I expected Chongqing to be pretty dramatic – after all, it is a city where the metro goes right through a building high on a hillside, where buildings like the Hongya Cave complex cascading down the steep incline have lifts that open at ground level floor 1 on one side and ground level floor 17 on the other, where the local super-spicy hot pot is legendary.
Indeed, Chongqing is a dramatic city of constant contrasts. On a sunny day, Chongqing is sparkling and modern, big and bold; but on a grey misty day, the city can seem oppressive and muted. My first 2 days in Chongqing were rainy and dreary, and I wondered if I’d made a mistake leaving sunny Yunnan. But when the clouds lifted? Wow!
Similarly, the modern architecture boldly contrasts with the ancient… two new performing arts centers.
Contrasted to a spectacular community complex dating back hundreds of years – the utterly mesmerizing Huguang Guild Hall that was a center for immigrants from far provinces, coming to set up businesses. Even in the rain, it is so compelling – with a temple, teahouse, museum, art gallery and artisan shops. And of course, the Rice Community Restaurant – my lunch favorite. This was my favorite place in all of Chongqing.
The cascading design of this antique complex built on a hillside is replicated in a modern shopping mall on the other side of the mountain that is the center of this part of Chongqing. It is called Hongya Cave for a natural cave in the mountainside, and it’s a great cultural experience for eating and shopping. I don’t do caves. Chongqing has cleverly integrated contrasting purposes for the same timeless building style.
Then there is the giant new People’s Square – complete with dancers – and a ceremonial Chongqing Hall of the People, similar to but much bigger than the Temple of Heaven in Beijing.
And across from it, the ultramodern Three Gorges Museum that commemorates Yangtze River life before the building of the Three Gorges Dam. Great display and great gift shop!
Stark contrasts – new museum architecture to showcase the past, old temple architecture for modern conferences and meetings of The Party.
Another stark contrast – the old way to cross the river on a cable car and the giant new bridges. I’m told Chongqing – a city-state of 39 million – will soon have 40 of these bridges, all bigger than the Lions Gate Bridge in Vancouver. Still, I was determined to ride the iconic cable car, so I waited in line for 2 hours for a cold 10-minute ride. You decide.
Another contrast – the river city in the day and at night.
What you see from the evening river cruise is that some modern towers are lit up like Doha or Shanghai, and others look distinctly like old river palaces or cascading villages. Some are old, but some actually new.
I didn’t expect to enjoy Chongqing so much – I put it on my agenda just because it is so big and important and in the south center of China. But I really look forward to going back – there is so much to Chongqing! I postponed my river cruise down the Yangtze to the Three Gorges Dam and the Dazu Rock Carvings for warmer weather.
I was really pleased with my hotel, the Youmi that I booked on Trip.com. Actually, at first, I wondered…. the boxes? My taxi driver actually came in with me to make sure – the hotel was on the fourth floor only! Working shops below, apartments above, and a great view of the river. It was clean and quiet, and a superb location beside the Huguang Guild Hall on the river road, near all the Chongqing city attractions.
Even better, it was right next to the beautiful Huguang Assembly complex and the special restaurant attached to it.
Interesting that the same simple bowl was used for everything, fried rice, plum wine, spicy soup, tea. After the first time, I became a regular for lunch at the Rice Community Restaurant. And dinner? On the first night, I wandered down the street to find Chongqing spicy beef noodle soup, and each night after, I just sat with the locals, and my soup arrived. What service!
Breakfast had more variety. One day, it included darling puppy and bumblebee steamed buns … too darling to actually eat. I had corn soup with dim sum at the breakfast bazaar.
And of course, the iconic Chongqing hotpot – first on my foodie tour of Ciqikou Ancient Village, and then with my rocket scientist hotpot guide to eating tofu slabs, water spinach, wafer-thin lamb slices, fresh tripe, duck intestine, and chrysanthemum stalks.
A final contrast – in the center of the city is a small tower, a monument to those who fought and died in the war of liberation. It stands in contrast to all kinds of luxury shops – not quite what the peasant soldiers fought for.
Some favorite images of drama and contrast of Chongqing…