4-6 weeks Riding the Yangtze
Riding the Yangtze sweeps you down China’s most famous river, beginning at the foot of the Tibetan plateau and flowing through numerous climate zones, geographic landscapes, and regions, all the way to the coast. Apart from the natural beauty of some of China’s finest natural wonders, you’ll tackle some of the most important and historic sites along the craddle of Chinese civilization. This trip has a wide enough range of attractions to please any kind of traveler.
It seems almost requisite for any China multi-trip veteran to give some time to China’s most famous river. From Tiger Leaping Gorge and the snow-muffled peaks that surround it to the legendary magnificence of the Three Gorges and the dreamlike canals of Suzhou, the sights along the Yangtze provide epic vistas and the adventure of a lifetime. Dali and Lijiang provide a great epilogue to the journey, and Shanghai mixes it up with a metropolitan conclusion.
Kunming, Yunnan (1-2 days)
Fly into Kunming and grab some sights, but don’t spend too much time here, especially if you want to squeeze this trip into four weeks. Take a same-day train to Dali (four to five hours）.
Dali, Yunnan (2 days)
The next day spend some time on the beautiful Erhai Lake and chill out. On day two make for Mt Cangshan for a good hike before jumping on the two-hour train to Lijiang.
Lijiang, Yunnan (1 day)
The last hangout before heading into the backcountry for several days, Lijiang is a good spot to have a few drinks and enjoy the comforts of city life in a small town style before hitting the road. Stay the night and then grab the two-hour bus to Qiaotou (Tiger Leaping Gorge access point) at 7:30.
Tiger Leaping Gorge, Yunnan (2-3 days)
Depending on how you want to tackle the gorge, you may be going for one day up to three or four. The views are stunning: the Yangtze River flows and churns up mud below as the mountains of the Meili Xueshan range rise up before you. On the last day, flag down a minivan and arrive back in Lijiang in the evening.
However much you hike Tiger Leaping Gorge, you’ll need to swing back to Lijiang before anywhere else. Rest up a night and take in some more sights on the first day, then stay another night and get ready for a seven-hour bus ride to Lugu Lake on the second day.
Lugu Lake, Yunnan (3 days)
The bus will drop you at Luoshui village in the late afternoon or early evening. Stay here or, better yet, make your way to Lige, Luowa or Wuzhiluo and pass a couple breezy days around magical Lugu Lake and its surrounding minority villages. Spend your last day on a long, bumpy (but beautiful) bus ride to Xichang.
Xichang, Sichuan (1 day)
Xichang has nothing of particular import or excitement, but it is crucial for most people to stop off here for a night’s rest before pressing on to Chengdu. The bus-ride from here to Sichuan’s capital is seven hours.
Chengdu, Sichuan (2-3 days)
Chengdu is an excellent city, and three days won’t even do. But, if you want to see as much of the Yangtze as you can in your allotted weeks, sacrifices need to be made. Cram as much in as you can, including the city’s famed teahouses, the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base, spicy Sichuan hot pot, and if you’re really ambitious, spend a full day out at Leshan to see the Big Buddha. On the last day grab a late afternoon or evening high speed train to Chongqing (two hours).
Chongqing (1-2 days)
Enormous, smoggy and roaring Chongqing has plenty to do, but you may or may not be terribly charmed by the megalopolis. One day will do for many, especially those ready to get on the river, but there’s enough to easily fill three days, especially if you make a trip out to the Buddhist Caves of Dazu. Choose your Yangtze cruise package and hop on board.
The Three Gorges, Hubei (2-4 days)
Depending on which cruise package you choose, you’ll be looking at two to four days from Chongqing, passing the glorious bluffs of the Three Gorges and on to the town of Yichang. There are also many places to hop off and tour along the waye. It’s all up to you, just make sure your camera is ready for the Three Gorges.
Yichang, Hubei (1-2 days)
The boat lets off in Yichang. Stay the night and see the Three Gorges Dam the next day before a two-hour train ride to Jingzhou.
Jingzhou, Hubei (2 days)
The ancient capital of the Chu Kingdom, Jingzhou is worth spending a night to see its small temples, city wall, and museum before the scenic four-hour bus ride to Wuhan.
Wuhan, Hubei (2-3 days)
Take a few days to stroll the Hankou Bund along the Yangtze and mingle with the locals. Get some temple time in and mosey around the Yellow Crane Tower and East Lake before riding the four-hour train to Jiujiang for a diversion up lovely Lushan.
Lushan, Jiangxi (1-2 day)
After hiking around the cloud-shrouded slopes of beautiful Mt Lushan, it’s highly worth it to stay a night in the old town of Guling. Once you’re finished, swinging back to Wuhan is necessary for the nine-hour bus ride to Mt Huangshan, one of China’s most impressive ranges.
Mt Huangshan, Anhui (2 days)
Mt Huangshan (aka the Yellow Mountains) is perhaps the country’s most mythical and legendary mountain range. We suggest staying the night on the mountain and getting in at sunrise before heading down for the five-hour bus ride to Nanjing.
Nanjing, Jiangsu (2-3 days)
Get in step with China’s most underrated Great Ancient Capital by visiting its imperial tombs, city wall, temples, Ming Palace Ruins, Taiping Museum and Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum, among many other attractions. It’s a chance to unwind after long bus rides and mountain climbs before a quick two-hour bus or fast train to Suzhou.
Suzhou, Jiangsu (2-3 days)
Welcome to the Venice of the Orient, one of China’s most charming towns. Suzhou and its ancient canals are repeated many times over in Tongli, Luzhi, Zhujaijiao and other far-too-lovely villages in the area. The train to Shanghai is 25 minutes; head out any time.
Shanghai (2-3 days)
Put the perfect nightcap on your trip with martinis, boardwalks, shopping and enough urban nightlife to make you fashionable for a decade. Pull out the pictures and reminisce on your voyage in Shanghai, just near where the Yangtze fittingly flows out into the deep blue of the Pacific Ocean.
If you’d like to extend the already magnificent Riding the Yangtze tour, there are several linkups with others along the way. You could make the whole trip in reverse and jump on the Ethnic Expedition or Tibetan Kora in Chengdu, or jump into the middle of Beaches & Beer in Shanghai. Nanjing meets up with the Imperial Tour, making for a great diversion if you’ve already seen the east coast.