Join us on our walk through the ancient town of Ciqikou in Chongqing! Yes, I know it’s an ancient town, but this was a really good one, suffused with the charm of Chongqing. We walked only along the main street, but will definitely return to wind through the quiet alleys and staircase floating from the thoroughfare like a tattered spider’s web (can you tell I’ve been doing some writing again?)
The main entrance, which you reach after a few minutes walk from the metro (line 1, Chinese: 磁器口) You’ll reach a cross road and see the golden gate above. We would recommend not trying to be clever and staying on the main road to get deeper in to the ancient town quicker – the further along the road the more touristy and less interesting it gets! Oh, unless you want to get there early to get some fried twisted bread – there were 8 shops selling it but only one was the one, with a queue twenty people long buying from it.
Once you’re in you’ll enter the narrow street with low buildings, which twists along towards the river. You’ll find a mixture of the typical souvenir shops (lots of people from outside Sichuan/Chongqing come and want to buy packs of “authentic” hotpot) and random cute shops selling bamboo mugs, and then the cracks between buildings are filled with people selling whatever they can.
The street carries on, with stalls selling more bits and pieces, some handcrafted things (pricey but nice) and old curios and second hand things – the only time in China we have seen stalls like this; we bought some old cartoon books of Sherlock Holmes, and I think Rasputin? Will definitely come back her to get some souvenirs for family!
This was the central part and replete with tea and coffee shops, where we stopped for a drink. This was the prettiest bit, paths leading away and the hill turning down towards the river.
After a coffee we needed a snack which in these places can be done in lots of ways – there was an Indian man selling roti out of a doorway (these places often have one inexplicable foreigner, there was a turk once selling icecream). We went for some candy floss, shaped and coloured. You choose a design and he makes it for you – a real pleasure to watch.
We were on the edge of the larger street here and this was the more standard, more touristy bit and so was suddenly much busier and less interesting, we whipped through it to the waterfront.
Unfortunately you couldn’t actually get down to the Jialing river. This is the point that the town is named after, it literally means “porcelain port”. Before Chongqing existed as a single city this town was a key place for the production of porcelain. Close to the confluence of the two rivers raw materials could be shipped in and finished products shipped out – which is still how industry in Chongqing works.
We didn’t fight our way back through the street which was filling up, but went off one of the side alleys – the signs proclaim that the side streets retain the culture of waterfront life in Chongqing and you can see why. They are suddenly quiet. And you find strange things, like a small buddhist shrine beside a brook from the river, and an overpass.
Well we got back onto the main road, back to the metro station – outside of which we bought a jigsaw for 15 yuan – and home. If you are in Chongqing it would definitely be worth a visit. The earlier in the day the better, as these places get very busy on nearly any day (we went on a Wednesday and it was a bit much) but don’t let that put you off, tourist places in China are busy, and you can always escape to a side street and see something unique.