Our last port stop on our river cruise was at the small village of Shibaozhai. The main (and only) attraction here is the pagoda and temple built on a small island. It is the tallest pagoda in the world at 12 stories tall and took 300 years to build. Theoretically it is 357 years old, but like most of the cultural attractions in China, was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution and rebuilt.
To reach the pagoda we walked through the small town. The streets were lined with vendors selling trinkets. Oba Mao t-shirts seemed to be a popular item, though I didn’t see anyone buying one! The villagers used to be farmers but can make a better living selling junk to tourists so that is what they do here. Beware of buying any item advertised as an antique – several guides have warned us that they are all fake (shocking, no?), probably made the day before and scuffed up to look old.
Since the pagoda was on an island we had to cross a bridge to reach it. The bridge was a suspension bridge and so there was quite a bit of sway and bouncing as we crossed. It was in the upper 80’s so a warm day for us, but nothing like summer temperatures here. During June – August the temperatures can reach 44 Celsius – over 110 Fahrenheit!
To reach the temple we had to climb up through the pagoda – all 12 levels. The “stairs” were actually more like ladders because the pagoda was fairly narrow, so to get from level to level, there might be 3 sets of ladders. It is a one way climb, so you either start and complete it or don’t go at all. It was definitely a strenuous climb! The temple at the top wasn’t that spectacular, but the views were nice. It is always foggy here so you can’t get a clear view of the area.
We took the shortcut back to the ship which took us through the town square (every city in China has one). It was very noticeable that the only people in the village were very old or very young. In China, young adults have moved from the villages into the cities. They do not like the lifestyle in the country any longer. Grandparents take care of the children for them. We saw groups of kindergarten children doing their morning exercise in the village square. They were simply adorable! One little guy wouldn’t cooperate to get with the program so had a special helper that kept track of him. He was wearing a pair of pants with the front cut out which I assume must be for toilet training purposes. He seemed younger than the rest of the children; kindergarten here is from ages 3 to 6.
This stop was a little more interesting than the other two; this was a bit more what we were expecting when we came to China.