China Travels #4: Kunming & Chongqing

Friday 5th June

One of my preferred cities is Chongqing. We arrived at the airport at around six o’clock and caught the airport shuttle bus to the final stop in the centre of the city. Then we hailed a taxi to take us to the hostel. Sometimes it’s rather hard to find hostels because many taxi drivers sometimes have no idea where it is in the city. Luckily with the use of GPS of baidu maps we arrived in no time at all. The slightly frightening yet exciting part of the taxi ride was that we crossed a three lane roundabout that has many exits and entrances that cross over each other without any traffic lights to control the traffic!! Eek. The Yangzte River hostel is one of the best we’ve stayed in. The social space was big and comfy, the information about where to go and how to get places was so useful. The rooms were a good size and luckily there were no snoring people to be heard. Plus the hostel (not not our room sadly) faced over the Yangzte River. With all the information readily available we didn’t have to stress about planning at all which was an added luxury. After a good session using the wifi and chatting to my mother, we went to bed delighted at the idea that we could sleep in the next day. 

Saturday 6th June 

The morning was spent at a pedestrianised area called 磁器口古镇 ‘CiQiKou Old Town’ on the west side of the city. Chongqing is unlike other big cities because it’s built in a mountainous area so there are lots of levels to the city. We liked this despite groaning at the sight of long staircases as we still don’t seem to have mentally recovered from the gorge trek… The Old Town was packed. We had forgotten that it was a weekend as we weaved our way through the painfully slow Chinese crowds. There were a variety of stalls selling lots of souvenirs, trinkets, colourful jewellery etc. As someone who obsessed with Chinese things, I bought a painting that was hand drawn on the spot of my Chinese name in traditional characters. I wanted to have something different that also has sentimental value. We continued through the streets stopping to look at food and other bits that caught our eye. We had lunch and wandered some more until we decided it was probably time to move on because it was already almost two o’clock. I managed to succeed in finding a magnet. I prefer to buy ones that are the landscapes or famous monuments of the city however Chongqing seemed to be lacking in this type. So I settled for one of the Chongqing hot pot instead. 

The next place we went to was the central square called JieFangBei. From there we walked down to a place called 洪崖洞 ‘Hongya Cave’ which isn’t actually a cave. It is an old style building that has eleven floors built into the side of a rock face overlooking the river. It is a market and has a food section too. The building itself was impressive however the market was awful. It was just full of tat you wouldn’t want to buy unless you felt like throwing your money away. The food was a lot better. We had dinner in one of the busier places and it was delicious. We shared two bowls of dumplings to compare the spicy and the plain flavours. Even though we wanted to see the Cave lit up at night it was only half past five when we were done. So we decided to walk to 乔天门广场 ‘QiaoTianMen Square’ which took us quite a while. Partly because Baidu maps was a little confusing at times and partly because it wasn’t easy to find due to construction works cutting off the multiple ways of getting to it. We surprised ourselves by emerging down by the docks which are five minutes from our hostel. How did we do a big loop!? On realising this I felt quite relieved because it meant we didn’t have to trek home! It had also been raining a lot so our shoes were utterly sodden. We reached the square, took photos and headed home with a good nights sleep to follow.

Sunday 7th June 

The second day we slept in a little because we weren’t feeling the need to rush. We planned to go to a ‘Graffiti Street’ and a place called 洋人街 ‘Foreigner’s Street’. A guy who we assumed worked in the hostel tried his best in tempting us to go on a walk around the city (like a tour) but we declined the invitation. He told us that it was quite a waste of time to go to both the places we planned because they are on opposite sides of Chongqing! Nevertheless we chose to stick to our plan with the hope of being able to achieve what we intended. We first went to the Graffiti street. It took us about an hour and a half but wasn’t a torturous journey. The street itself was pretty cool. It seemed to be situated in a poorer part of town so the colour and funky patterns of the graffiti artwork were a really nice touch. Sadly the decorated section was only about five hundred metres long but worth a visit! It reminded me of some of the parts of London that are covered in funky lettering and images done by both graffiti artists and those who have the spray cans at hand. Lisa had lunch down one of the side streets and she really enjoyed it. The restaurant was literally a hole in the wall. I have found that I love that restaurants, no matter how small or basic, are found in the quirkiest of places across cities in China. As well as being so cheap, I love the experience. It makes me feel more like a local and part of the community. After spending just over half an hour there we headed back. 

The Foreigner’s Street was BONKERS. We were expecting one small street with a few fun coloured houses and lots of stalls. How wrong we were. It was a good sized amusement park! What!? There was a fake Great Wall, a tiny Egyptian Pyramid, a small water park, a church. I could go on but I’ll let the photos speak for themselves. We were just baffled when we arrived. It was teeming with lots of Chinese tourists which made the likely fact that we were the only tourists utterly ironic… We wandered around for ages admiring all the ridiculous attractions. Our favourite was a colourful treehouse. It was as good as those all kids dream of having. The fake Great Wall felt strenuous to climb despite the fact it is basically a normal flight of stairs… The oddest thing we experienced was encountering a Chinese lady carrying a rabbit around the park. When she noticed me she lifted the rabbit’s paw to wave as she passed by. Lisa and I looked at each other as if to say: “did she really just wave at me with her rabbit?”. Another reason to believe that this so-called ‘Foreigners Street’ doesn’t have many foreign visitors is because an Indian man selling roti enthusiastically waved at me when we walked past. It was very lovely of him to do so but I was just baffled by the idea that I was “special” enough to be waved at? I did give him a big smile back though. I couldn’t leave him feeling rejected! Once we were thoroughly exhausted, we caught a taxi back to the metro station and headed back into the city. We met Lisa’s cousin and his friend for dinner. They took us to a hotpot place. Lisa was thrilled that we were having genuine Chongqing hot pot with the ‘麻辣’ (really spicy) spice. I was not as keen yet very keen to have the normal non-spicy flavour. We ordered various meats and lots of vegetables to boil in the two different flavoured boiling water. I would say that this is one of the healthier meals we had eaten in a while because there was no rice or noodles to fatten us with carbs nor too much oil (in the non-spicy one). As Lisa’s family come from Hong Kong, they can all speak cantonese so Lisa and her cousin chatted away in their familiar language. It was enjoyable for me because I am accustomed to it and also I could understand about ten percent more than I used to because of the mandarin I have learnt. After the delicious dinner Lisa was keen to go on the cable car across the river and back so that is what we did. It was pretty cool to cross it with the night lights glowing on the river. Before we knew it it was half past ten and time to go to bed as we had to catch a train mid-morning to Chengdu! Chongqing was a funky city with quite a good atmosphere to it. We were pleasantly surprised and really enjoyed our time there. It is still not the Chinese city for me, but I would not turn down the opportunity to go back!

I apologise for this post being rather monotonous, short, and boring. I only managed to get round to writing it almost a month later and it all gets a bit hazy… Oops! I hope the pictures redeem me..!

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