so you will likely have to disembark your ship and move to a smaller one.

“Our ship made its way along the Wu Gorge to dock at Wuchan, where we met the Viking Century Sun. We actually tied up next to her, and the process of docking next to the sister ship was very exciting. We had to walk through the other ship to get to the dock! There we transferred to a smaller ship, themed in the style of a pagoda, and off we went up the Daning River to the Lesser Three Gorges. The mists lifted and the sun came out making this trip really special – we cruised for about 90 minutes upstream and the on-board guide was very informative. The highlights of this excursion were the hanging coffins of the Ba people and the sheer majesty of the beautiful cliffs and lush green mountains.”


During the long-ago Eastern Han Dynasty, Fengdu got the nickname ‘Ghost City’ because of its connection to Taoist, Buddhist and Confucian beliefs about death. All the main buildings of the town demonstrate this connection, especially three that symbolise the tests that the dead must go through to reach the netherworld: Nothing-to-be-Done Bridge, Ghost Torturing Pass and the Palace of the Son of Heaven.

“We docked early in the shadow of a giant head carved in the hillside overlooking the river. I had a choice of two excursions here – the Snow Jade Caves or the one I chose, a trip to the town and local market. We were taken to the local food market - this was a real assault on all your senses. The smells of the bags of spices on sale, the noise as the Chinese went about their shopping and the sights of all sorts of unusual and wonderful produce on sale could be a bit overwhelming. There were live fish for sale, live chickens, geese, terrapins and finches all available to buy. This was one of my trip highlights.”

Want to learn more about the Yangtze River, and begin planning your cruise holiday? Check out our Yangtze holidays and trips to China, or contact our Far East specialists to enquire about a tailor-made trip.

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