Chongqing is an immense, dazzling mess of a city. In some ways its existence seems just plain wrong. While its location on hilly terrain at the convergence of the Jialing and Yangtze rivers held great strategic value in times past, it seems preposterous to try to cram a massive metropolis into such topography. And yet there it is. And the city of Chongqing is roaring ahead as an integral part of China’s future.
For most foreign visitors Chongqing is little more than the starting point for a cruise along the Yangtze River through the Three Gorges. Although it does have a few strong drawcards, Chongqing is definitely short on major attractions. But the real joy of a visit to Chongqing isn’t a tour of the sights, it’s simply experiencing what is a truly fascinating metropolis.
No other city in China can better live up to that cliche that is levied on so many Chinese cities: Chongqing is a startling mix of the old and the new. Just minutes stroll from the rapidly-developing CBD are traditional wooden houses, built on hillsides. Bang-bang men carry heavy loads, balanced on a stick across their shoulders, up steep stone staircases that lead from one traffic-clogged street to the next. Lush green hills might be visible across the Yangtze, but the sky is rarely free from thick, grey smog. And by night the multi-colored lights of an endless skyline shimmer in the waters of China’s mightiest river. Chongqing is a feast for the eyes, if not for the nose or the lungs.
It’s also a test for the tongue. This is the home of hotpot and it is a rare local meal that isn’t served mouth-numbingly spicy. And the fiery food is matched by the fiery summer temperatures: Chongqing is known as one of China’s four furnaces.
Chongqing has been earmarked by the powers that be as the boiler room of western China’s growth. By some accounts it is the fastest growing metropolis in the world. Skyscrapers are constantly being added to its already imposing skyline and the number of developments underway in the city is mind-boggling. The city of Chongqing might be largely unknown today, but if the planners have their way then in 20 years time you’ll be hearing about Chongqing like you hear about Shanghai now.
Who should travel to Chongqing?
Anyone doing the Yangtze River cruise will visit Chongqing, if only briefly. Otherwise, anyone who is fascinated by mega cities, anyone who wants to see something a bit different, or anyone who wants to see a city that will likely be of great importance in the future should visit Chongqing.
How long is needed to see Chongqing?
As Chongqing has no real must-see attractions, you only need to stay long enough to get a feel for the city. Two days would generally be enough for this, but if the city sucks you in then you might wish you could stay longer.