My first visit to mainland China was something of a last-minute decision in 2003. A cruise through the Yangtze River’s Three Gorges had always appealed, and we suddenly woke up to the fact that the recently built dam was coming into use that summer and the gorges would be flooded. A hastily booked tour saw us flying off to China at Easter to see the Yangtze at its best. In just over a week we packed in a huge amount.

The first surprise when we got to the airport was how big the group was going to be. We’d been on tours before when there had been about a dozen people, but the numbered labels we were given to stick on our passports were in the low 70s. In the end, there were two full coach loads of tourists – the first and last time we have travelled this way. I did say it was hastily booked! The next surprise was that, apart from on the cruise itself, vegetarians were segregated and I spent most of my mealtimes with a family from Wales rather than with my own husband. Again, other than on the cruise, they seemed to think veggie equals totally bland, which was disappointing because I love Chinese food at home and the chefs, in Glasgow anyway, produce some really good, spicy vegetarian food.

Anyway, on to the itinerary.


The tour started and ended in Beijing. We visited Tiananmen Square, but I can’t actually find any pictures of it, the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven, as well as a hutong and a Drum Tower. We also made a side trip to the Great Wall.

Forbidden City
Temple of Heaven

It was interesting to watch all the activities in the park on the way here – card games, tea drinking and dancing.


A hutong is a residential area of narrow alleys and courtyards. We were actually taken into someone’s house in small groups, which felt a bit uncomfortable, but contented ourselves with photographs outside. You can see how close together the houses are in the views from the Drum Tower, especially the zoomed image, if you can make that out through the haze of the air pollution. I don’t remember much about the drum performance, but I’m guessing it must have been noisy.

Great Wall of China

We were taken by coach to the Great Wall at Badoling which is probably its most touristy part. On the way, we stopped at a factory making cloisonné, the first of many “shopping opportunities” on this trip. I hate to shop at home, never mind on holiday, but we did buy a couple of items. However, we were amazed at how much some people bought here and elsewhere – enough to refurnish their homes I should think.

The Yangtze

Our next stop was the Yangtze, where first of all we visited the Three Gorges Dam Project. Again, the pictures are poor because of the smog but you get some idea of the size of it. I couldn’t believe that this was going to be completed on schedule, but it was flooded just a couple of months later displacing 1.3 million people. Then it was on to our boat, MS Zhoujun, which would be our home for the next four nights as we sailed to Chongqing. Our cabin was quite cozy – it was great, before dark, to open the curtains, sit on the bed with a glass of wine and watch the scenery go by.

Every day, we were taken off the boat for an excursion and this way we met several guides from the area. One young woman was pleased because she was relocating from the family home to a new apartment on her own, but others seemed less than impressed at having to move.

ShenNong Stream

On this first excursion, we were taken up a side stream in small boats, with local men pulling us on ropes for part of the way. It was another experience which made me feel uncomfortable. I worried at the time about what would happen to the men after the flood – would they still be able to do this? It was, at least, a job. Recently, I came across this blog post from gearupandplay and it seems that it does still happen and there is competition for the work.

White Emperor City (Baidi Cheng)

I have noted in my diary that there were 786 steps here! That’s our boat below, waiting for us. It does look quite far down.

ShiBaoZhai Pagoda and Temple

I remember the route back to the boat being lined with musicians and crafts-people trying to sell us things. One of our party, a teenage girl, bought a fiddle like the one in the picture. I wonder if she still plays it?

On our last afternoon on the boat, we both booked herbal massages. The petite masseuse barely came to my shoulder but she put me through an hour of hell. John thought I was being a wimp but, when I took my shirt off, he could see that my back and upper arms were red and they soon turned black and blue. Nobody else seemed to be affected this way, and I am assured massages are not normally like that, but I have never had one since and don’t plan on doing so any time soon.


We disembarked at Chongqing where we were taken first to see the pandas in the zoo and then to the Fine Art Institute where we viewed a mural of the Three Gorges (and I think that must be its artist).

Afterwards, we travelled to Xian to visit the Terracotta Warriors, which I have already covered as part of April’s A to Z Challenge (see X is for Xian). We left China saying that maybe we should revisit the Yangtze in about ten years to see what changes there had been. Well, more than ten years have passed and we still haven’t done it. Maybe some day – but we won’t be going with two coach loads of fellow travellers next time!


  1. Amazing that you were able to get so many pictures without people blocking the view. I agree with you that it isn’t very enjoyable to be part of a large tour group.


  2. Although I didn’t see them before the floods, I can happily report that the three gorges themselves are still very beautiful – although the same can’t be said for some of the cities that have been built further along the river. Another positive is that the number of steps to the White Emperor City is now only 350!


  3. These are great pictures and I was so sad to hear about the dams being built. You have had wonderful travels and these pictures prove it. My friend went to China and he said the smog, in the area he was in, was horrible. I wonder if you don;t have a picture of Tiananmen Square because you were not allowed to?? You were there only a few short years after the massacre. It would be cool if you would go back and see the differences now


    • One of my friends has just come back from a similar trip – and the fog is still awful. After I’d written that, I did eventually find a picture of Tianneman Square which reminded me it was evening when we went – it wasn’t a very good picture!


  4. I think this might be the first time I found a place in your travel logs that I’ve actually seen with my own eyes – I’m feeling pretty excited here! I spent two summers in China, and will never forget how massive the Forbidden City was (it felt almost endless) or how impressive the Great Wall was (and what a steep climb it was go get to the top!). As always, these are great photos… thanks for sharing and for bringing back great memories!