Chongqing is situated in South-West China approximately 1hr 25min by plane from Kunming. It was once the provisional capital of China during 1937-1945 and it is nowadays home to almost 30 million people. Chongqing has been classed as one of the most polluted cities in the world by the World Bank and is the starting point for many scenic Yangtze river boat tours. We decided to visit Chongqing during the Chinese New Year as it was nearby and not only would it give us the chance to see the Yangtze, but also giant pandas at the zoo and the experience of being in one of the largest cities in China and the world.
The Yangtze river is one of the main reasons we wanted to visit Chongqing. It is one of the main places where one can take a cruise along the river through China, but we didn’t have quite enough time for that so we settled for visiting the spit of land where the Yangtze converges with the Jialing river, this area is called Chaotianmen.
Chongqing has some interesting bridges and, despite the smog, an impressive skyline of tower blocks on both sides of the river.
We visited the Arhat Temple whilst in Chongqing, it’s 1000 years old and still has the original stone carvings along the approach. What was interesting about this temple for us is that it had a large room with life-sized painted models of all the previous monks who had lived at the temple but had since died. Each one had something personal that resembled the man such as an animal or interesting clothing and/or expression on his face.
The temple was full of Chinese people lighting incense and praying to various deities due to the New Year. I liked the colourful cloth that was hanging inside and looking at all the melted wax outside on the altars.
There is an ancient town within the boundaries of Chongqing, nestled down by the river in ShaPingBa district, a place called Ciqikou (磁器口) which is supposedly over 1000 years old and (despite the tourism) relatively untouched in terms of architecture. We wandered the heavily crowded streets for a while, taking in the sights and I brought a few miniature Chinese paintings as souvenirs. We happened across two Indian men selling Indian Roti (where they flip the light pastry in the air and spin it) which were delicious and then Jack found a coffee shop up on a terrace looking down at the street where we just people-watched for a bit. Although the area was very busy (no doubt because it was a national holiday) it was really nice just taking in the scenery, having a look at the interesting foods and buying a few souvenirs.
Within the ancient town was a small courtyard which you could pay 10RMB to enter and have a look at the various old photographs from the era and the family that used to live there. We were looking at some interesting pictures about foot-binding when a Chinese family asked to have their photo with us. This had happened before as well whilst we were visiting the pandas and I realised that instead of filming the pandas, I was being filmed with a camera two inches from the side of my face. We don’t mind, it’s actually quite funny, but I’ll never get over how people can be more interested in taking photos of us rather than the interesting thing that they’ve paid money to come and see.
On the night of New Year’s Eve we found ourselves lost in one of the biggest cities on the planet. We had been told the day before that there was a western food place that was within a mall and this mall was one of the only places that would be open due to the celebrations taking place. So, at around 7pm we got in a taxi and showed him the business card we had been handed and off we went… about 30 minutes later we’re dropped off but we have no idea where we are in relation to our hotel (we crossed multiple bridges) and worst of all the mall is closed and there’s nothing open or anywhere to eat. The stretch of road where we’ve been dumped is deserted and the taxi is long gone. So we make our way to the nearest bus stop and then hopped on the first bus heading in the direction we just came from. We had no idea where the bus was headed but I hoped we’d be taken to a place where there were more people around. Eventually we got off near an open KTV and it wasn’t long before a taxi approached. After pleading with the guy to take us because he refused at first he finally relented and after another 10 minutes we get back to the hotel.
Lesson learnt – don’t go out during Chinese New Year unless you’re with Chinese friends. Basically, it’s like Christmas day – everyone is at home with their families and everything is shut.
Overall, we enjoyed our trip to Chongqing as we had two main things that we wanted to see/do whilst we were there (see pandas and the Yangtze river) and we managed to achieve them both easily and still have plenty to see and do the rest of the time. If we were to go again we wouldn’t visit during a Chinese holiday due to the amount of places that were closed and the confusion of where to eat on New Year’s Eve. We went for five nights but we could have done everything in five days and four nights. We were quite put off by the amount of smog and pollution and we should have worn face masks really, but we were impressed by the transport options (especially compared to Kunming) such as the metro and it was interesting being in one of the biggest cities on the planet.
Chongqing is definitely worth a visit but pack a face mask and you only need about five days maximum within the city, a few more days if you venture out to Dazu or Fengdu or take a trip down the Yangtze.