Mention river cruises in Chongqing and most will tell you either of these two, the Three Gorges cruise ships that leave from Chaotianmen Docks, or the boats that sail passengers up and down both rivers for two hours each night from the same place.
In this post today, I want to introduce a third option which began in January this year, bet was unknown to me until very recently.
Tucked away in the northwestern corner of Chongqing, there’s an area called Dazhulin大竹林 (Big Bamboo Forest) where people wishing to take in the river view and sights along the banks, can now make their way to the inconspicuous Fengqixi Dock 凤栖溪, then sail as far as Chaotianmen and Raffles.
There are six times throughout the day you can choose to sail in either direction. My suggestion would be a taxi ride to the location 江城渔舟(Jiang cheng yu zhou), and sail towards Chaotianmen. The port where you embark is well removed from public transport, so the advantage is that you can travel there easily by taxi, then be on the grid wherever you choose to get off.
It’s a little unfortunate the last sailing from Dazhulin is at half past four, which means you won’t catch the city night view. However, providing you don’t have any motion sickness, you could disembark at Chaotianmen, then experience a night cruise later the same day.
Outside of the summer months, you should be able to view the city lights on the final 6pm cruise back to Dazhulin.
During the route, you can look out for Ciqikou Ancient Town, Liziba Station, where the monorail train passes through an apartment block on the upper floors, Liujia Wharf鎏嘉码头, a lively entertainment strip along the north river road Beibin Lu北滨路, Qiansimen Bridge千厮门大桥, Hongyadong洪崖洞, the Grand Theatre, and finally dock 4 at Chaotianmen, overlooked by the grand Raffles Commercial Centre.
Leaving Dazhulin towards Chaotianmen, your options are 07:30, 09:30, 11:30, 13:30, 15:30 and 16:30.
Heading back upriver from Chaotianmen to Dazhulin, you can catch the ferry at 09:00, 11:00, 13:00, 15:00, 17:00 and 18:00.
The only issue to be aware of is that cruises stop whenever water levels drop too far, so it’s always best to check in advance to avoid making a wasted trip.
Yesterday, I learnt a quite astonishing fourth option for enjoying the river views, buy your own rowing boat and take to the waters yourself!
That’s exactly what a new American acquaintance told me he does.
Put simply, he bought an unsinkable dinghi for 1,800 Yuan on Taobao, a Chinese version of Amazon. The boat is small enough to store in his apartment, and when the sun shines, he carries it to the Jialing riverbank and either rows or drifts his way towards the inner city stretches.
So far, the maritime authorities haven’t intervened to curtail his river faring days, with the only real obstacles coming in the way of fishing boats and the Jiaoyun 9 ferry, the one we’ve just been talking about.
An even more adventurous fellow he told me about used to commute swiftly across the Yangtze between Nan’an and Jiefangbei on a paddle boat. These were the days before Dongshuimen Bridge东水门大桥 and other recent additions, when travelling to a point on the opposite shore a few hundred metres away involved a horrendously long journey through painfully slow traffic.
He finished by telling me that river activity has suddenly picked up this year. In previous years, he had the river virtually to himself, but locals have been catching on to the idea that the river is a public space they can enjoy, and not only admire from afar.
Locals have swam in the river a long time, but others have continued to explore this virgin territory in small sailing boats and even jet skis. Maybe it won’t be long until sheer numbers force the sleepy maritime patrols to regulate the waters, not unlike the public roads above.
Sailing the Jialing river is preferable to the Yangtze for a number of reasons. River traffic on the Yangtze is much busier, as there are huge barges, cargo ships, cruise ships, and large fishing boats that plough the waters all day long.
Also, the Yangtze river currents are stronger by far, so much so the murky waters can visibly extend hundreds of metres back up the Jialing from Chaotianmen, meaning it’s a lot safer and quiter to gently flow down the latter instead.
Finally, The Jialing is a relatively clean bluish colour most of the year. As we spoke yesterday, another friend chipped in how a friend who once swam in the Yangtze suffered illness for the next fortnight, though the story may be been in jest.
Below, I have shared some photos Dave has taken on his dinghi trips this year. This option will be impractical for the vast majority, but I’m sure you’ll enjoy this unique possibility as much as I have.
The Big Day
My intention was to take a one way boat trip during the National Day holiday, but the capricious nature of fellow passengers forced me to postpone.
On this first day after the holiday, I decided to try my luck on a whim, and drove straight to Jiangcheng Yuzhou江城渔舟, actually a floating restaurant moored off the riverside port alongside the boat come embarkation point.
Part of the motivation was the possibility of making the 9:30am departure, and I would have done so, were it not for the erroneous timetables other netizens had shared.
Never to mind, though. It was a pleasant surprise that I could drive right down to the dock and leave the car there.
After paying 20 yuan for the 11am sailing from the makeshift looking ticket office, admired the river view and tranquil surroundings, then walked over the platform to the boat where people wait to embark.
The waiting room was pleasant, except for the blaring television that tore through an otherwise blissful scene.
I took a seat with a view over the placid waters around the dock, but an obviously strong current flowed peacefully towards Chaotianmen close to the opposite bank.
As people started filing in quietly, I sat and updated this post, looking up periodically to contemplate my next paragraph, and briefly watch local fishermen prepare for their next catch.
Since the car was on the dock, it made sense to also return by the ferry that day.
The journey down and upriver
Our ferry turned the river bend, sailed under the Shuangbei Bridge双碑大桥 that leads to University City, before the captain pulled off a skillful manoevre to moor up beside us waiting passengers.
A crowd of around fifty boarded in orderly fashion and headed straight for the best seats on top deck.
At the top of the stairs, a pair of staff took souvenir photos for each passenger, which they hastily prepared laminated printouts along with keyring to sell for 10 yuan per set. Since I was very contented with my experience that day, I happily accepted their reasonable offer.
Two boats plough the route simultaneously, and you will pass the other in either direction at some point. While they look old from the outside, the interior is surprisingly pleasant and attractive. The lower deck has new wooden flooring and cosy sofas to laze back on. The river waters are a mere two or three feet below the windows, giving you a distinct feeling of closeness with the surroundings.
The upper deck has comfortable seating, and plenty of space to walk freely side to side as you take in the views. Just prepare for the strong chilly wind that blows outside the summer, and the boat horn that may resonate loudly without warning.
Sailing downriver nonstop to Chaotianmen took almost exactly one hour. After all these years in Chongqing, it was fantastic viewing the city from this novel perspective, and there was virtually no sight en route I felt unfamiliar with.
En route, we passed a great number of docks that have fallen obselete in tandem with development of urban infrastructure, yet are they still in good condition. Many people use them as carparks, some are inhabited by migrant labourers, while others set up for a relaxing day’s fishing. I even saw a hardy local in trunks and swimming cap, ready to dip in the cold and choppy waters.
For the tourist or new resident, the top sights are mostly on the right bank, highlights being Ciqikou Ancient Town, the monorail trains you can watch pass right through Liziba Station, which is actually inside a residential block halfway up. Beyond, you eventually reach Hongyadong, the Grand Theatre, and finally Dock 4 of Chaotianmen, right on the doorstep of the majestic Raffles Square.
When our ferry reached Chaotianmen, we had to wait five minutes at the exact point where the Jialing and Yangtze rivers converge. The unusual sight was a kind of role reversal between the two.
Normally, the Yangtze is a turbid light brown colour, and the Jialing a clearer bluish green. The locals always compare the two converging waters to the ‘Yingyang Wok阴阳锅’ of Chongqing hotpot, where the outer section is filled with the red spicy soup, and the centre a plain broth.
For some reason, the spicy soup was the Jialing, and the plain broth the Yangtze this time round.
Dock 4 is barely a three minute walk from Chaotianmen Square and the Raffles Complex. Since I was on a tight schedule, I slipped into the mall for a fast food lunch, fetched my Chinese lady outside the Chongqing Museum of Famous Historical figures 重庆历史名人馆, incidentally the most convenient spot for taking the ferry when travelling here by taxi.
Sailing the 2pm ferry back upriver, the only difference is the time needed to reach Dazhulin, taking around 100 minutes compared to the one hour trip down.
My recommendation for you is to sail downriver from Dazhulin. The Fengxituo port there is quite remote, so it would be much easier to ride there by taxi, and have the driver take you down the steep ramp off the main road to the riverbank ticket office.
Once in Chaotianmen, there is plenty to keep you entertained before taking your pick of transport options for the next port of call.
I loved the return ferry journey today, and I’m certain that you would, too!