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Keeping it “Rail” – Sight-seeing by Subway Line 1 in Chongqing

By Elaine Pang , eChinacities.com Add your comment Newsletter

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Increasing affluence is choking the Chinese roadways with vehicles and Chongqing is no exception. In fact, narrow mountain roads exacerbate the situation, making congestion about as ubiquitous as spicy Chongqing cuisine. If you are sight-seeing in Chongqing, being stuck in traffic is the last thing that you want. Let not your sight-seeing be marred by congestion by going underground.

Recently, Chongqing’s rail network expanded with the addition of three lines to cover a substantial part of the city. Of the four lines on Chongqing’s subway or light-rail network, Lines 1 and 3 are monorail or light rail (LRT) while Lines 3 and 6 are conventional subway lines. A staggering 16 more lines are in the pipeline, so expect to take the subway or light-rail everywhere in Chongqing someday. Start taking advantage of a cheap, fast and environmentally-friendly subway network to have an unhampered tourist outing in Chongqing.

Before you ride…

Before you get onboard, here are a few things to note about the CRT system. Underground stations entrances are clearly marked by the green CRT logo but strangely don’t display the station name. Once inside, baggage scanning is compulsory, something that is necessary even for using the counter services or the underpass and not technically entering the station. Be prepared to swallow a mouthful of any liquid you bring or subject it to a bottle-scanning machine.

Going into the Chongqing Subway is a process much like taking a flight but without passing through customs or a metal detector. If you are on a long sight-seeing expedition, a yikatong (stored-value ticket) is a worthwhile investment for convenience and discounts on transfers (only applicable to the first transfer within an hour). These cards also qualify for discounts on buses and at local fast food chains like Dicos and CSC.

The Red Line – Line 1 (Xiaoshizi to Daxuecheng)

Line 1was one of the first lines that opened in 2011. Stretching from east to west, the entire line spans a total of more than 22 km and will run from Chaotianmen to Shuangbei when it is fully operational. Line 1 functions as the main artery of the CRT’s network as it connects Jiefangbei to other highly populated areas of Chongqing like Daping and Lianglukou.

When fully operational, Line 1 will begin at Chaotianmen –the confluence of the Yangtze and Jialing River. This spot is well-known to Chinese as it is significantly featured in Chinese history and literature; to foreign tourists, this site acts as the launching-point for Three Gorges cruises. To the locals, Chaotianmen is a cheap destination to find wholesalers selling everything from clothes to household items. Currently, Chaotianmen is home to a large demolition site as the area makes the transition into becoming prime real estate.

For the moment, visitors can get up close and intimate at Xiaoshizi. As older buildings in Chaotianmen come down, Xiaoshizi becomes the new wholesaler destination. Xiaoshizi also has its own share of attractions; the most well-known attraction would be the Arhat Temple. It is currently visible from the main road as the taller buildings that were blocking it have been reduced to rubble. Like most temples in China, this one requires an admission fee; fortunately for foodies, this fee does not extend to the onsite restaurant that serves vegetarian delicacies. Here, nature lovers bound for Nanshan can take the cable-car to Shangxin Jie, the half-way point between the two.

If you still have energy (or money) leftover after shopping, the touristy Hongyadong area is about a 15 minute walk away. Unlike Chengdu, Chongqing’s wholesale district (like everywhere else throughout the city) is devoid of cultural items; in that case, souvenir-hunters need to go to Hongyadong or Ciqikou (further down this line). Non-shoppers and photography enthusiasts may decide to visit at night when Hongyadong’s silhouette is outlined by dotted red lights along the mountainside.

The first CBD in Chongqing, Jiefangbei, is within walking distance. Or you can take the lazy way out by getting back on the train and getting off at the next stop, Jiaochangkou. The area of Jiefangbei is serviced by two stations, the other being Lingjiangmen on Line 2. Jiaochangkou’s dubious claim to fame is being home to the Deyi Shijie vicinity, Chongqing’s most flamboyant nightspot and KTV destination.

chongqing sightseeing
Source: Michael Gwyther-Jones

Jiaochangkou effectively showcases Chongqing as a city of contrasts by having extensive wet markets and outdoor markets, flower wholesale markets residing alongside modern shiny skyscrapers. Unfortunately, many of these markets are slated for demolition just as is the area of Shibati, a residential area consisting of buildings haphazardly constructed along eighteen stair landings. Shibati finally culminates in the former Yaocai Jie (TCM Street), part of which has recently moved in anticipation of future demolition.

Tired of the downtown? Jiaochangkou is also the interchange for light-rail Line 2, although this entails a long walk underground. Otherwise, continue along the red line to the next stop, Qixinggang, Chongqing’s version of a condensed city wall. Quaint tailor shops that are recessed into the wall specialize in embroidered qipaos. A nearby building specializes in wedding boutiques.

As the city’s main artery, the red line then brings you to Lianglukou in the Shangqingsi area., This is another old commercial district which grew up alongside Chongqing’s old railway station, Caiyuanba. Song Qingling, wife of Chiang Kai-shek, once graced the area by setting up residence nearby. Here you can pay tribute to the lady that was famous for loving China just as her other sisters were famous for loving money and the other, power. Afterward, you can view her husband’s “Chongqing office” at Lieshimu located further down the line.

Take a breather at the next station in Eling, one of the city’s urban parks. Entrance fees were abolished some time ago, making it a perfect place to escape the city. Relax in lush greenery or climb to the top for breathtaking views of Yuzhong District.

Much of this guide has covered locations for shopping for women’s clothes, so it’s good to know that the male version can be found at Shiqiaopu. The cluster of digital malls cements its reputation as an important destination for electronic needs since the pre-Taobao (or online shopping) days. Locals favor imports for better quality at cheaper prices. In return, the price to pay is the lack of intact seals on boxes and unreadable manuals in foreign languages. In this area, fakes are very common so proceed with caution.

The red vein further winds its way to Shapingba, another aspiring CBD. Affectionately mispronounced as “Shopping Bar”, here there are conventional department stores are thoughtfully laid out in the traffic-free Three Gorges Square. But the real excitement lies in the extensive network of underground shops appealing to the ultra-hip at ultra-cheap prices with its fashion wares.

After Shapingba, things quiet down at Lieshimu station, named so after Chongqing’s Martyr’s Mausoleum. Lieshimu was the former headquarters, prison and radio command centre of the Kuomintang where it functioned much like a colossal secret service bureau. While not all that near the station, it is a short bus ride away. Closer by the station are a number of universities with nice green campuses like the Southwest University of Political Science and Law and the Sichuan International Studies University (a favorite destination in Chongqing for foreigners learning language). The green, sprawling campus is located on undulating terrain and houses a disused railway line. Tourist and locals usually journey long distances to climb Geleshan, another cultural heavyweight from Chongqing’s wartime capital past, although many students of SISU never bother to go there.

If ancient towns are your thing, Ciqikou is worth a visit for its original paved stone roads from ancient times. On weekends and public holidays, it is only accessible by train and souvenir-hunting becomes a pain because of the crowds. Escape the human traffic by sipping tea on a floating teahouse and wander along the river or through pathways leading to quaint old houses.

The red line comes to an end at Daxuecheng, a sort of university town home to students at Chongqing Normal University and the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute. At the latter location, you can view artwork by aspiring artist or stroll around the ancient China-style garden, a place that provides a backdrop for wedding photography when spring flowers bloom.

As you can see, there is much to see and do along subway line 1 in Chongqing! All aboard!

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