Behind the relative glitz and glamour of Beijing and Xi’an, Chongquing gives an insight into the real urban China.
Located in the Sichuan Province, the municipalities’ 32 million people live in a sea of high rises on a scale I have never witnessed before. Tower block central, 30 plus stories high, it’s difficult to see daylight between the imposing concrete structures which stretch for miles.
Collected from the bus station by a nice young man with a handmade sign, we were taken through insane traffic to Fang Hua hotel in the city centre. Booked at the hostel before we left Xi’an, we were expecting to meet Mr John and stay at his “Cosy Nest”. However, there was some kind of miscommunication and we were in the hotel (private room with shower for the same price, £3!).
Located on the 22nd floor, in what appeared to be an office building, we were pleasantly surprised by the room – despite some interesting looking characters loitering outside our window (which looked out onto another corridor of rooms). We think it was actually a knocking shop rather than a hotel.
After settling in, we ventured out into the pouring rain (which never gives you the best impression of a place). The roads were filthy and potholed, the side streets and the stalls sold everything from socks to air-conditioning units and all manner of food items on sticks.
Determined not to retreat to the comfort of McDonalds, we ate a delicious meal of rice, vegetables and spicy ‘meat’ in sauce for a mere 80p (after spending more than half an hour working out how the ticketing system worked and choosing dishes we could point at without too much aggro!). We were even brave enough to go back and sample the 10p sesame paste doughnuts – which I’d highly recommend!
Finally meeting Mr John we confirmed arrangements for our Yangzi River ‘Cruise’ and following several “not exactly what it said on the tin” moments, we ended up paying the same for less and parting with cash for more buses and less boat. However, it was sorted and we would set off the following morning.
That evening, driven more by hunger than a desire to see the sights, we found a place serving famous Sichuan Hot Pot. The province is notorious for fiery foods and Chongquing is its home. Following the comedy ordering process we were presented with several plates of raw food – two of meat and another containing a raw veg platter with cabbage, straw mushrooms, lettuce, beansprouts, bamboo and something resembling potato cut into cartwheel shapes (later identified as lotus root). On top of the raw veg was a frankfurter, ornately cut into a flower, two raw meatballs and a piece of raw liver.
My travelling companion ordered the red pepper soup (AKA boiling chilli fire water) and began tentatively throwing various items into the hot pot – tasting a few mouthfuls he soon realised he had more heat than he bargained for! A hurried pint of orange juice later he returned to a humanly colour, the sweat subsided and he was able to resume speech. Beware the broth!
All in all, a good place to start the Yangzi River tour from, but if it’s a toss-up between Chongquing and Chengdu, go for the latter and check out the pandas!