Soaring inflation coupled with a strengthening currency indicate that China’s days as an economical tourist destination are over. Besides, in stopover cities like Chongqing, transit visitors often prefer to save their cash for a cruise down the Yangtze. While a tourist dollar may not go as far as before, there is still plenty to see and do in Chongqing after those dollars run out. Moreover, most of the attractions have dedicated bus services, so just look out for their (Chinese) names on the destinations printed beside the bus numbers. Here’s the cash-strapped’s guide to sightseeing in Chongqing.
1) Chaotianmen Square 朝天门广场 View In Map
Literally “Gate Facing Heaven”, Chaotianmen was one of Chongqing’s ancient gates. Positioned upstream of the Yangtze, Chongqing is famed as a harbour and as the point where the swirling, sediment-rich Yangtze meets the clearer Jialing river.
Today, Chaotianmen harbour is the boarding point for cruises to the Three Gorges Dam. For those with time to spare, a visit to the confluence of the two rivers during the daytime or at night is worthwhile. On a fine day at Chaotianmen Square, kite sellers fly long rows of tiny kites and you can enjoy the breeze while having a drink on one of the large boats converted into teahouses. The only less-than-pleasant encounter could be the persistent touts marketing everything from river cruises to tourist maps.
Paid attractions include cruises along the two rivers and a Chongqing Urban Planning Exhibition Hall located under the Chaotianmen square. Bargain hunters should note that the Chaotianmen Wholesale Market is a stone’s throw away (in the direction away from Chaotianmen Square).
Add: Binjiang Road, Yuzhong District, Chongqing
2) Ciqikou Ancient Town 磁器口古镇 View In Map
It seems as though every Chinese city features a rebuilt old town. What sets Ciqikou apart is the original ancient paving stones that line the narrow streets. The name literally meaning “porcelain harbour”, is reminiscent of the days when the local community flourished from porcelain trade in the Qing and Ming Dynasties.
Most of this small town lies along two main streets of two storied terraced houses with the lower floors converted to shops. Venture beyond, where the rows of shops have ended, quiet ancient courtyards wait to be discovered. Certain paths also lead to the banks of the Yangtze and various points of interest from the time when Chongqing was the wartime capital of China during the Japanese invasion.
Ciqikou offers a good selection of souvenirs, from mass-produced knick knacks to the more exquisite hand made products. Souvenirs unique to this attraction include silk quilts, mahua (fried flour twists) and artistic water colour paintings of Ciqikou. Wooden toys that amused the Chinese children before the advent of computer games also make quirky mementos.
Lastly, Ciqkou’s many teahouses provide a much-needed respite from all the walking around. Most of the teahouses are highly visible from the main streets many even having touts standing outside. For a different experience, sip a brew on a boat on the Jialing River or in a tree-lined courtyard tucked behind the rows of shops (watch out for signboards at their narrow entrances).
Add: Citong Road, Shapingba District, Chongqing
3) Hongya Dong (Cave) 洪崖洞 View In Map
Reconstructed Chinese-styled architecture is ubiquitous all over China but Hongya Dong’s unique selling-point comes from Chongqing’s hilly terrain. Etched into a mountain-side and overlooking the Jialing River, it makes for an impressive sight when tiny red lights outlining the many roofs are lit up.
Built in the traditional diaojiaolou (hillside architecture on stilts) style, the complex is 11 storeys high, flanked by Jiabing Lu on the lower level and Cangbai Lu at the top. At the Jiabing Lu level is a replica of the ancient waterfall cave the place is named after. Lifts or escalators will take you upwards to the rest of the complex with two floors dedicated to souvenir shops and one floor offering a good range of local snacks as well as a hotpot restaurant. The complex also houses the Bayu Theatre, which showcases traditional Chongqing performances.
The top floor (Cangbai Lu) features sculptures of canons and historical artillery, commemorating Hongya Dong’s days as a military gate as well as quirkier ones, like a house piled up, diaojiaolou style. Those longing for food from back home can satisfy their cravings at Starbucks, Dairy Queen or Subway. The Starbucks café has a nice Chinese inspired interiour décor. A pirate restaurant also provides a unique dining experience complete with life-sized pirate figures and a pirate ship.
Add: 56 Cangbai Lu, Yuzhong District, Chongqing
4) Yangrenjie洋人街View In Map
Yangrenjie (literally, “Foreigners’ Street) is a serious attempt by Chongqing conglomerate, Meixin Group, at light-hearted fun. Among the weird and wonderful are an upside-down house, a copy of the Great Wall and a house with its top blown off. Apart from this, Yangrenjie appears as an attempt at creating another Disney Land complete with canals a la Venice, Tudor-style houses, Korean and Japanese villages and even a church with a wedding banquet hall beside and a stretch limo for rent.
The park is “famed” for a number of risqué sculptures, such as a row of bronzed nude ladies facing the wall, urinals in the shape of nun’s habits and wash basins fashioned as female figures bending over. It also has the dubious honour of having a record-breaking restroom with 1,000 toilets.
Get your shoes shined while sitting on a “throne”, fish in a man-made lake and or sip tea by the Yangtze. Besides walking, modes of transportation include European-style horse-drawn carriages, open roof buses and even a stiletto on wheels. Should Yangrenjie prove too loud for your liking, a stroll along the 2.8km stretch of the Yangtze goes a long way to calm ruffled spirits.
Add: Danzhishi, Nan’an District, Chongqing
5) Other Free Attractions
Longtousi Park 龙头寺公园 View In Map
Recently opened, Longtousi Park is the latest addition in Chongqing’s efforts to green up the city.
Add: Yubei District, Chongqing
Three Gorges Museum重庆中国三峡博物馆 View In Map
An impressive-looking building with exhibition halls spread over four floors.
Add: 236 Renmin Lu, Yuzhong District, Chongqing
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Keywords: Chongqing sightseeing free attractions chongqing free activities in chongqing
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