China wasn’t on my bucket list, so I never would have chosen to go to there on my own, but when my ex-husband found a very inexpensive two week tour and asked if I would join him, I figured I may as well go and have an adventure.  I love history, and certainly China has that in spades.  And the four day cruise on the Yangtze River looked stunning.

We used a company called Sinorama, which I would very highly recommend.  They were organized and efficient, and the various Chinese guides were terrific.  The 15 day tour included airfare, two in-country flights, a 500 mile trip on a bullet train, a four day cruise on the Yangtze River, five star hotels, and most meals – all for about $1,400 per person.  I’ve never ever traveled with a tour before, but I wouldn’t do China any other way.  I didn’t expect to enjoy being on a tour (I prefer to travel independently), but I found it fun to be with a group of people, most of whom we liked very much.

We flew from Seattle to Shanghai and spent the first two nights there.  We toured the city on a bus, went to a museum, and then a shopping area. Unfortunately, the weather was rainy/drizzly/misty, and it stayed that way for about the first 9 days of the trip.  One thing I noticed on the first day in Shanghai was a lot of people wearing face masks.  We learned they did that because of the smog. We saw it all over China.

Typical Skyline in China

Next, we took the bullet train from Shanghai to Wuhan, about 500 miles west, where we stayed one night before boarding the cruise ship.  I love to cruise, and enjoyed being on the water.

Chinese flag on back of cruise ship

The highlight of the cruise was going through the famous Three Gorges area.  A huge dam was built there, the largest hydroelectric project in the world and an engineering marvel.  The ship had to move through five different locks, taking almost four hours.  The picture below shows the two ships ahead of us moving into the first lock.

First Lock at Three Gorges Dam


View from cruise ship

Although the Three Gorges dam was fascinating, I was generally underwhelmed with the scenery on the Yangtze River.  Much of it was spent passing through various cities.  The Three Gorges area itself was more remote and lovely, but it wasn’t spectacular – I guess I got totally spoiled with the New Zealand landscape!   The river itself is extremely polluted, and I’m pretty sure the ship was dumping its trash directly into it.

Another scene along the Yangtze River

I’m not generally a complainer, and I’m definitely not that picky about food, but I am an experienced cruiser, and I thought the cabins on the ship were tired and worn – stained carpet, unpleasant smell – and the food was very marginal.

The cruise ended in a town called Chongqing where we visited the zoo.  This was truly another highlight of the trip. It was beautifully landscaped, and huge.  We saw Giant Pandas and yaks for the fist time.  We could have spent all day there!

Giant Panda eating bamboo, Chongqing Zoo

Chongqing is in the Szechuan area of China, and the lunch there was one of the best meals of the trip.  Added to the great food was an actual traditional Chinese wedding which just happened to be taking place in the same restaurant. We couldn’t understand a word, but it was amazing to watch.

In the afternoon, we visited the Old Town there, which was a crazy crowded place, full of vendors hawking their wares, and odd smells everywhere.  We found a little cafe with great coffee on a second floor balcony, where we could look down and watch the crowd – that was fun!

One of the less crowded areas of Old Town Chongqing

After one night in Chongqing, we flew to Xi’an.  The experience of going through security for an in-country flight in China was like nothing else I’ve been through.  They do a completely thorough search of every person.  Our carry-on bags were scanned three different times. Our guide made it clear that if anything was found in our checked luggage which wasn’t allowed, the luggage would be kept by the authorities and we wouldn’t even know that there was a problem until we got to our destination.  Fortunately, all of the luggage in our group passed muster.

Chris and Eric at one of the meals along the way

It was in Xi’an (pronounced SHEE-ahn) that we finally saw the sun, the first day through a haze, and the second a full fledged sunny day. I think Xi’an was my favorite place, and maybe it had something to do with the sun, but I also really loved seeing the Terra Cotta Warriors.  This active archaeological site with an amazing army of 8,000 soldiers is over 2,200 years old.  Each soldier’s face is unique. The army, including horses, was buried with the first emperor of China, and was intended to protect him in the afterlife.

Terra Cotta Warriors
Warriors Close Up
A very special warrior!

After Xi’an, we flew to Beijing, where we saw the Summer Palace, the Forbidden City, the Great Wall, and Tiananmen Square.  I think my favorite part of Beijing was the Hutong District, which is the Old Town.  We went on a rickshaw ride through this part of town, and then had dinner at a resident’s home there.

Scene in Hutong District, Beijing
Rickshaw drive through Hutong District
Arriving at private home for dinner in Hutong District
Cooks in the kitchen at private home in Hutong District
Tiananmen Square
View from the Great Wall
Climbing the Great Wall
Entrance to popular Beijing shopping street
Scorpions for Dinner, Vendor Booth, Beijing

Overall, I thought Sinorama did a good job, but to be completely honest, I could never say “You gotta go!” about China.  There are plenty of negatives that I haven’t mentioned about this communist country, and I wasn’t always happy to be there.  Among many other things, the smog and other pollution was a real turn-off.  I feel very fortunate that I was able to experience China, but I won’t be going back.