This is Part 1 in my series on Chongqing. For the rest, continue reading via the links below!
I’ll say it right now: if Chongqing isn’t already on your list of places to travel, it should be.
“Where?”, I can hear you saying.
If you haven’t heard of Chongqing yet, you’re not alone. With a population of over 35 million, Chongqing (or “CQ”, as it’s referred to by locals) is one of China’s largest cities, and one of the largest megacities in the world. It has world-class infrastructure, stunning architecture, and delicious Sichuan cuisine. At the same time, it has a rather low profile outside of China, and there are vanishingly few tourists to be found, compared with other cities of a similar size.
In short, it’s an urban explorer’s dream city.
Nestled in the hills of central China’s Sichuan province, Chongqing straddles one of the most strategic waterways in China, the Yangtze River. Reflective of its importance, this is one of the only cities in China under direct administration of the central government, and it’s attracted outsize investment accordingly.
In earlier years, Chongqing served as China’s provisional capital during World War II, during which the city’s rise as an industrial center began. After the war, the city was elevated to municipality status, and investment began pouring in. Chongqing is now a key component of China’s “New Silk Road” initiative, having become an economic gateway to western China and Central Asia in its own right.
All of that governmental focus appears to have paid off, as Chongqing now has an extensive public transit network, with a world-class skyline full of gleaming skyscrapers and innovative architecture. I was seriously impressed. The city is akin to a more futuristic, dystopian version of San Francisco – equal parts mountainous, creative, and brimming with fresh ideas.
At the same time, Chongqing also has a lot to offer in the way of culture. The city has a thriving arts scene, and is home to the legendary Sichuan face-changing opera. Perhaps its most famous export is hotpot though, a dish beloved by many the world over. The cornerstone of Sichuan cuisine, hotpot actually originated in Chongqing itself, and the dish is well-known for its combination of flavourful meats and bold peppers. I’ll elaborate more on Sichuan cuisine further in this series – it’s absolutely delicious!
During my time in Chongqing, the climate was cool and sunny. However, this was rather atypical. With over 100 days of fog per year, CQ is commonly known as “Fog City”. The mountains surrounding the city create a microclimate of sorts. When it gets cold, it’s really cold. And when summer rolls around, well, watch out. CQ is also known as one of China’s “Three Furnaces” along the Yangtze River due to its propensity for blazing hot summers. It’s a city of extremes, but that’s quite alright.
Another big highlight here is the train system. One can’t normally say that in most cities, but then again, Chongqing isn’t like most cities. It’s rail system has been uniquely engineered to handle the mountainous terrain, and many of its metro lines offer stunning views of the city. For you urban explorers, there’s also some extremely interesting stations (like this stop inside an apartment building, or this one in what looks like an apocalyptic wasteland). It’s one of the best ways to get around this megacity, and it’s incredibly scenic too.
During this series, I’d like to introduce you to this obscure city that has become one of my favorite cities in the world. In my next post, we’ll dive straight into CQ’s intense food scene, a 24-hour bonanza that’s punctuated by the smell of the fiery Sichuan pepper. I’ll walk you through the best restaurants, food stands, and hole-in-the-wall institutions you’ve got to check out. Keep reading for more!
Next up: Sampling the Delights of Sichuan Cuisine