Chongqing: The megacity of Southwest China

Quick question; who has heard of Chongqing? (Chinese readers are excluded from this poll).

I first came to Chongqing in 2010 where I made a stopover on my way from Xi’an to Chengdu, and I recall having to look it up to see where it was. Turns out that Chongqing is technically the largest city in China (if ranked by administrative area).

Chongqing from the air
[Chongqing – one enormous city!]

Is Chongqing the biggest city in the world?

Chongqing was once part of Sichuan province but since 1997 it is a direct-controlled municipality (along with Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin) which has 34 million people, though the urban core of the city has only (only!) 6 or 7 million people. There are conflicting ways of measuring a city, depending on where you draw the boundary lines. Some places have called Chongqing the largest city in the world, though this is not true. Whatever way you look at it though, this city is huge!

Exploring Chongqing

Students of history might know the city as Chungking (its formerly romanised name), which was the capital of the Republic of China during the second world war. Today the city is being developed as a gateway to western China and it is a major air and rail transport hub. The city is also the starting point for boat cruises down the Yangtze River that visit the Three Gorges Dam and the Buddhist Dazu Rock Carvings.

Rivers make up an important part of Chongqing’s topography as the core of the city is located on a peninsula where the Jialing and Yangtze rivers meet.

Map of Chongqing
[Central Chongqing, flanked by rivers.]

Chongqing is known as “the mountain city” and once you are on the ground you will understand why. Some of the streets of the downtown area make San Francisco feel like flatlands in comparison. I didn’t have a map (or phone data) so I went wandering the streets to see what I could discover, and I discovered that it is easy to get lost here (not that this is a bad thing). The streets wiggle everywhere, and then there is a cliff face that drops down to the river. Among the little laneways there skyscrapers that is making the city resemble an inland version of Hong Kong.

Lower Hongxue Lane - Chongqing
[A steep and narrow laneway.]

Liberation Monument -  Chongqing
[Liberation Monument – the central point of the Chongqing CBD.]

The best way to see the city

The best view of the city can be seen from the south bank of the Yangtze, and if you are on the peninsula The Yangtze River Cableway is the most scenic route.

Nomadic Notes - Travel photos: Chongqing &emdash;
[The Yangtze River Cableway.]

From there the walk along the river is flat and made for pedestrians.

Nanbin Rd scenic riverside walk - Chongqing
[Nanbin Rd scenic riverside walk.]

Where I Stayed

As part of this Club Carlson Global Travelers trip I’m staying at selected Carlton Rezidor Hotels along the way. In Chongqing I stayed as a guest of the Radisson Blu Plaza Chongqing.

Read more on my stay at the Radisson Blu Plaza Chongqing.

Global TravelersThis post was part of the Global Travelers series, in conjunction with Club Carlson. I visited seven destinations across Asia over three weeks, reporting from each destination in real time. The destinations were:
Davao (Philippines), Phuket (Thailand), Bangkok (Thailand), Mamallapuram (India), Jaipur (India), Chongqing (China), Shanghai (China).

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  1. Wow great post. China blows me away.

  2. It’s amazing the size of some cities in China that I’ve never even heard of.

  3. Thank you for the map to go with your excellent photos.

    I like that espresso machine. On my first trip to China, we were supplied with two huge thermoses of tea. No coffee.

    During WWII (the 2nd Sino-Japanese War) “Chungking” was the Provisional Capital of the Nationalist government. It’s mountainous location and often foggy weather made it a difficult target for Japanese airplanes. Although looking at your photos, it doesn’t seem as mountainous as I’d imagined.

  4. Whenever I see info on cities whose names I’ve never heard, I think about how there are literally billions of people whose existence is basically invisible to me. People know cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, and so on, but they’re 3 cities in a country of 1.3 billion, which basically leaves 1.29 left unaccounted for. I just like to think about that for a second…whenever I see a city I’ve never heard of before, I like to think about how there are literally millions of people there, that I barely knew existed before…kind of a weird feeling.

  5. It may not be possible to visit such a beautiful place for me, but after reading and seeing this article it definitely make the readers tempt to visit here at any cost once.

  6. Chongqing is indeed a stimulating and interesting place, and as some of you have already mentioned has played an interesting part in china’s history, in particular as a wartime capital from 1939 to 1944 if I remember correctly. It s definitely worth a visit, but although the government might try to convince you that chongqing (the city, the province, who knows) enjoys over 300 sunny days a year, I d refrain from going in summer, as you d feel like inside a hotpot – the specialty for this place. Despite its proximity to Chengdu, the people are very different and proud to be so. In any case, go there, take the cable car as long as it’s still there (they’re building bridges now), enjoy some of the hot springs, visit the 1000 year old harbour city Ciqikou, or go there as a starting point for a river cruise to the three gorges dam. if you do stay longer, the area around chongqing arts university is very interesting. other than that, all five centers look pretty much like any now modernized city in china. you will certainly be amazed about this city nobody has heard of in europe. enjoy!

  7. Paul Saunders says:

    Lucky man ! Chongqing is high on my list for next year .. just for that cable car ride and getting lost in those back streets. If you have a spare evening ‘Zhou Yu’s Train’ is a great romantic movie set half in Chongqing and a lot of shots of the cable car and city life .. and there are some amazing train trips in this part of China. Itching to get back.

  8. Great photos, James! I find Chengdu and Chongqing very interesting cities – and I wish I could spend a lot more time in China. It’s interesting how China has so many large cities (a Chinese friend of mine introduced herself to my friends as coming from a “small city” of 4.5 million people) that no one has ever heard of! Look at the western China megalopolis that is building now – 100+ million people. Amazing.

  9. I went to Chongqing in August 2014. This city has in fact much more to offer than you may think in the first place. They do have quite a decent nightlife with bars where locals and Westerners mingle and an amazing array of restaurants! It’s an extremely dynamic place and some may say it’s the ‘fastest growing city on the planet’.

  10. Great post, James :)
    The photo of the steep narrow lane way you posted is so typical of Chongqing alleys. I enjoyed wandering through the endless amount of these Chongqing alleys. Never knew what I’d see next…. a traditional Chinese barber shop, older natives playing mah jong, stray ducks, you name it. I shared a similar experience:
    Did you try any of the hot pot in Chongqing?
    Keep up the great work!


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