We had previously travelled on Viking River Cruises (Grand European Tour) so knew that, although not cheap, Viking include absolutely everything other than tips and laundry. The only extras to pay for are souvenirs (if you wanted any). On trips before and after the boat voyage we found commercial restaurants don’t normally sell wine as Chinese are not really wine drinkers.
Visas are not cheap but only take about four days if you use Viking’s recommended agency. Mosquitoes can be a problem in certain months, but we had no problems in September. If you go to the very south of China there is a problem with mosquitoes carrying the zika or dengue disease but the Viking tour goes nowhere near that area. Short sleeves in September are fine as are sandals!
If you count the cost of Chinese visas and laundry bills (we prefer to travel light) you won’t get much change from five grand sterling (each) for a good class of cabin which has its own balcony. You can pay less and, if you go for a suite on the boat, a lot more.
Our journey began in Terminal 5, Heathrow at 11:15am, arriving in Shanghai (Pu Dong) at 7:55am the next morning.
Shanghai. Although our holiday officially started the following day, Viking took care of us by taking us to the Ritz Carlton 5-star hotel. In fact all our hotels were 5-star. And our journey on the Viking Riverboat certainly was.
We unpacked, went to bed and slept until 4pm; we then went for a walk in the city (population 24.18 million). Shanghai is a very modern and vibrant city with a lot of young people. Vuton, Gucci and other top class brands were all represented.
Chinese people are very friendly towards British and Americans. However, walking on the pavements can be extremely hazardous as their scooters are mostly electric and silent and the riders prefer riding on the pavement which is a little hairy! Especially as they expect pedestrians to get out of their way!
“Shanghai Area. The city covers an area of 6,340.5 square kilometres, which extends about 120 kilometres in north and south and nearly 100 kilometers in east and west. Shanghai has an urban area of 2,643 square kilometres, land area of 6,219 square kilometres and water area of 122 square kilometres.”A little larger than London UK!
The next day saw our Viking holiday clicking in…
After breakfast we travelled by coach to visit a part of ancient China in Shanghai with a visit to the famous Bund,
this is the city's promenade along the Huangpu River. This was a wide and long promenade and some of us went a little mad taking photographs of the river, boats and tall buildings. The magnificent colonial architecture towered above the Bund. We then walked down narrow lanes to the splendid Ming Dynasty Yuyuan Garden.
After free time our coach took us to a small shopping mall where we had a delicious dim sum lunch; there we visited a silk carpet and embroidery workshop and watched a young woman actually making up a picture using fine silk threads.
The time she took painstakingly doing this indicated that it would take months to finish such an undertaking. The pictures were on sale but alas nothing of the subject/size I needed.
Then we visited the spectacular Shanghai Museum, featuring four floors of magnificent displays of art and antiquities from 5,000 years of China's history and our coach then returned us to our hotel.
After cleaning up, and a rest, the group were taken to dinner and a breathtaking show by the city’s renowned acrobat troupe. There we got the best seats in the house and marvelled at the acrobatic prowess. The troupe was founded in 1951, and is one of the oldest ensembles in China.
We were told to leave our luggage outside the door of our hotel room, Viking had a great system as they took the luggage to the airport and sent it on its way. We only saw it briefly at the arrivals carousel where all we had to do was to identify ours (they even took the luggage off the carousel). Then the next time we saw it was in our room when we arrived at our hotel. This happened during all internal flights.
A coach took us to the airport where we caught a flight to:
We drove into the city and visited a restaurant for lunch before visiting the Hubei Museum and bells performance.
The museum had an incredible repository of artifacts predating Christ. After free time to wander around the museum we attended a performance of its sixty-five treasured ancient bells – each bell was capable of producing two separate clear tones.
After a short coach ride we boarded our riverboat called the “Viking Emerald”.
They were very apologetic about the boat saying it was the oldest in their fleet. Nine years is not old for a huge riverboat! And, it was spotless throughout. I am still unsure whether you call a huge river craft a boat or a ship!
Rather than mention static daily items aboard the boat, I thought I’d mention them here, just once. Breakfast was a buffet, the normal ones you get in a top hotel, with a Chinese flavour.
Lunch was a mixture of buffet and waiter service with a choice of soft drinks, beer or wine, and throughout the boat journey, the waiters were most generous with the drink.
Afternoon tea was served at 4pm and at 6pm we met for cocktails, but both had to be purchased on most evenings.
Dinner, like lunch, was a mixture of buffet and waiter service. Some nights they provided a Western menu whilst on others a Chinese menu. Like the hotels we stayed at, the Chinese food was of the type more acceptable with Westerners. In other words, no slugs, scorpions or locusts! As with lunch the staff were very free with the drinks.
Later in the evening there was live music with a singing duo each night.
Every evening when we were going ashore the next day we had a “Port Talk” session where we were told all about it.
Now for the boat.
At 9:15pm we were given a welcome briefing on the boat, where everything was located and what was going to happen during the next seven days and, at 10pm, we cast off and many were on deck to witness it.
At 10:30am the ship’s doctor gave a talk on Chinese medicine. Then at 2:15pm we had a presentation on the Yangtze River.
The Yangtze River stretches from a glacier on the border of Tibet to Shanghai. It's China's biggest river and the world's third longest river. China has harnessed the Yangtze for power and navigation with the world's biggest dam. The River is central to China and its history, and has a huge variety of tourist attractions, breathtaking scenery, and diverse culture along its length. If the Yangtze River was stretched straight, it would stretch across the whole of China, from China to the UK, or from China to Alaska! No wonder the Chinese name for it is Chang Jiang, literally 'Long River'.
At 3:15pm We were treated to a Chinese language lesson but, alas, all we remember is “Nihao” (pronounced Neehow) which means Hello.
In the bar at 6:15pm there was a toast to the passengers and later, at 9:15pm we were given a Chinese painting demonstration.
7am Welcome to Jingzhou
At 9:00am there was a shore excursion to an infants school; after the usual coach ride we met some winsome Chinese children during a fun and fascinating visit to a local school. The school is supported in a major way by Viking River Cruises.
The staff and children were so open with us and the children put on a series of song and dance routines. Not sure how young some of them were, but I am sure I could have put a couple of them in my coat pockets. But, I didn’t as we are both too old to raise a family.
At 2:30pm there was another shore excursion to Jingzhou’s ancient city wall but there was a much bigger one to come after we reached Beijing.
At 9:15pm we were treated to a music and dance show, with traditional costumes by various members of the ship’s staff. They were most professional.
At 9am there was a presentation of the famous Three Gorges Dam and at 9:50am we sailed along a most scenic part of the Yangzte River.
A 10:45am there was a tea ceremony, where we tasted various Chinese teas and learned that
• Green tea is good for diabetes, relieves fatigue, diminishes inflammation and enhances immunity.
• Snow Chrysanthemum tea is caffeine free, lowers blood sugar, good for eyesight and enabling sleeping, prevents colds, and maintains beauty/keeps you young.
• White tea is good for your liver, cures hives, and also good for eyesight.
• Dark tea is also caffeine free, anti-aging, helps weight loss, cures sore throats, anti-cancer, takes away toxins and lowers blood pressure.
• Black tea cures headaches, is anti-aging, anti-oxidation, regulates stomach to relieve pain and takes away toxins.
• Oolong tea prevents heart disease, reduces weight, helps digestion and lowers cholesterol.
Remember, before you disregard this information – Chinese civilisation is over 6,000 years old.
We arrived at the Three Gorges Dam around 12:45pm. This is the world’s largest hydroelectric dam and was decades in the making. The dam helps control flooding along the Yangtze River which once regularly destroyed entire villages up and down the river shores. This project opened in 2011. Apart from flood control, the dam produces about a ninth of China’s electricity.
Between 2pm and 5pm there was a shore excursion to see the dam a little closer, but nobody is permitted inside the dam for the sake of security.
At 6:00pm there was a ‘VES’ cocktail party just for those passengers who had sailed with Viking River Cruises before. We attended as we had travelled on their “Grand European Tour” as mentioned earlier.
Later there was a narration on the Sun Deck about sailing through the five locks, all big enough to accommodate our huge vessel.
At 9:30am there was a shore excursion to the Goddess Stream. We embarked onto small sampans for a trip along a small tributary, as some of the more stunning scenery lies along these smaller tributaries. Our guide was a young woman whose voice was very clear, as was her commentary.
At 3:15pm we were treated to a fascinating presentation on pearls and, at 4:15pm, there was a further presentation on Modern Day China.
Then at 9:15pm We were treated to an excellent cabaret by members of the ship’s crew.
At 8:30am there was a walking tour of the Shibaozhai Temple. One could climb a spectacular twelve storey Qing dynasty pavilion (we didn’t) and its adjacent hilltop temple. The tower and red pavilion were constructed in 1819. After reaching the top of the sheer cliff at the uppermost buddhist temple you can gaze upon breathtaking views of the river.
At 2pm at 20 minute intervals, small parties were treated to a wheelhouse tour, then at 4:15pm there was a presentation on Chinese culture.
At 6:15pm the Captain’s cocktail party was held with a raffle with some nice prizes. It must have been fixed because I didn’t win anything. Mind you – it would have been fixed if I had, as I forgot to buy a ticket!
At 8:30pm there was a dumpling making demonstration which I didn’t atten; I prefer the Jack Daniels method of putting on weight!
Finally, at 9pm, there was a film called the Last Emperor. We declined this as we had seen the film some time previously.
4:30am – 8:30am Breakfast was early today as we had come to the end of our voyage.
We had docked at Chongqing.
5.00am was “accounts settling time.” This was when I learned that laundry on the boat was much more costly than our local dry cleaners. But no worries as we were perfectly happy travelling light.
Afterwards, we disembarked and made our way to the Chongqing Zoo where, as we were short of time, the zoo opened a little earlier and Richard, our guide, managed to persuade the keepers to feed the many giant pandas early. The pandas seemed happy with this!
The giant panda is native to South Central China and the zoo sported many other animals including the African elephants and South China tigers.
After the zoo we were taken to a local restaurant for lunch before a coach ride to the airport where we flew to Xian or Xi’an – both seem permissable.
After landing we were driven to the magnificent Wyndham Hotel.
“Xi'an currently holds sub-provincial status, administering 9 districts and 4 counties. As at 2018 Xi'an has a population of 12,005,600, and the Xi'an-Xianyang metropolitan area, a population of 12.9 million. It is the most populous city in Northwest China, as well as one of the three most populous cities in Western China. In 2012, it was named as one of the 13 emerging megacities, or megalopolises, in China.Not saying our room was large, but I could have parked my old Ford Scorpio there and it wouldn’t have really been in the way! The rest of the afternoon was free to check out the City. Later, we joined our group for a buffet dinner in a restaurant in the hotel complex. Like Shanghai, the streets were lined with trees and flowers. The Chinese certainly mean to clean up their city air and we didn’t notice any dust in the air, and as in all the cities there was no litter anywhere.
After an early breakfast we were taken to see the terracotta Army. We were totally unprepared for the size of this ancient emperor’s army. This was during the Tang Dynasty 618ad to 917ad. There were more than 8,000 full size pieces, all looking totally different. We later learned that each one was modelled on a different peasant and afterwards they were all put to death so they couldn’t talk about it. Included were archers, infantrymen, horses and chariots. I believe the horses were spared!
Emperor Qin Shihuang was one of the most powerful men in China at the time. The warriors were to protect him from his foes in the afterlife. This is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Our coach then took us for lunch. After a long walk through gardens we returned to the hotel to clean up and prepare for a sumptuous dinner at the Tang Dynasty Palace Restaurant, where we watched the celebratory music and dance of dynasties past, where more than 100 performers recreate the dances and music of the Tang dynasty. We were, after an exhausting day, ready for bed!
After breakfast we were given a huge lunchbox and taken to the airport for our flight to Beijing.
Beijing is the capital of the People's Republic of China, the most populous country in the world. With a population of 21,710,000 people, it is the nation's second-largest city after Shanghai. It was also the seat of the Ming and Qing dynasty emperors until the establishment of the Republic of China in 1911. Beijing is the political, educational and cultural centre of the country and as such it is rich in historical sites and important government and cultural institutions.
We landed after lunch and glimpsed old China as we rode in a traditional rickshaw into the city’s ancient back lanes of the hutong neighbourhood.
We paused during our tour to visit a local family and witness daily life in this tight-knit community. During this time we also visited an old Chinese tea room where we tasted various teas and were given the chance to buy some to take home.
We then headed to our new hotel, the Regent, Beijing - another five-star hotel.
We preferred the Wyndham though.
After another early breakfast we departed by coach to visit the “Great Wall of China”. We visited one of the best preserved sections of the Great Wall. After an hour by coach we arrived and were told of the fascinating history and legend of this engineering marvel. After climbing up 80% of the height which was easy as there were escalators and a funicular railway, Pam decided not to climb any further, and I was content to keep her company. At least, at first! However, one of our group was an old boy on two crutches who was determined to get to the top. What could I do but follow him! After all, I was a young man of 79!
The coach then took us to yet another Chinese restaurant called the Jade Carving Factory restaurant. Hooray, this one had red wine! It was a good meal if you didn’t go for their miserable chicken burgers! Downstairs they had lots of expensive jade for sale but we had to get quite rude with some of their sales staff as they stuck to us like limpets. But it didn’t ruin our visit as I quite enjoy being rude if the other person has earned it!
In the evening we were taken for an authentic Peking Duck dinner. The recipe originated in the Yuan Dynasty, where, in those times, the recipe for the roast duck was protected by the Imperial Kitchen. Although we enjoyed it, some found the sauce exceedingly hot; the Chinese restaurants in Britain have wisely toned the heat down. I was one of those who actually enjoyed the hot sauce, but then I was brought up in Africa. And talking about sauce, they had wine here as well, and it flowed as if there was no tomorrow! I think our guide, Richard, quite enjoyed filling our glasses.
A tour of China’s most imposing testament to its might. We drove to Tiananmen Square ,which is the world’s largest public square at a 100 acres.
This can accommodate a million people and was originally considered the front door to the Forbidden City. This is another UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is also the world’s largest palace complex, home to 980 buildings with 9,999 rooms, all of it protected by a 20-foot moat and a 32-foot wall. It served as the Imperial Palace during Ming and Qing Dynasties. This was our last day in China and it was here a nasty bug I had caught reared its ugly head. Let’s just say I had to rush to the toilet but didn’t make it by about five yards and leave it at that, shall we?
In the evening we went to see the legend of Kung Fu at the Red Theatre. It really was magnificent and I bought a DVD of the show to bring back to England. We witnessed an astonishing performance of acrobatics and dance – known as one of Beijing’s most renowned stage shows, which has travelled around the world. The most ancient of martial arts, Kung Fu dates back as far as 4,000 years. Its precise movements were perfected over generations as armies fought for their dynastic emperors. Today, the skill is associated with peaceful self-defence and fitness regimes. It is also a performance art, as you will see if you watch the video. This is a lavish production of ballet, gravity-defying acrobatics, fifty costumed players and a sweeping orchestral score. It follows a young monk as he confronts a series of physical and mental changes on the road to becoming a warrior (Shaolin) monk.
Beijing Airport (PEK) for flight take off at 11:15am, arriving at Heathrow Terminal 5 on the same day at 3:30pm. Pam had also caught the same nasty bug, but she was OK as, on an aircraft, you are never too far from a toilet. The guy on the third outer seat was a young computer manager and was quite accomodating!
Apart from the bug we caught we have no regrets. The bug lasted over 20 days and was worse than flu). We both ended up in hospital and were left with nasty coughs and night sweats – we had to use a hair dryer to dry the mattress out, but again, we had absolutely no regrets.
We had a thrilling time in China, if not exhausting. As previously mentioned, Viking include everything – other than laundry -- including free drinks at lunchtime and evening. However, restaurants, on the whole, don’t normally serve wine as the Chinese don’t seem to drink it – but they do when they come to England! Beer, on average, is around 3% by volume, a lot lower than in the UK.
We are both fully aware that the Chinese are watched throughout their lives. However, nothing of this was apparent and, on the flight home, I realised that this is also secretly happening in the EU, the UK and the USA. The Chinese have a curse which covers this: “May you live in interesting times”.
Our tour guide, Richard, was magnificent. The tour was split into about six teams of 30 and we were lucky to have got the best guide. His knowledge of everything Chinese, including their 6,000 years of history was simply awesome!