Cruise Adviser’s Joe Mofrad is currently on a FAM trip with agents on Viking River Cruises’ Imperial Jewels of China cruise. He’ll be sharing his thoughts and experiences over the 13-day trip in this online diary.
It’s the eleventh day of our FAM trip on Viking’s Imperial Jewels of China river cruise. It’s been an epic journey, steeped in history, adventure, relaxation and entertainment. Gentle afternoons on the ship have been complemented by pagoda climbs, Great Wall visits and trips to museums, to name but a few. We’ve seen the sights of Beijing and Xi’an, explored the small river town of Shibaozhai, visited Terra Cotta soldiers in their clay trenches, floated through the gorges on smaller Sampans, and visited a local school in Jingzhou. But after finally docking in the expansive city of Wuhan last night, we said goodbye to our new friends on the Viking Emerald ship and boarded an internal flight for our final slice of adventure: Shanghai.
We arrive in the famous port city in the late afternoon, and after checking into our five star Westin hotel we decide that the best way to acclimatise to Shanghai would be to take a short walk to the water. We arrive at The Bund, a famed waterside walkway that overlooks the Huangpu River and offers mind-blowing views of the Pudong district, where China’s explosive economic future is symbolised by this electric light show of visionary skyscrapers: the Oriental Pearl Tower, the Jin Mao Tower, the Shanghai World Financial Center. We’re told there is a saying among the Chinese city dwellers: “Who would want to come to a dark city?” And when you see The Bund illuminated at night, it’s hard to argue.
The following day we take a trip to Shanghai’s Old City. It’s one of the few areas that managed to retain its traditional Chinese feel following the Opium Wars in the late 19th century, which saw much of the city become divided into concessions for the encroaching foreign nations such as Britain, France, America, Germany and more. It’s for these reasons that you can find areas of Shanghai that contain decidedly European architecture, with Parisian streets and quaint French parks, or buildings that look like they could be town halls lifted straight from Liverpool or Manchester. But this spread was resisted in the Old City, where things could not look more like quintessentially China: the narrow alleyways, winged roofs, deep red wood, and clear decorative windows. All playing host to a bustling little market where you can buy anything from sweets and dumplings to gold and silk.
Our guide leads us through the alleys to the very centre, where we end up at a zig-zag stone bridge, that crosses a fountain pool teeming with lotus flowers. On the other side of this bridge, we find the gate to Yuyuan Garden. This pocket of serenity was built in 1559 and has been preserved as a classical Southern China garden since then. Our Viking guide tells us about the four basic elements of a Chinese garden: rocks, water, life, and structure. And as we pass through this picturesque maze, we see how all four are utilised so that they artistically blend so beautifully, amidst the bansai, the ginkgo and the calming streams.
That afternoon, we grab lunch at an authentic Mongolian BBQ, and then visit the four floors of the Shanghai Museum, where we explore exhibitions that detail the history of porcelain, another about the evolution of currency in China, and one particularly eye-catching display of original Chinese minority clothing. And then that evening is finished at the world famous Shanghai Acrobats Show, where we gasp at everything from vase juggling to triple somersaults. Finished off with a death defying stunt that involved a huge ball shaped cage and 6 motorbikes. We’ll let your imagination do the rest.
It’s an exhilarating way to finish what has been a stunning twelve days on Viking’s Imperial Jewels of China cruise. If we’ve learned anything, it’s that this is a vast country. Shanghai alone boasts a population of 24 million. It’s also an old country, with a history that stretches back through over twenty dynasties. You can’t really dip your toes into a nation like this. To feel like you’ve had any sort of Chinese experience, you need to explore Beijing, but then you also need to sail the Yangtze. You need to see Shanghai’s Bund at night, but equally you must see Xi’an’s mighty city wall in the day. And how is one supposed to decide between the Terra Cotta soldiers and the Great Wall if a decision needs to be made?
That’s why this action packed Viking trip is worth every penny. The only way to see China like this would probably be backpacking, but the logistics and travel time that would go into a trip like that doesn’t bear thinking about. This river cruise, with its book-ended city breaks, and micro-adventures in between, is one of the most all-encompassing package explorations you can find, in one of the most intriguing countries on earth right now. And we couldn’t recommend it more.