Welcome to Chongqing!
Pronounced (chawng-ching), Chongqing, China, is a truly enormous city, straddling the Yangtze River in western China. With over 30 million residents crammed into the sprawling and somewhat grungy municipality, many visitors arriving in Chongqing Airport are put off by their initial impressions and move on after a night or two.
A true worldwide local who scratches beneath the undeniably shabby surface will be rewarded with a fascinating taste of life in one of China’s modern megacities. Here’s our guide to getting the most out of your time in Chongqing.
Where to Begin
Step into the Jiefangbei Pedestrian Street in Yuzhong district, to experience the dubious surroundings that are best described as a re-birth. Gone are the hastily erected concrete blocks and grubby sidewalks. In addition, so are the groups of pensioners playing cards on the sidewalk. Instead, you are transported into a hyper-modern pedestrianized zone with every big-name brand you can imagine like Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Starbucks, and McDonald's. Soak up the Chongqing weather while you give your credit card some exercise. It’s definitely more Times Square than Tiananmen Square, but it’s a spectacular sight and one not to be missed, especially in its fully illuminated glory at night. From here, it’s a short taxi ride to the architecturally impressive Great Hall of the People and Three Gorges Museum.
Worldwide Local Tip: A stone’s throw from the heart of the pedestrianized zone is the Shihuishi Road Night Market, a buzzing bazaar lined with a range of pop-up stalls, street food carts, and bars. A favorite spot among the locals, grab a plastic stool to enjoy a delicious plate of steaming beef dumplings.
Chongqing is a sprawling metropolis with its fair share of traffic and pollution problems; so don’t count on getting anywhere fast. With the exception of Jiefangbei Pedestrian Street, walking isn’t always the most pleasant option, particularly in the hot summer months. Busses aren’t particularly visitor friendly, either. Thankfully, the comprehensive monorail system is cheap, easy to use, and, mercifully, air-conditioned. Uber is another great option that requires zero knowledge of the Chinese language, but be prepared to spend significant time sitting in traffic!
Worldwide Local Tip: Chongqing can be a challenge for those who don’t speak or read Mandarin, and English speakers can sometimes be hard to come by, as well. The Waygo translation application will use your smartphone’s camera to read a menu/street sign/bus timetable and show you the English translation in real-time, even without an active internet connection.
Where to Go After Dark
On any given evening, follow the steady stream of locals and tourists to the riverside Hongyaidong area, a multi-story complex clinging to the riverbank, around half an hour’s walk from the pedestrian zone. Not only is this one of the best spots to enjoy the city’s immense skyline at night, but the maze of shops and restaurants spread over several stories are continuously buzzing. Be warned, don’t expect value for money here!
Worldwide Local Tip: Chongqing is the starting point for a number of Yangtze river cruises which sail as far as the famous Three Gorges Dam and beyond. Prices can be cheaper than when booked elsewhere in China and are nearly always negotiable. Try recruiting a native speaker to help you organize a trip. Hotel receptionists are usually happy to help, as well.
Eat Like a Local: Hot Pot!
Those who think that Chinese food is all about sweet and sour chicken will be in for a treat. In Chongqing, noodles take a backseat to the dish the city is known throughout China for its wickedly spicy hotpots. At restaurants on practically every corner, a boiling pot of red-chili infused broth is set at the center of the table. You are free to choose from a range of meats, fish and vegetables, which you cook yourself at the table. Etiquette can be a minefield, but copy those around you and display a broad grin, and that should do the trick. You may even make some new friends! Beware though, some rather unusual items can crop up on the hotpot menus. You may want to use a translation app to double check what you’re ordering. Lambs Brain Hotpot, anyone?
Worldwide Local Tip: The lanes between Minquan and Zhonghua roads, in the pedestrian zone, are home to many popular hotpot eateries. Cold beers, spicy broth, and a convivial atmosphere are guaranteed.
Enjoy Your Stay!
While it may take a little adjusting, Chongqing has plenty to offer the worldwide local in terms of culture, sights, and delicious food. Just like the ferocious chilies in the hotpots, once you’ve had a taste of Chongqing, there is something that keeps you coming back for more!