This is Part 4 in my series on Chongqing. For the rest, continue reading via the links below!
I: Chongqing: An Introduction
II: Sampling the Delights of Sichuan Cuisine
III: Adventures in Modern Chongqing
IV: Exploring Ciqikou, Chongqing’s Old Town
V: Hotel Review: Westin Chongqing Liberation Square
After a busy day exploring Chongqing’s pulsating central business district, it was time to take a more relaxing sojourn through Ciqikou (磁器口), Chongqing’s old town. In actuality, Ciqikou is one of the few districts in Chongqing that hasn’t been razed and rebuilt over the years, so it’s a fascinating place to experience the traditional local culture.
I started off the day by hopping on the subway at Jiaochangkou station, and then taking it all the way to Ciqikou station, which is situated just outside Ciqikou old town. When you get out of the subway station, there will be several streets of tiny dim sum restaurants and street vendors. This is a great spot to get breakfast. I picked up an entire tray of xiao long bao (soup dumplings) for just $1.50 USD.
After breakfast, I meandered up the main street (there’s only one, so you won’t get lost) to one of the original city gates, which serves as the entrance to Ciqikou Old Town. Once inside, I began to explore. Ciqikou is laid out in a haphazard manner, and all streets are pedestrian-only, meaning that it’s a joy to walk around. If you go, the one thing you must check out is the Sichuan Face Mask Changing Opera. This melodic and mesmerizing performance is done regularly throughout the day in one of the local tea houses, and it’s fascinating to watch. For more on the Sichuanese Opera, check out this ever-helpful Wikipedia article.
After a pot of tea and a Sichuanese opera performance, it was time to get out and explore the streets. I took about 2 hours just browsing through the many markets set up by local vendors around town – many of them sell handicrafts, and it was fascinating looking at all of their creations. Interspersed with these craft shops is an array of delicious street food stalls selling everything from candied fruit to freshly-baked cookies.
Half the fun of exploring Ciqikou is simply people-watching, and checking out the traditional architecture employed in many of the houses. It’s a fascinating place to walk around, and you never know what you’ll run into (like this tiny dog – how adorable).
In addition to street vendors, every alleyway in Ciqikou is also dotted with local coffee shops and cafes, which have sprung up to serve the changing tastes of Chongqing’s younger crowd. All are of a comparable quality, so I’d recommend simply popping into whichever looks the most inviting. Many cafes are multi-level, with creative decor and leafy views of the city. It’s worth taking an hour or two at one of these to sit down and relax after a long morning of walking.
After a long day of exploring around town, it was time to head back to the heart of Chongqing. On my way back to the subway station, I passed this large, mysterious-looking tunnel. Intrigued, I walked inside:
I walked about half a mile (no joke) to get some good, old-fashioned natural air-conditioning. Being without a proper flashlight, I decided to turn around after a while, but it was eerie walking through such a dark tunnel, while wondering what mysteries it held.
As it turns out, these passageways are part of a tunnel network that was constructed during World War II, as air raids were being carried out by the Japanese over Chongqing. Civilians hid inside these on multiple occasions for shelter, and the tunnels remain open to the public for exploring, to this day.
Exploring Ciqikou gave me a more detailed understanding of Chongqing’s roots, and the contrast helped me gain a new appreciation for how far China’s development has come, especially in the past 20 years. The contrast between Ciqikou and Chongqing’s gleaming city center is palpable, and that’s part of what makes this part of China so appealing.