Last weekend was the Dragon Boat Festival in China, a national holiday which meant that Joe and I had a whole 4 days free from both university and work. To make the most of this small stretch of freedom we booked a 3 night stay in Chongqing.
Chongqing City is just two hours from Chengdu on the new high speed train line and is situated in Chongqing municipality. Only becoming an independent municipality in the early 90s, the lands of Chongqing were originally part of our home province, Sichuan. Unsurprisingly similar to Chengdu in terms of food and dialect, Chongqing is very different in geography. Chengdu is essentially as flat as a pancake, making it a cyclists dream. Its wide roads are invariably flanked by big cycle lanes, packed with cyclists and e-bikes and steps numbering more than about 5 at a time are a rare occurrence at any point in the city. In contrast, Chongqing has been carved into the cliffsides of the Yangtze and Jialing rivers. The incredibly steep roads and endless stairs mean it’s a city of cars and pedestrians only – we only saw a handful of e-bikes or cyclists the whole time we were there. Although we had a great time, aesthetically speaking we weren’t big fans of most of Chongqing City. The narrow roads and frenetic driving made it feel quite claustrophobic and manic. And while Chengdu is definitely choked with pollution it seemed far more obvious in Chongqing where the buildings at street level just looked a bit grimy and run down. That being said, I would highly recommend it as a place to visit – what the city itself lacks in beauty is more than made up for by the incredible surrounding countryside and some bloody fantastic hotsprings!
Having not made it to the hot springs in Chengdu yet, mainly because I have extreme fear of the nude-bathing-only policy (seriously China, I thought you were conservative?!), as visitors to a city famed for its hotsprings (and with a more British approach to swimwear) we planned a day of hot-springing whilst in Chongqing. It was amazing and I am more than a little annoyed that I paid attention to the no photograph signs and didn’t cart my iPhone around in a waterproof bag like every other local guest to snap endless photographs to smugly Instagram. Having expected it to be absolutely jam-packed it was really quiet and we spent a good 2 hours pottering around the outdoor forest park area exploring the 40 or so hot pools with various oils, salts and Chinese medicinal herbs before sort-of-accidentally booking ourselves in for an hour long massage – a mere price enquiry got a bit lost in translation and it all got a bit too awkward to refuse once we were ushered into a room and given some hilarious pyjamas to change in to.
Our other big excursion involved a little more energy although admittedly not a whole lot since a large part of it involved sitting on a bus as part of our first ever Chinese coach trip. A 3.5 hour drive there and back, we were headed to Wulong Karst National Park, a place I’d found through my favourite pastime of Googling and was very excited to see. Having not realised the journey would take quite so long or indeed involve so many unscheduled toilet stops we both grew a little apprehensive that we’d booked ourselves onto a bit of an anti-climatic tour. However, following a questionable free lunch where our chopstick skills were scrutinised by the rest of our highly amused group, we finally made it to the first scenic spot, Wulong Karst and discovered the uncomfortable coach was more than worth it. I’ll let the pictures at the end of this post do most of the talking, but the easiest way to describe the scenery is to say that it felt like we were in the ending scene of ‘A Land Before Time’ when the little dinosaurs discover the lush, green utopia hidden from the rest of the world. Descending down a cliff in a futuristic lift, the views we were met with were amazing. As expected in China, a well crafted footpath was in place for us to follow through the gorge and we strolled along taking photos for a couple of hours. I was pleased to see the usual Chinese fashion of girls in high heels and micro-mini skirts was there in force as I plodded along in my trainers!
Following Wulong Karst and back on the bus I was pretty sure that we were stopping off somewhere else but with no English spoken it was hard to tell exactly what was going on. In the end it transpired I was right and we arrived at the interestingly named Dragon Shuixia Slit Scenic Area. Having seen so much amazing scenery at the karst both Joe and I were feeling slightly lazy about the thought of descending down into another gorge but as it turned out, this one was even more beautiful. Waterfalls were everywhere and with the paths zig-zagging underneath several we were absolutely soaked by the time we walked the few kilometres to the other end. It’s hands down the most beautiful place we have seen in China so far and made the even longer journey back to Chongqing, complete with a 45 minute stopover at a dried meat shop, completely worth it.