In Chongqing the first day we intended to just go to the Yangtze River and try and take a boat around there and then visit an older part of town called the 18 Steps (Shíbā Tī; 十八梯). We ended up having extra time so we also visited Ciqikou (Cíqìkǒu; 磁器口) Old Town that day. Figuring this all out was really just the beginning of our crazy adventure. We had assumed that our hotel spoke English. Please, as if. NOBODY in Chongqing seemed to speak any English! We ran into maybe 2 other waiguoren (外国人; aka foreigners) our entire time there and they were completely confused because they didn’t speak any Chinese. Luckily all the people not speaking English really gave me a chance to use my Chinese in a practical sense and get a LOT of practice out of it!
Boats at the Yangtze River dock!
At the Yangtze we took a cable car above the river and then walked around part of the older more abandoned area before heading to the main dock where boats for Yangtze River cruises depart. We decided a boat ride wasn’t worth it since they didn’t go very far down the river. The dock itself though was completely worth it. There were tons of people milling around and the entire vibe was completely different from in Beijing. Of course there were still people trying to sell us things but there were also strange activities like shoot a balloon… with an actual rifle. Or eat noodles out of a sketchy tin can. Seriously so used to eating food on the side of the street now, it’s going to be weird to go to a restaurant! As it turns out I really enjoyed the dock and we ended up going back the next night to see the dock at night!
Cable car across Yangtze River
Man shooting balloons
After the docks we headed to 18 steps and Ciqikou old village. 18 steps was an old area used during tunnel warfare in China but has since been converted into a little shopping area with tons of strange foods. Seriously I saw pig snouts, frogs, chicken feet (of course), among many other things. Ciqikou was much more touristy since the village had been converted into a big tourist attraction. Honestly it was just a bunch of shops and food being sold on the side of streets packed with tourists (mostly Chinese I might add). Despite the tourism highlights of the places include: eating the best yuebing (mooncake) I’ve had in China yet, perfectly warm and fresh; saw the most gambling I’ve seen in China in Ciqikou where they legitimately dash away when they hear the police are coming; and made some very strange but friendly friends.
Road sign of 18 Steps
The famous steps
Ciqikou Ancient Town
Yangtze River at night!
I think of all the cool things we saw in Chongqing that was the coolest part–how friendly the Chongqing people were. As we say in Chinese, 真热情啊！Every time we were lost and asked someone for directions they would often literally escort us there. A young girl actually took an entire subway and bus ride with us to Ciqikou because she said that sounded like a fun thing to do! I was really amazed at how friendly and open the people were because it is certainly not like that in Beijing.
When in Chongqing we actually took a side trip to a small city called Dazu (大竹). There are some really incredible rock carvings in Dazu that have been there almost since 600 AD. It was actually quite the adventure to figure out how to get there, we ended up getting our hotel to understand that we wanted to head to Dazu so they booked us on… a Chinese tour group. Honestly that in itself was an experience. They didn’t seem to realize for quite some time that yes I could speak Chinese. As a result we were referred to as their 外国朋友 aka foreign friends.
Some marvelous rock carvings!
It was actually kind of cool to go on a Chinese tour group and I’m kind of glad we did since it was a fun perspective. While at Dazu (and a monastery included in the tour) everything was in Chinese. Given my vocabulary doesn’t really include rock carvings the tour was a bit hard to understand but I’m pretty proud of myself for being able to understand most of the tour. On the way back on the tour for some reason we stopped at a knife factory. I don’t know if this is normal for Chinese tour groups but it was WEIRD. This guy did this weird demonstration with kitchen knives (think an infomercial but in real life) and proceeded to try and sell all the Chinese tourists knives. We of course found this hilarious and strange – and we did not buy any knives ourselves – but we did get a free small pocket knife out of the deal. Score!
We had another day but because we had covered so much on the first day we had most of the day free. We had intended to go to hot springs mountain but it turned out to be too far away so we caught an earlier train and headed to Chengdu a bit early.
Overall our time in Chongqing was really interesting. It was really an incredibly different city from Beijing. Parts of it were well developed and modern but other parts were dilapidated and falling apart. They clearly were not at all accustomed to having foreigners around because we could not walk five feet without being stared out. The best part about that is that their English knowledge was minimal so they would yell “HELLO” at us… after we walked buy. I built up quite the fan club at the docks actually with a couple clambering to take pictures with me and a guy insisting on taking us out to dinner. I have to say I took it as extreme friendlyness though. Although Chongqing was maybe not the most glamorous or beautiful of cities its character was incredibly interesting… and hey practicing my Chinese? I’ll take it.