Chongqing, formerly known as Chungking, was the end destination for our Yangtze River cruise. We disembarked the cruise ship in the morning and visited three sights in Chongqing that day: the Chonqing Zoo (known for its panda bears), downtown Chongqing (for a walk through its modern center and lunch), and finally the nearby old town of Ciqikou, known for its porcelain.
Of course China is famous for its panda bears, and this was our one chance during the two week tour to see the pandas in their homeland (as opposed to a U.S. zoo).
The zoo is large (over 100 acres), and if you happen to be a panda bear, you’re treated like a king, if you’re not, then your living conditions didn’t look as comfortable. The panda enclosure was large with lots of vegetation and things for the pandas to play on, but for other animals, the enclosures were smaller and more barren.
In addition to the pandas, we saw many typical zoo animals. In such a huge city, this zoo provides a nice respite from the concrete, noise and traffic of this municipality of 18 million.
Like almost everywhere we went in China, I was amazed at the overwhelming size of the city and the endless apartment towers and ongoing construction everywhere. It seems like Chongqing (as with most Chinese cities) has grown up overnight.
Old Town of Ciqikou
This was one of the most interesting stops on the tour for me, and unfortunately our visit showcased why I don’t like traveling with tour groups. We arrived at the old town, which is in the Chongqing metro area, on a Saturday afternoon towards the end of the Chinese National Holiday period.
Given the historic nature of the town it was jammed with “locals” on holiday (vs. tour groups). However members of our tour group were so nervous walking through the crowded area (“they might pickpocket me!”) that after several complaints from the group our guide shortened our visit considerably, leaving those of us who wanted to see more of the town less time to explore this interesting village. For the record, neither my wife nor I ever felt unsafe or threatened.
Ciqikou reminded me a bit of old medieval villages in Europe where every little street has something to reveal. The town is about 1,000 years old and provides a view into what Chongqing might have looked like a hundred years ago.
The town sits on a small hill at the confluence of the Yangtze and Jia Ling rivers and was known for its production of porcelain. However, time didn’t allow for us to explore the porcelain shops (not that we need more trinkets!). As a side note, we saw lots of tempting street food too – we tried some savory chicken on stick!
As we hurriedly visited what we could, we turned a corner and saw stairs leading up a short hill to an interesting Buddhist temple, called Baolun. The lower streets were packed with the holiday throngs, and yet when we climbed up to this temple, there was hardly a person in sight. The temple is over 1,000 years old, with interesting halls, courtyards and architecture everywhere.
As the saying goes, “you haven’t been to Chongqing if you haven’t been to Ciqikou Old Town”. While our visit to Ciqikou Old Town was short, it was definitely worthwhile.
Chongqing can keep the visitor entertained for a long time. We had just a day here, but I would highly recommend spending at least a few days in this sprawling city if you have the chance.