Three Gorges Dam

I am visiting China in July and was hoping to incorporate a visit to the Three Gorges Dam.  Could anyone advise on the following:

1. The recommended base to book a tour from (Yichang? Wuhan? Mix recommendations on various websites).

2. I understand this area was affected by severe flooding in July 2010. Is it wise to travel to this area, especially in July?

My partner and I will be arriving into Beijing via the Trans-Siberian train route. We are intending to spend 3 weeks travelling by train to Hong Kong. The quickest route is via Shanghai but we wanted to explore China so were thinking a more central route incorporating Xi-an and the Three Gorges. Any thoughts or recommendations for places to visit would be most welcome.

Many thanks,

Georgie

The traditional Three Gorges cruise is on the stretch of the Yangzi (Yangtze) River between Chongqing and Yichang. Mostly people flow down the river from Chongqing to Yichang, although in some cases people move up the river. The reason for starting from Chongqing rather than Yichang is part because of tourists' itinerary in China (they'll go somewhere to other places from Chonaging); it is also due to the fact that the Three Gorges is closer to Yichang and the view immediately out of Chongqing is ordinary; by starting from Chongqing you warm up for the cruise and finish with some great views (and now, the great dam).

A leisurely cruise lasts three 3 nights and 3 or 4 days. Some cruises last 2 nights and 3 days. These tour boats stop at major sights on the way and give tourists time go ashore for sightseeings. There are faster ships traveling up and down the river, such as hydrofoil boats that can cover the stretch from Wanzhou (which is some distance downstream from Chongqing) in one day. But such boats are not so much of sightseers but for people who just want to travel to some place on the river. There are also short and quick excursions into the Three Gorges from Yichang, but they do not make much of a cruise.

Wuhan is farther down the river, and, for most people, a cruise from Chongqing to Wuhan would be too long a way to go as as there is not a whole lot to see on the stretch of the river between Yichang and Wuhan. That used to be an option, but nowadays it seems few people are doing that, probably because means of transport out in and out of Yichang have improved in recent years.  

As for cruise operators, it is probably the best for foreign tourists to go with companies that are experienced in serving foreign tourists. One can find cheaper cruises with smaller or local operators, but the quality may not be up to the same par. Victoria Cruises has been operating on the Yangzi for some years and you can check out their schedules. And here is a Chinese tour company that works with Victoria Cruises. And here is an example of a Chinese comapny based in Yichang (as you can see, their English leaves much to be desired). If you're book your Yangzi cruise as part of a larger packaged China tour, you should ask your agency about the particulars of the cruise. You can book with agencies based in your home country or based in China. CITS (China International Travel Service) is a well-known brand name in China; there are many branch offices of this overarching system in major Chinese cities and they should be in Yichang or Chongqing.

The best time to tour the Three Gorges is said to be August through October. It rains frequently in the region, but during this period it clears up more quickly. Earlier in the summer it may rain more frequently. Flooding shouldn't reach the disaster-level so easily now that the big dam is there. 

As for itinerary in China overall, it really depends on what you want to see and do in China. Nowadays it has become easier to move around China. You can fly, go by train, and take a bus ride for shorter distances. Not sure what you meant by "quickest route is via Shanghai." It is not a much longer trip from Shanghai to Xian or Chongqing than from Hong Kong to the same destinations. You can certainly go the route of Xian - Chongqing (Three Gorges) - Shanghai or Beijing. You need to think whether you want to go on your own or book a packaged tour through an agency. If you want to do the former, you need to given much thought to the way you're going to purchase your your plane, train, and cruise tickets in a timely fashion. 

Many thanks for your quick and extremely useful response.

With regard to travelling independently, how far in advance would you recommend train/tour tickets are booked in advance? Is it more expensive to buy train tickets at short notice?

Brilliant website by the way, I have found it invaluable for planning my itenary around China.

Thanks,

Georgie

Train tickets are generally sold 10 to 14 days in advance, although the length of this advance period varies may vary from city to city. Unlike the case with plane tickets, currently there is no standard ways to buy train tickets in China online, so you may need assistance with this. Suppose you're in Guangzhou and you want to purchase a train ticket for a train that departs from Chongqing to go somewhere else, this may create a situation for you, as tickets for the Chongqing train will not be available in Guangzhou unless it is a ticket for a return train ride back to Guangzhou. You do not pay more for short-notice purchases. The real problem is to get hold of train tickets. Buying train tickets in China can be a sticky affair. Some hotels will buy train tickets for the guests, for a small fee. You can ask them. Some travel services also do this, but there is no guarantee that they'll get them for you. o you need to figure out some kind of arrangement beforehand. Avoiding Chinese holidays helps.

Plane tickets are sold longer in advance, a couple of months or so, and one do not have to be in a particular city to get the tickets for departures there. For long distance buses, it is more likely show-up and go. Some of the coaches running on freeways are pretty good now, but you don't want to go by bus for very long trips, confined in a small space with a lot of local travelers.