BootsnAll Travel Network

Cruising Chinese Style

The first night in Chengdu was an early one, and I fell asleep almost instantly, only to wake up in the middle of the night having to run to the bathroom. Uh oh. Something other than my rash was also going on now, and I went back to bed hot and sweaty, making repeated trips to the bathroom throughout the night. Surprisingly, I felt okay in the morning, and though my rash wasn’t completely gone, it had definately improved. Determined to accomplish something that day, we set out after breakfast to book our Yangzi river cruise and transportation to Hong Kong. But in the heat of Chengdu, I started to feel more ill as the morning progressed, and needed to constantly find a bathroom everywhere we went. My rash was still itching, and I just felt weak and slightly dizzy. After making a few inquiries about cruises and flights, I felt I needed to either go back to the hostel and sleep, or go see a doctor. Since I didn’t want to be stuck on a boat for 4 days feeling ill, Chris and I decided I should see a doctor just in case, and after what seemed like an endless amount of time getting a taxi to take us, we made a stop at the No. 3 Hospital in Chengdu. 

From the outside, the hospital looked perfectly normal, with a walk in clinic and an ambulance bay, and behind that was a modern building probably for inpatient care and things like that. But walking into the clinic, I was not as pleased. The building itself was old, and had that appearance of being dirty just because of its age. There were about 10 people sitting in chairs waiting, for what I don’t know. There was a check in counter when we walked in, and though my guidebook stated this hospital had English speakers, they seemed surprised to see us there, and after some motioning of being ill and showing the remnants of my rash, I was handed a glass thermometer, taken out of a bucket of water. Just as I started to put the thermometer in my mouth, the nurse motioned frantically at me to stop, and pointed to her armpit. Ah, that was close. So we sat in the small chairs, waiting to see if I had a fever. After a few minutes, the nurse came out to check, and motioned that I didn’t have a fever, something I couldn’t figure out myself just then, as it was in Celsius and I couldn’t do the calculations that quickly. We were again motioned, to another small room where a doctor sat waiting, and a patient lay sprawled on a bed with an IV in his arm. The doctor, with some limited English, asked me why I was there, and I explained about the rash, diarrhea and general feeling of being unwell. He looked in my throat, took some notes, and then we were taken to another waiting area, with an open air ceiling, but a digital screen overhead, I think showing the prices of medications. We were told to wait until 2 for a window to open, and after about half an hour, a nice nurse came over who spoke pretty good English, and we were taken upstairs to a little examining room. A female doctor was there, and at first I thought I would get a more thorough exam, but the nurse just spoke to her a bit, and I was given a prescription and shown the door. For the price of about US$12, I was given some medication and instructions and what I think was Calamine lotion. Realizing I still needed some rest, I went home after that to sleep, while Chris went to a recommended travel agent to try and get our river cruise sorted.

After a few hours of sleep, the phone in the room rang, it was Chris, needing my help to book some airline tickets. He was stuck at the travel agent, and they wouldn’t take credit cards, so I needed to go to the airline office and book them there, which was just down the street from our hotel. I dressed quickly, noticing that I felt better after my nap, but not 100%. I hurried to the airline office, and there was a long line of people waiting. Since we had been in the office earlier that day, I knew that there was one girl who spoke English, and she was busy helping a woman who was seemingly buying tickets for half of Chengdu. After about 20 minutes, and the clock neared 5pm, the woman pulled out a plastic bag full of money, and handed over a huge wad of it to the woman at the desk. It slowly dawned on, that this office also didn’t take credit cards. According to my guidebook, only 1.5 million people in China have a credit card, as they don’t like to have any sort of debt, so most businesses don’t take them. Now I needed to find an ATM, and after being sent on wild goose chase for a machine that took all card, I made it back to the office just before their 5:30 closing time. The woman was finally finished, and after a quick discussion, she looked up the tickets I needed to buy and told me the time of the flight and the price. Something was wrong though, it was completely different than what Chris had told me on the phone, so I called him at the travel agent, and we figured out it was a different airline. Since I now had the money out of the ATM, I found a bicycle rickshaw after waiting for a taxi for 20 minutes, and hurried over to the travel agent. We were finally able to book our flights to Hong Kong, and Chris had also bargained hard and gotten us a good deal for our river cruise, which would start the early next day. The day had quickly passed me by, and with the trip to the doctor and trying to organize flights and money and cruises, we were both pooped and hungry. Succumbing to some inner desire, we walked an extra mile to a KFC, something I can’t even remember the last time I ate at home, and while this was our third visit in China, we didn’t feel remotely guilty about it. After our meal, we found an internet cafe, with seemingly hundreds of computers where tons of young Chinese played video games, and spent an enormous time trying to upload some photos for Chris to send home and doing some research on Hong Kong, as this would be the last time we would have internet before we got there. Our bus was picking us up at 6am the next day, so again, we went home early, watched the limited English news program on TV and crashed.

Our bus ride to from Chengdu to Chongqing was uneventful luckily. We arrived about noon, and we were picked up at the bus station as per included in our tour package, and taken to a holding area where we could leave our bags until our cruise departed, which wasn’t until 8pm. Chongqing municipality has a population of 32 million people. And who outside of China has ever heard of it? It is the chief industrial city of southwest China, and evidence of its growing importance was everywhere. A brand new highway being built ran literally on top of an office building, and there was construction going on everywhere. Growing also due to it being the gateway to the Three Gorges and the large dam project, it was a chaotic city with massive traffic everywhere, and cloudy polluted skies. After checking in with our tour company, we had quite a few hours to walk around and try and get some supplies for the 3 days on the boat. Chongqing had steep hills, and it was hot and humid and I was quickly sweating and tired as I still recovered from whatever illness I had. We managed to find a very large grocery store, complete with many Western goodies, and stocked up on treats and Nescafe and alcohol. Rounding the corner of the grocery store, we saw Colonel Sanders and sheepishly entered the cool air conditioned restaurant. Ah well, what’s one more time? We wandered aimlessly around Chongqing and made our way back to the hotel where our transport to the boat would leave, and did some more research on Hong Kong on the hotels internet. Finally, it was time to go and we gathered up our now numerous bags and boarded our small mini bus. We arrived at the dock a short time later, where 5 or 6 big cruise boats stood waiting. We were shown the way to ours, and trudged down the long path towards the boat. I’ve never been on a cruise before, but somehow I don’t think this is what my friends experience when they float around the islands in the Caribbean.

Since we couldn’t afford the Western style cruise ships that also made the trip down the Yangzi, we had booked ourselves on a Chinese tourist boat, and while we didn’t know quite what to expect, I’m not sure if this was it. The lobby was mass chaos, with children running back and forth and music and a loudspeaker in CHinese blaring simultaneously. We were quickly approached by a man who introduced himself as Kevin, and said he was our English tour guide and would be there to answer any questions. We had luckily booked a 1st class cabin for ourselves, which meant that we had the little room to ourselves and our own bathroom, an apparent luxury. We were shown to our room on the 4th floor, surprisingly neat and cute, with tiny twin beds and for some reason, a huge TV and wooden bench taking up half the room. We took stock of the room and started to organize our groceries and find a place to put our bags.We fiddled with the A/C for a while, but only warm air seemed to be blowing out. Concerned, we put it aside to deal with later. After showering and freshening up a bit, we waited for the boat to leave and then went to explore. There wasn’t much to see really. Our floor had about 30 rooms altogether, divided by the small staircase. At one end was a sitting room, and at the other end was what we thought was a bar car. We looked around the other floors, much the same as ours except they had a restaurant on one end, and the 2nd floor had a small grocery store. There was a viewing deck on the front of the second floor, and that was it. 3rd and 4th class cabins were on the bottom floor and as we passed them, we we very glad we didn’t try to save even more money. There were 4 bunk beds in each cabin, and the shared bathrooms were some of the worst I’d seen in Asia. Drying clothing already hung from the outside rungs, and I wondered how people had managed to do laundry already. We made our way back up to the bar, and were told we had to pay another 50Yuan to enter this magical kingdom. We glanced around at the bare floor, a scattering of folding chairs, and thought, pay for what? So we went to the restaurant, which was closing, but ordered some beer and got the staff to sell us some of the staff dinner. It had been a tiring day, and as there wasn’t much to do on the boat anyway, we went back to our room to relax. It was sweltering inside, and we could not figure out why the A/C wasn’t working. All the knobs were in Chinese, and each way we turned seemed to have no effect. Unable to find Keven anywhere, we lay sweating in bed until sleep finally won over.

There were numerous stops along the way, and we opted out of viewing the first temple we came to, which would have meant we needed to be up at 5:30am. We had both seen enough temples to last us a while, and decided to try and sleep in. A loudspeaker announcing the docking came on, and after accomplishing its goal of waking me, Chinese folk music played for at least an hour afterwards. The boat stayed docked for a few hours, and then left again down the Yangtzi, and we decided we needed to try and find out some sort of schedule for the docking, and also if we could do something about our A/C. We went out on the viewing deck to find Kevin, but ran into an older American couple and began chatting with them. The woman had a schedule of the stops, so we looked through those so we knew sort of what was going on, and also asked them about their A/C. She told us what to turn our knobs to, and we hurried back to the room to fiddle around with it again. Finally, cold air was blasting out of the small window unit. We headed back out onto the viewing deck and while it was hot out, it was a nice wind blowing through and we sat and enjoyed the views of the small villages lining the river. We continued on like that for most of the day, and treated ourselves to a nap in our newly freezing room. Chris managed to stock beer, milk for cereal and some other drinks in front of the A/C unit and we now had cold drinks as well. As the sun set, Kevin found us and said we would be docking at another temple, whose entrance fee was included in our ticket and he would find us on shore and show us the way. After docking, the 500 people on board all tried to get off the boat at once, and we waited until almost everyone was off and made our way up to the temple. We took a polite look around, but we both had other things on our mind; namely the food stalls frying up small potatoes and noodles that we had passed on the way. We made our way back to the boat, and bought some made-to-order noodles and fried potatoes, along with some popcicles for dessert. It was a completely relaxing day and the evening was cool and breezy surprisingly. We enjoyed our simple dinner on the steps leading down to the dock and watched numerous people go by.

After a cool, almost freezing evening in our room, the next morning and the whole day was a busy one. We had entered the first of the Three Gorges, and the viewing deck out in front of the boat contained almost every single passenger, and we elbowed for our own space on deck to try and get some photos. After passing through the first Gorge, the boat docked for our LIttle Three Gorges tour. Kevin had told us that we needed to now buy an extra ticket for the Little LIttle Three Gorges boat. We argued with him that this was included in our ticket, but he said no, only the first boat, as there are two. We finally gave in and paid the extra 50Yuan unhappily. We boarded smaller tourist boats and enjoyed a beautiful day out in the Little Three Gorges, which had some beautiful scenery. There was a Chinese loudspeaker describing the things we were seeing, and Chris managed to talk to some young Chinese girls who spoke English and had them try to explain what we were seeing. The boat continued on until we reached the Little Little Three Gorges, where everyone got off the boat and onto smaller ones. Surprisingly, no one checked tickets and we were simply herded onto the small boats. For some reason, they put roofs on these boats, and we couldn’t see the tops of the gorges very well, which was disappointing. That little cruise last about 1/2 hour, and we were then taken back to the other boats and headed back to our cruise ship. Along the way, we passed by some coffins that were left high in the rocks of one of the gorges, which are believed to go back to the Warring States period, or 565-415 BC. The gorges were really spectacular, and it was a shame to me that they would soon be partially underwater due to the completion of the Three Gorges Dam in 2009. It just didn’t seem right somehow, but I’m glad I got to see them as nature intended.
After the Little Three Gorges tour ended, we were docked at a town called Badong, where we sort of invited ourselves to dinner with the two Chinese girls and their families. The two girls were cousins as it turns out, though they referred to each other as sister, as their fathers were brothers. The fathers ordered an insane amount of food, about 12 dishes on a big lazy susan, and they made sure that we ate enough until we were literally stuffed. The food was very good but very spicy also, and they just kept putting more and more food into our bowls, insisting we take the last dumplings and so forth. They were gracious hosts, and as Chinese custom dictates, refused to let us pay for our share, or the taxi ride back to the boat. We tried to walk around town a bit and then around the boat, as we were both feeling quite full, but it was pretty late so we went back to our room to read and relax a bit. The food talked to us all night, as if I had just eaten Thanksgiving dinner, but covered in chili peppers, and sleep for both of us was restless. The next morning, unable to even think of eating breakfast, we made some instant coffee and then headed out on deck. There was laundry now hanging from every possible railing and rafter, and the garbage cans were overflowing with who knows what. Passing the lower class cabins, people were sleeping or playing cards. WHile their bunks looked uncomfortable and cramped to us, the Chinese seemed to take it all in stride and dealt with the closeness of each other. We reached the deck and found some chairs free somehow. After talking to a young German couple on board, we realized that we had missed the last gorge in the morning, which was disappointing. We chatted with them and the other American couple, and all determined that we had paid extra for the Little LIttle Three Gorges, though none of us were given a receipt or ticket, and they certainly didnt seem to differentiate at the small boats if anyone paid or not. Feeling ripped off, we were determined to get our 50 Yuan back and set off to find Kevin. We found him and argued patiently that no one had collected tickets, which we had known anyway, and where was our receipt. He said he would give us one, and left us thinking we weren’t getting any money back. The boat cruised most of the day, stopped at a small temple that we weren’t interested in so we stayed on board and got good seats on deck, good seats meaning they had backs on them, not little plastic stools. We arrived at the Three Gorges Dam about 3pm, and since we had opted to take a tour instead of going through the boat lock, we boarded a bus and were driven to various sights involved with the dam.
One curiousity was a small aquarium that housed, from what we gathered, fish of the Yangzi river. The swam forlornly in glass cases lined with bathroom tiles, devoid of any rocks or plants that would even remotely try to hide their captivity. We were then taken to a viewing area of the dam itself, and given an opportunity to walk along the top of it, which was a sight. The dam is huge, and it is truly amazing the work that is going on there. It was much bigger than I thought it would be, though I don’t have much to compare it to, and the boat lock also was really interesting to see cruise ships and freighters passing through. The tour lasted about 2 hours, and we were dropped off at a small touristy area where more noodle and potato stands were lined, along with souvenir shops and fruit stands. We watched the sun setting over the river, a glowing red ball created by the smog, and ate our first meal all day, which neither of us could finish. Our dinner the night before was still with us. After dinner, we got back on board and enjoyed a few beers that we had with us. We saw the American couple and chatted with them. They told us that Kevin had finally given them their money back for the Little Little Three Gorges tour, after the husband had turned on his camcorder to record their conversation about why we weren’t given tickets or a receipt for the extra part of the tour. Kevin said he had checked with his office and there was a “mistake” with our tickets, and it actually was included. So Chris set off to find him and get our money back as well, which he reluctantly did. Obviously this was a nice little tip Kevin made for himself off the foreign tourists on board, since it was obvious the Little Three Gorges and Little Little Three Gorges was all one big tour. Our boat left the dock around 9pm, and we knew we had a long day ahead of us the next day, as we had to get all the way from our last dock, Yichang, to Hong Kong in one day. There was nothing on the boat to keep us awake, so we gladly went to bed early to the movement of the ship.

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