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Written by Marcia Bethea.

To see the Yangtze River as it has been for the last 500 years, you have until 2003!! After that, it will be changed forever!! The Chinese government is constructing the world’s largest dam that will affect the beautiful Three Gorges area of the Yangtze River. The water will rise 135 meter between San Don Ping and Chongqing (formerly know as Chungking). The closer one gets to Chongqing, the less the effect of the dam as it is upstream and only about 5 meters will be lost to the new river’s edge. When the dam is totally finished in 2009, the water level will have raised 175 meters.

What does this mean? GO NOW!!! There are several tour operators who have ships on the Yangtze and cruising is one of the best methods of viewing the area. Trips can be as short as 2 days up to 6 days. We choose the 6 day upstream option and thoroughly enjoyed the experience! It was relaxing, no packing/unpacking for 6 days, all meals, and educational classes included. What a way to learn about a culture!!

We sailed on the Regal China Cruise line from Wuhan to Chongqing. Our guide was with us from the beginning of the tour in Shanghai to the end in Beijing. He was instructive, helpful, experienced, and interesting to be with. He also made our transitions smooth, especially at the airports.

On board, be prepared for tiny rooms unless you upgrade to a suite. Now, when I say tiny, it is just that!! My husband and I had lower bunk beds and the space between the beds was less than the size of the bed. There was a TV, nightstand, closet, bathroom with shower (curtain in bathroom to cover the toilet) and short (short) entrance. We did have room for both suitcases near the closet but that was about all!! Upgrading is available when you purchase your cruise but also, after boarding, they try to sell any unsold suites and will offer them at discount. You can start your bargaining practice at this point!! Bargaining is the mode of dealing with purchases except at the Friendship stores.

At different intervals during the cruise, narration of the passing landscape was available. We were at leisure for most of the trip with few stops along the way. The ship held about 300 people and it was comprised of groups from Pacific Delight (we were with them), Grand Circle Tours, SAGA, Vantage Tours, and several independent travelers from Great Britain, Australia, and Japan. I recommend going with a tour!! Although you can independently see China, the language, signage, and bureaucracy can be very frustrating and having a local guide throughout the trip made these hassles nonexistent.

Three stops were made during the 6 days: 1) the Dam Site where we had a close-up view of the progress; 2) Wushan to view the Lesser Gorge in smaller boats; 3) Wuxian to view a local museum, see a local market and the Hanging Coffin. At each of these stops, we were able to experience how the Chinese live their lives. There were the typical pole bearers for carrying products, Ba people who live along the Daning River, markets where live animals of many unknown variety are sold. We even took in an acrobatic show.

One interesting fact to keep in mind, the tour guides KNOW their stuff. Ours suggested we eat our dinner at the airport. Well, you can imagine what the rest of the group thought of that; plots to make the guide change his mind, offers of other suggestions, anything but eating at the airport!! As it ended, we ate at the airport and it was one of the best meals we had!! Take your guide’s suggestions!!

After cruising, the group continued on to Xi’an (pronounced “she-on”) where we visited the museum which houses the Terra Cotta soldiers discovered in 1974. Since that time, China has developed a beautiful viewing area around three pits that are in the processes of uncovering all 8,000 life-sized warriors, horses, and chariots buried in a ceremonial tomb. It is quite a sight!!

Our final stop was Beijing were we spent three nights and toured the Forbidden Palace, Tian’anmen Square, Ming Tombs, pearl factory, cloisonné factory and of course the Great Wall. Beijing is vying for the 2008 Olympics. Should this happen, foreign visitors will be surprised how modern the city is. There is plenty of hotel space, fast food restaurants, shopping arcades, transportation, and all modern conveniences. Beijing is open to tourists. One thing we heard from EVERY local guide was: ” Tell your friend and family to come visit China.” China is very interested in having visitors and have made the flight travel between cities easier… Remember… have a guide.

Many travelers are interested in shopping. Certainly an explosive opening here!! Pearls, silks, carpets, paintings, jade, statues, cloisonné, furniture (it goes on and on) are plentiful! The infrastructure for using Visa, MasterCard, or American Express as well as shipping large purchases home are established, helping to make shopping a plus!