A city of contrasts, Chong Qing is an ancient centre of art and culture, and an ever-expanding modern metropolis all at once.
Even by China's exaggerated standards, Chongqing is a city of contrasts. On the one hand an ancient centre of art and culture, on the other an ever-expanding and already teeming modern metropolis, it invites the cliché that there is something here for everyone.
Situated at the confluence of the Jialing and Yangtze Rivers, Chungking (as it was formerly known) was briefly the Chinese capital from 1936–1945 during the War of Liberation with Japan, but had already been famous for the unlikely combination of Buddhism and war for well over a thousand years before. Chongqing was a dockside river town before it became a mega-city, resulting in today's wonderful mix of styles and impressions.
In Chongqing you can begin the day with a plate of noodles at a pavement café, your bowl balanced on a plastic stool, and end it with a few drinks in an Irish pub. If it's raining (as it rather too often is) then take refuge in the Sleepless Underground City, a vast subterranean complex of shops, restaurants and entertainment venues. If dry, head to the rejuvenating hot springs, a popular feature of local life. If the evening is beautiful, check out the fantastic outdoor nightlife that abounds in the downtown area; if you want something a little more sedate (and romantic), find a restaurant on Nanbin Road and enjoy the world-famous authentic Chongqing hot-pot while taking in the spectacular lights of the city across the Yangtze River.
April and May or October and November are the best times to visit. The summers are extremely hot and uncomfortably humid, and the winters can feel chilly after Singapore. It also rains quite heavily from late spring through to early autumn. In the summer especially the city is notorious for its thick fog.
Singaporean citizens can visit China for a period of 15 days without a visa, while most other nationalities require a visa in advance. Ensure your passport is valid for at least six months and that you have a return or onward ticket.
China’s currency is the yuan (Y), also known as renminbi, or colloquially as kuai. International credit cards and bank cards (Cirrus, Plus, Visa, MasterCard, American Express) can be used to withdraw local currency from ATMs, which are located throughout the city
There is a regular shuttle bus from Jiang Bei Airport to downtown, as well as an official taxi rank. Once in the city centre there is a well developed subway system, with station announcements in English as well as Chinese. Yellow metered taxis are plentiful and inexpensive; meters start at Y8. Be aware that taxi drivers are unlikely to understand English, so ask at your hotel for cards or leaflets with the names of the places you wish to go printed in Chinese characters
Like most Chinese cities, Chongqing is relatively safe for tourists. You just need to be alert to the possibility of bag-snatchers and pickpockets. There are numerous hospitals throughout the city though service and cleanliness levels can be inconsistent and fees high.
|How are you?||Ni hao ma?|
|Fine, thanks||Hen hao, xie xie|
|Excuse-me! (to get attention)||Qing wen!|
|Thank you||Xie xie|
|What's your name?||Ni jiao shen me ming zi?|
|My name is…||Wo jiao…|
|Nice to meet you||Jian dao ni hen gao xing|
|Are you on Facebook/Twitter?||Nin zai shi yong Facebook/Twitter ma?|
|Where’s an internet café?||Wang ba zai na li?|
|Where can I get a taxi?||Wo ke yi zai na li zhao dao chu zu che?|
|Where is the bus/train station?||Qi che zhan/huo che zhan zai na li?|
|A one-way/return ticket to…||Yi zhang dao…de dan cheng/shuang cheng piao|
|Do you have a room for one/two?||You yi/liang ren de fang jian ma?|
|When's check out?||Ji dian tui fang?|
|Can you recommend a good restaurant/bar?||Ni neng tui jian yi jia hao can guan/jiu ba ma?|
|A table for two, please||Qing gei wo liang ge ren de zhuo zi|
|A menu, please||Qing gei wo cai dan|
|The bill, please||Qing gei wo zhang dan|
|Where's the toilet?||Xi shou jian zai na li?|
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Great Hall of the People
The Great Hall of the People is a sprawling, classically inspired building constructed in 1951, and the architectural symbol of Chongqing. The adjoining People's Square is a popular place for couples to dance in the evenings – one of the most charming aspects of local Chinese culture, and something that tourists can take part in.
Jutting out from the side of a cliff, Hongya Dong, a recreation of old Chongqing, is noteworthy as a city landmark and for its numerous inexpensive craft shops and genuine local eateries. This makes it one of the best spots to buy genuine souvenirs and at the same time rub shoulders with the locals as they eat traditional South China noodles at sidewalk cafés.
Hong Yan Cun
Also known as Red Crag Village, Hong Yan Cun was the site of important negotiations between Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-Shek in an attempt to achieve an alliance to oppose the Japanese. An interesting exhibition centre provides a good overview of the history – a history which had consequences for the future, not just of Asia, but the whole of the world.
Luohan Si is a small Buddhist temple noted for its breathtaking collection of 500 painted terracotta Arhat sculptures in its main hall. Despite the Chinese Communist Party’s official policy of atheism, Buddhism remains the principle religion of China, and no visitor should miss the opportunity of showing respect to one of its ancient temples.
Three Gorges Museum
The Three Gorges Museum is an excellent alternative for those who do not have the time for a ferry journey lasting several hours to the Three Gorges themselves. It also has exhibits on Chongqing history ranging from the Qing Dynasty to the 1940s.
As Chongqing is a riverside city, this itinerary follows the Jialing River from Ciqikou to the tip of the downtown peninsula.
Established over 1,000 years ago, Ciqikou was a neighbourhood of porcelain manufacturers who used the river to export their wares. Now it is a beautifully well-preserved town-within-a-city where, unusually for a popular tourist site, local people still live in their traditional homes. The main gate is a typical Chinese affair hung with red lanterns. The buildings are traditional Chinese (many of them original) with upward-curving tiled roofs and blue and green lacquer work, and there are numerous stalls selling traditional opera masks (a speciality of Ciqikou), but you'll also find surprises such as an Indian roti stall with Bollywood posters and Indian chefs. Spend a couple of hours here before taking a taxi to the former house of Song Qing Ling.
Song Qing Ling was the wife of Sun Yat Sen, and this was her residence when Chongqing was the Chinese capital during the Second World War. A three-storey, German colonial-style building, it makes an austere but rather elegant contrast to the multi-coloured buildings of Ciqikou.
At the end of the peninsula, although much of the area around Liberation Square has been transformed into another pedestrian shopping centre, there are still some narrow, winding old back streets to explore. From Chaotianmen Dock you may be able to take an evening boat tour on both rivers, but schedules are unpredictable due to the Three Gorges Dam and the weather conditions. It is a great way to appreciate the city lights.
Ciqikou neighbourhood, Former house of Song Qing Ling, Chaotianmen Dock boat tour