Chongqing: It’s time to get vertical!

Posted in Travel Log (Asia) at 10:15 am by Benjamin Ross

For the labor day holiday this year, I took a trip to 2 places I had never visited, Chongqing and Guizhou.

Chongqing is one of China’s 4 municipalities (cities not part of a province and instead controlled directly by the central government).  It’s sometimes incorrectly referred to as the largest city in the world.  While technically not incorrect, the city of Chongqing has an area roughly the size of the state of South Carolina, the vast majority of which being rural land and mountains.
Nonetheless, it is still one of the largest, most concentrated urban areas in Asia, and the most developed city in Western China.  This and the following shots are all from the CBD.
Chongqing is very much a vertical city, due to its city center being located on a narrow peninsula created by the confluence of the Yangtze and Yaling Rivers.  This makes for an urban core resembling a mainland version of Hong Kong where space is at a premium and growth moves upward as much as it does outward.
At the center of which is Jie Fang Bei, this large phallic symbol, symbolizing China’s liberation following World War 2.
Chongqing is very much a poster child of China’s rapid industrialization and modernization.  At times, it feels as if the entire city is one giant construction site.  Nothing caught this feeling with me more than this bridge over the Jialing River just before it flows into the Yangtze, being built before my eyes.
Chongqing’s unique geography (basically hills sandwiched between 2 rivers) makes for some of the most unique architecture I’ve ever encountered in China.  Case in point:  Hongya Cave, an 11 story Disneyland-esque mall/hotel/entertainment district, built literally clinging to the side of a cliff.
Here’s another shot from below, with Hongya Cave in the bottom right.
another from below
 and a shot at night
While aesthetically pleasing, Hongya Cave (where my hostel was located as well) was miserable to get up and down, a commute necessary to get from my hostel below to the main street).  With its insufficient number of elevators, it often took 15 minutes to get to get from bottom to top.  Walking around would have probably taken twice as long and been entirely up hill.  This situation was made even worse when the entire building flooded, shutting down all elevator activity for an evening.
Chongqing’s CBD is home to some of the most posh office towers in China, but walking distance away, you are surrounded by visual reminders that this is still Western China.
Near the river docks are endless markets selling cheap, light manufactured goods, such as clothing, shoes, and low-end electronics, which have literally come right off the boat in big bags such as these behind these 2 migrant workers.
High Rise development has now spread far beyond the CBD and the peninsula.  This shot is looking North, I believe.
ships unloading on the docks
As Chongqing was the temporary capital of the KMT during World War II, the city is also filled with underground caves dug into cliffs.  This former air-raid shelter has now been converted into a popular, late-night restaurant.
There were at least 7 or 8 rooms such as this, stretching back to back, vertically, deep into the rock, and under the CBD.
Chongqing is also home to an absolutely fantastic urban planning museum.  Here are some shots of their models and exhibits.
more vertical Chongqing shots
the new opera house
and of course, more construction
Here’s the old Chongqing Opera House.  I’m sure it was grand in its time, but compared to what’s been built over the past 10 years, most of what’s left of old Chongqing is quite underwhelming.
and a look from outside
Here’s the building which houses the Chongqing Museum and the 3 Gorges Museum.  (here’s a post on some of the propaganda inside).
Here are some shots from the outer urban districts of Chongqing.  Notice how vertical the architecture is, even off of the peninsula.
more night views
One of the best ways to see Chongqing is via the elevated mass transit trains which fly through the city often several stories above ground.  The following group of pics were all taken from elevated subway stops.
And of course, there’s the food.  Here are some outdoor restaurants in the CBD.
Never seen this before, but young girls with guitars and amps strapped to their backs, would work the crowd at the outdoor restaurants.  Each carried a book of songs, and for 20 RMB, they would serenade your table.
ok, on to the food.  Chongqing is world-renowned for it’s spicy cuisine.  Here’s some 水煮鱼 (spicy fish in soup)
now up close
宫保鸡丁 (kung pao chicken)
回锅肉 (spicy, twice-cooked pork belly)
鱼香肉丝  (yuxiang pork)
And of course, we did a big hotpot meal (with a group of young, female, Chinese backpackers who were all staying at my hostel).
Chongqing was truly a fascinating city, and definitely a must for anyone interested in China’s rapid development and urbanization.  However, one caveat which you don’t get by looking at the pictures is that Chongqing is really fucking hot!!  And humid!   My trip was in late April, and temperature and humidity were both in the 90′s my entire stay (except for the half day when there was torrential downpour).  According to locals, the hot season hadn’t even started yet.  And coupled with the fact that so much of the walking is uphill, if I ever go back (and I certainly hope I do), it is definitely going to be in the winter.
So there you have it.  Chongqing is one of the most photogenic (in my humble opinion) cities in China.  I hope you enjoyed the pics.  Guizhou is next.


  1. Jesse China said,

    May 15, 2013 at 2:06 pm

    I also found Chongqing to be a fascinating city, though slightly grimy and covered in dust. I’d take Chengdu any day as far as livability though. But yes, Chongqing is incredibly photogenic and worthy to visit. The nearby “town” of Fuling is also worth a stop, the place where Peter Hessler taught, which has grown exponentially since. Here’s a very incomplete photo gallery: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jessewarren/sets/72157626528609057/

  2. james United States said,

    May 16, 2013 at 12:19 am

    Great pictures. I like all the ones with that unfinished bridge. Especially the last one. Almost has a NY vibe to it. I have to agree with you that Chongqing is one of the few cities that doesn’t really look like any other city in China. Well it used to, I can see they’re doubling down heavy on the development so we’ll see how it goes. Still looks quite different to me.

    Looking forward to the Guizhou post and I hope the Moutai fumes didn’t mangle your mind’s thought process!

  3. Albert United States said,

    June 9, 2013 at 7:17 pm

    Awesome article and pictures. I’m visiting Chongqing soon and I wish I could take your advice on going to Chongqing in Winter, but nonetheless I’m bringing my Nikon and lots of wet naps.

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