Travelers tend to set off on China tours to discover the most popular tourist attractions, such as the Great Wall of China and the dazzling cities of Beijing and Shanghai. But another highlight of the trip is the breathtaking Yangtze River, the largest waterway in China. It starts at the base of the Tanggula Mountains, twisting and turning for nearly 4,000 miles through 11 provinces before surging into the East China Sea.
After exploring the city of Chongqing, tour members board the cruise ship and start the three-day journey along the river. Each morning, passengers wake in their cozy cabins to delightful sights and refreshing scents, but there are many stops along the way that expose travelers to the rich history and culture of the area. While sailing along the Yangtze on a senior travel tour, keep an eye open for these intriguing sites:
Fengdu Ghost City
At the start of the river cruise, seniors can opt to take an excursion to Fengdu Ghost City. It's situated in the northern bank of the river on the Ming Mountain and dates back about 2,000 years. The area is known as a ghost city because of the many spooky encounters that have occurred here. One of the local legends concerning Fengdu is set between 25 and 220 A.D., when two imperial court officials came here to practice Taoist teachings. It's believed they were transformed into immortal beings and combined into one entity called "Yinwang, or "king of hell."
The site is now a major tourist destination and has been designed to resemble the Chinese process of entering the afterlife, which is divided into three stages. It starts at the Nothing-To-Be-Done-Bridge, which is considered the first spot for testing good and evil within people, followed by the Ghost Torturing Pass, the second testing point before reaching the nether world. The third test takes place at the gate of the magnificent Tianzi Palace - the underworld entry through which only good can pass.
Ming Dynasty Temple
An essential stop on the Legendary China & Yangtze River Cruise is the Shibaozhai Temple. Located at the top of a mountain that protrudes from the center of the river, this place of worship was established between 1368 and 1644 during the Ming Dynasty. The word Shibaozhai roughly translates to "precious stone fortress." Due to its idolized status, the fortress was built atop a hill that, in the past, was only accessible via an arduous journey. Today, a red pavilion sits on one side of the cliff to serve as a stairway. Visitors to this site can explore the Purple Rain Pavilion, a gorgeous hall that spans three stories. It's dedicated to the Buddhist deity Manjusri.
Gutang, Wu and Xiling Gorges
A main feature of this affordable travel package is a discovery of the three gorges: the Gutang, Wu and Xiling. This system of narrow valleys offers breathtaking views of steep precipices, rushing rapids and beautiful reefs. The Wu Gorge is perhaps the most popular, displaying a dozen peaks of the Wushan Mountains covered in dense green forest. The Xiling Gorge is the longest of the three, containing an abundance of springs, streams and karsts. Passengers will also get an up-close experience with the Qutang Gorge, a shorter ravine that contains several stunningly scenic observation points.
While visiting the three gorges, senior travel club members can choose to take a side trip to the Shennong Stream. This body of water is nestled between the Xiling and Wu gorges, and travelers float along the zig-zagging stream on small wooden boats. The picturesque views are filled with lush greenery, an array of stalactites and playful waves crashing up against the cliffs. While the voyage is entirely safe, it's not for the faint of heart - the riverbed includes some steep falls and intimidating shoals.
Three Gorges Dam
During a survey of the three gorges, cruise members will make a stop at the Three Gorges Dam. It's the biggest hydroelectric project on earth, standing more than 600 feet high and stretching over 1.5 miles. While there was much controversy surrounding the erection of the dam in 2012, it's proven to be hugely effective and a massive engineering feat for China. It's so strong that it can produce as much energy as 15 nuclear power plants.
Along with exploring the Yangtze River, seniors can expect to spend time discovering the vibrant people and attractions of Shanghai, Beijing and Xi'an. That's why this is one of the best river cruises of China - travelers get a comprehensive journey that exposes them to the culture, history and nature of the country from all different angles.