Cruising the Spine of China

Cruising the Spine of China photo

China is big, almost too big to see and absorb in one trip. Unfortunately, most people don't have the time or money to travel throughout China on many trips. Cruising the Yangtze River will give you a look at the China of yesterday and today and is one of the best ways to get a good overview of the country.

The 3,915-mile long Yangtze River is China's longest river and the third longest in the world. It flows from the Tibetan Plateau eastward to the East China Sea, acting as a dividing line between North and South China. Along it s banks, you'll see everything from ancient palaces to modern cities.

A Yangtze River Cruise stops at various towns and villages along the way, giving you plenty of opportunities to explore China's vibrant present set against the backdrop of its long, rich history. The Three Gorges is the most famous sight on the river. Spanning 125 miles, it consists of the Xiling, Wu, and Qutang Gorges. At 49 miles, Xiling is the longest and is home to numerous reefs and karst caves. Forests cover the mountains and deep canyons of Wu Gorge while mossy cliffs frame Qutang Gorge, the shortest but most dramatic. Competing with Mother Nature is the Three Gorges Dam, the largest hydroelectric dam in the world.

The "Ghost Town" of Fengdu, with its unique temples filled with statues of ghosts and devils, is another must-see attraction along the river. In addition, you'll find the Shibaozhai's 400-year-old, 12-story-high red wooden pagoda perched high on a cliff, and the Rare Stone Museum in Wuhan, featuring over 200,000 cultural relics, worth seeing.

For quintessential Chinese mountain landscapes, nothing beats the area around Huangshan. Another popular stop is the hillside city of Chongqing, China's capital during World War II. Here, you can wander through its historic Old Town and get impressive views of the Yangtze River during your holidays to China.

Also along the river are the thriving cities of Hangzhou, Suzhou, Nanjing, and Shanghai. You'll have time to stroll among the lovely lakes and temples of Hangzhou, visit the beautiful Humble Administrator's Garden and Embroidery Institute in Suzhou, and explore Nanjing with visits to Sun Yat-sen's Mausoleum, a Qing Dynasty-style bazaar, and a Confucian Temple.

As theYangtze River nears its delta before emptying into the East China Sea, you'll come to the end of your water journey in the cosmopolitan city of Shanghai. You could spend almost as much time here as you did on your cruise, visiting its many museums, as well as viewing its impressive architecture ranging from French Colonial to Art Deco. Wander through the classical Ming Dynasty Yu Yuan Gardens, with their pavilions, ponds, rockeries, cloisters and six scenic zones, then stop at the Shanghai Museum for a look at its exquisite collection of Chinese bronzes. Explore Shanghai's Old Town and visit the Jade Buddha Temple before taking in a performance of the Shanghai Acrobats or indulging in the nightlife of the French Concession. If you're a shopper, then a visit to Shanghai's Nanjing Road is a must.

The best time to go on a Yangtze River cruise is during the spring and fall, especially during April or May and September or October when the weather is cool and comfortable. However, these are also the peak tourist months with crowds and higher prices. And though the weather can be hot and humid with some rain during July and August, you'll find prices more moderate and attractions less crowded. Avoid cruising the Yangtze in the winter as the water levels are much lower, making it difficult to cruise at times.