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Slow Boat Through China

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Marvel at China's long history and beauty with a luxury river cruise on the Yangtze River. 

Viking River Cruises puts you in the heart of the Yangtze with three itineraries — “Undiscovered China,” “Roof of the World” and “Imperial Jewels of China.” Each is a combination cruise and tour (cruisetour), with sailings through the Three Gorges, visits to one of the world's most amazing engineering feats, the Three Gorges Dam, and unforgettable destinations.

The Yangtze is just one of many highlights of a trip to China, a country rich with magnificent sights to see and experiences worthy of bucket lists: the stunning terracotta warriors, the awe-inspiring Great Wall, research centers for adorable pandas, centuries-old temples and the vast super-energized metropolises of Beijing and Shanghai. You'll delight in an ancient culture that, after centuries closed to the outside world, is wide open and welcoming to visitors who want to take it all in.

Past and Present

Viking's China itineraries visit Shanghai either at the start or the end of the journeys, and perhaps there's no better place to see the both the country's history and its modernity than on the waterfront Bund, lined with grand Art Deco buildings. You'll watch as tugboats and freighters glide by on the Huangpu River, in the shadows of futuristic skyscrapers. Relax at lovely Yuyuan Garden where pagodas and peaceful landscapes date to the Ming Dynasty. Follow a guide through the fascinating Shanghai Museum seeing ancient bronzes and ceramics, enjoy a meal of delicious Shanghai dumplings and end the day with a thrilling performance of the Shanghai Acrobatic Troupe.

A short flight takes you to Viking's luxurious river ship docked near Wuhan's historic waterfront. After a visit to the Hubei Provincial Museum to see cultural riches that date from 400 B.C., the ship sets sail. Because of the Yangtze's width and depth, vessels don't face the restrictions of European rivers so Viking uses ships that are larger, with space for saunas and exercise rooms. A steward provides twice-daily housekeeping service for roomy staterooms that feature private verandas, flat-screen TVs, heated bathroom floors and premium bed and bath linens.
views with a room

From outside on the deck or from your stateroom's panoramic windows, you'll be enthralled by the passing landscape, particularly when the ship enters the spectacular Three Gorges. This is the China of picture postcards and artwork with its atmospheric villages, temples, sheer cliffs and bamboo groves. A Viking exclusive is a visit to the town of Jingzhou and its elementary school where you meet children who will charm you with songs and dances. 

While your ship captain expertly steers through the Wu Gorge you'll stop at one point to board sampans — small wooden boats — to enter a Yangtze tributary and see the hanging coffins of the Ba people. In the afternoon, the ship sails the narrow Qutang Gorge, the most awe-inspiring of the three gorges. On a rocky island, you'll explore Shibaozhai, a temple built in 1650, its bright red pagoda a must for a photo.

The cruise includes a journey through huge locks to the colossal Three Gorges Dam, which took 17 years and an estimated $28 billion to build. Your tour guide will discuss the fascinating story of the world's largest hydroelectric power station and the controversy that surrounded China's biggest construction project since the Great Wall. 

All three of Viking's China itineraries feature another “must”: the city of Xian, home of the exquisite terracotta warriors. Nestled in a vast site that was found in 1974 by farmers digging a well are 22 square miles where thousands of figures — a huge terracotta army — surround an ancient burial mound. Look closely at the warriors and see their facial expressions, each unique, as they stand in formation along with their horses and chariots. It's an unforgettable sight.

Varied Itineraries

Viking's 14-day “Imperial Jewels of China” itinerary includes Xian, Beijing, Shanghai and the Yangtze cruise while the "Undiscovered China" itinerary combines all those experiences plus off-the-beaten path destinations in 19 days of exploration.

You'll see some of the 50,000 carved statues and characters dating as far back as the 7th century carved in rock cliffs at Dazu, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Then, explore Lijiang, a charming city known for its well-preserved old town with canals, a maze of cobblestone streets and a bustling central market. You'll also visit the countryside home of Dr. Joseph Rock, a renowned explorer and botanist from the 1920s, who studied the local Naxi tribe.

“Undiscovered China” also adds a flight to Chengdu in Sichuan province, home to the vast majority of the world's giant pandas. You'll learn about their conservation and breeding at the Chengdu Research Panda Base of Giant Panda Breeding where bamboo trees and green landscapes mimic pandas' natural habitat and you can watch the adorable furry creatures. That evening, enjoy the bright costumes and music of the Sichuan Opera. 

The third itinerary, “Roof of the World,” is a 17-day journey that features the Yangtze cruise, visits to Beijing, Shanghai and Xian and adds Lhasa in Tibet. You'll be awed by the Himalayan kingdom's powerful symbol, the massive Potala Palace that towers above the city. Most of its more than 1,000 rooms are closed to the public but the private apartments of the Dalai Lamas and some of its treasure-filled chapels are open. You'll also visit 1,300-year old Jokhang Temple, a spiritual site for Buddhist pilgrims, and explore the Barkhor market to shop for traditional Tibetan jewelry and textiles that will be cherished souvenirs. 

Beijing Gems

A trip to China wouldn't be complete without an extended visit to the nation's capital, Beijing, and all three itineraries hit the mark, including China's iconic destination, the Great Wall of China.

The wall traces the southern edge of Inner Mongolia and was first conceived in 220 B.C. by Emperor Qin Shi Huang who wanted to keep out marauders from the north. In the Ming dynasty, between the 14th and 17th centuries, today's wall took shape, stretching around 4,000 miles. At Badaling Hills, one of the sections easily accessible from Beijing, you'll walk the wall and gaze over the panorama from its ramparts. 

You'll also be amazed at the huge expanse of over 100 acres that makes up Tiananmen Square and the grand Qianmen Gate. On one side of Tiananmen is the Great Hall of the People and another the National Museum of China. The most visited building on the square is Chairman Mao Memorial Hall, a mausoleum with the embalmed body of the Chinese leader. You won't want to miss the Forbidden City to the north, the vast palatial complex that was home to two dynasties of emperors. 

Don't forget to take plenty of photos. Once home, you'll look back on a real voyage of discovery, with memories of an ancient culture that has been transformed but still treasures its traditions.  

Take an unforgettable cruisetour with Viking Cruises. Call your local AAA Travel Agent at 800-750-5386 for more information. Or, stop by your nearest AAA Travel office.

(Nov/Dec 2017 issue of Traveler)

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