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Proposed China itinerary for second trip

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Friends and I are planning to return to China possibly fall 2013. I think the default arrival city is Beijing and we'd stay a day or two there since we arrive too late into the day to travel onward. Previously we traveled Beijing-Xian-Chengdu-Shanghai and other than Chengdu have no desire to repeat that itinerary as nice as it was.

We then plan to spend 4-5 days around Chengdu, but are a bit lost over what next. There seems to be SO much to see in China, but not necessarily convenient to get to from Chengdu (a couple hours direct, non-stop flight, probably). We're interested in a river cruise, but have heard that Three Gorges Dam has rendered that area not as nice as before and also super crowded. Possibly Guilin and a Lijiang cruise?

Personally I'd rather not return to Shanghai again and am interested in returning home from Hong Kong, but that seems like it might be a bit too far from Chengdu, unless we went somewhere mid-way to Hong Kong for our "river" experience.

If anyone has experience with this sort of itinerary or recommendations for a nice river experience that is logistically do-able from Chengdu, I'd appreciate it! Thanks in advance!

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