With a day to spare you could comfortably make the trip out to the Buddhist caves at Dazu, but if you just have a few hours you’ll have to settle for the few sights within Chongqing. Foremost of those is the new Three Gorges Museum, although the LuohanTemplealso makes for an interesting diversion. If you’d like a stroll, walk up Zhongshan Yi Lu (past the Chongqing Guesthouse) for a few minutes and you’ll will find a surviving section of the old city walls which have been spruced up and are now adorned with a series of bronze statues that depict the siege of the city. There’s also a good teahouse here.
In the City
♥♥ Three Gorges Museum (daily , last entry ; ¥40).
This new museum is the showcase for many of the artefacts frantically excavated in the race against the rising waters of the Yangzi, and is housed in a grand, modern building that faces the People’s Hall across Renmin Square. But, in spite of its state-of-the-art presentation and the fine quality of the museum’s displays, many of the halls only have cursory explanations in English, leaving a lot to the imagination.
The ground floor focuses on the Three Gorges Dam Project and you’ll find an impressive “cinepanorama” of the Three Gorges section of the Yangzi with shows at 10, , , and , as well as a model of the dam complete with shiplocks, lifts and lights.
The second floor has a hall dedicated to Ba Culture and includes a mighty mammoth’s tusk, while a second exhibit traces the development of Chongqing as a settlement, complete with a mock-up of an old Chongqing street and all the businesses along it. On the third floor the Anti-Japanese War Exhibit has only an introduction in English and you’re left guessing for the rest, although you’ll recognize the replica of the Victory Monument if you’ve been downtown to Jiefangbei.
There’s also a Han dynasty sculpture display and an insight into the folk traditions of southwestern China, as well as an ancient coin collection hall on this floor – the square space in the center of the circular coins represents the ancient belief that the earth was square and was circled by a round heaven.
The top floor holds painting, calligraphy and porcelain exhibits, which are interesting if you haven’t already had your fill of such in other museums.
People’s Concert Hall (daily ).
This 1950s building, modeled on Beijing’s Temple of Heaven, is far more impressive from the outside, particularly as the interior and the adjacent Renmin Hotel were undergoing renovation at the time of writing. Nevertheless, if you come to see the Three Gorges Museum, the Concert Hall dominates the opposite side of the square and can hold 4,000 people.
♥♥ Luohan Temple(daily ; ¥5).
This small, intriguing temple to the east of Jiefangbei is definitely worth a visit. As you approach the temple you’ll see a collection of incense shops that lead to its entrance. Once inside, the first thing you’ll come across is a severely eroded but fascinating collection of Buddhist figures chiseled into the bare rockface. These were originally carved in the Song dynasty and are decorated with flowers, clothing and surrounded by incense, making for an atmospheric first impression of the temple. In the main temple complex itself you’ll find the luohan for which the temple is named, along with the usual collection of statuary to Sakyamuni and giant incense and candle burners. The temple is still very active and you’ll see plenty of monks in attendance, along with folk from all walks of life coming to pray.
♥♥♥ Dazu (daily ; ¥120 for both sites, see text for individual prices; buses from Caiyuan Bus Terminal in Chongqing). If you have the time to head out to Dazu, a hundred miles west of Chongqing, then it’s a thoroughly worthwhile two-hour ride. Nestled in the damp, overgrown valleys you’ll find thousands of Buddhist statues carved into the rockface, resplendent in (recent) color.
Dazu is one of the few southern examples of Buddhist cave art and many of the astoundingly detailed carvings date from the Song and Tang dynasties. The carvings are found in two principal areas, with Baoding Shan (¥80) the most impressive, while Bei Shan (¥60) has the earliest work.
At Baoding Shan you’ll find nearly 10,000 cliff-side figures spread around a U-shaped cove. Carvings include a grand reclining Sakyamuni at the bottom of the U and an amazing thousand – armed Guanyin. Baoding Shan can get busy so it’s best to come around lunchtime. Or if you’re looking for more solitude try quieter Bei Shan, but it’s less popular for a reason and the carvings here pale in comparison. You can take a bus between the two sites for ¥3.
Galleries, Shows & Theaters
For evening entertainment, you could check out the nightly hour-long shows at the Huguang Guild Museum in Chaotianmen. They feature a variety of acts, including acrobatics, dancing, singing and Szechuan maskchanging opera. Shows start at and tickets cost from ¥98 to ¥288, which includes tea and snacks.