As the capital city of the booming and bustling Sichuan province, Chongqing has undergone some rapid modernization over the past few years resulting in a unique patchwork of ancient buildings and towering skyscrapers along its streets. Whether you’re interested in uncovering the city’s history, nature, or culture this is definitely the place to be to experience the best that the province has to offer!
We’ve gathered 8 ways to guarantee you’ll have the time of your life here, and we hope it’ll convince you to give this underrated city a chance! If you think Chongqing deserves to be next up on your bucket list, you’ll be excited to hear that AirAsia is having a special promotional period for their direct flights from Kuala Lumpur to Chongqing! 🤩 Choose AirAsia for your Chongqing experience and you can enjoy exclusive all-in one-way fares of just RM319 for BIG members and RM324 for non-members! For those who want a little more luxury during their journey, Premium Flatbeds are just RM999 for BIG members and RM1,004 for non-members (both all-in one-way fares)! Hurry and book from now till 7 April 2019, the promotion will end soon!*
*Travel periods range from now till 30 Sept 2019.
1. Challenge your taste buds with Chongqing’s authentic (and spicy!) Sichuan cuisine
We’re starting our list out strong with one of Chongqing’s signature attractions – its food! Sichuan regional cuisine is famous for being chock full of spice, with its most famous dishes being drenched in peppercorn. Called Mala (麻辣) it literally translates to “numb and spicy” giving you an idea of the tongue-numbing taste you’re going to get 🤤 And thanks to Chongqing’s Muslim community, you no longer have to miss out on that Sichuan exquisiteness. 😁
Disclaimer: While many of these eateries have not been certified by a governing body, they have been run and operated by Chongqing’s Muslim community for many years. Many halal restaurants in China may also serve alcohol on the menu as it’s part of the local culture, including most of the eateries on this list, so we advise that you dine at your own discretion.
#HHWT Tip: Look out or ask for the phrases 回族餐厅 (Hui Zu Can Ting) which means “Hui Muslim restaurant” and 清真 (Qing Zhen) which means “halal” on signboards and shopfronts.
Chongqing Hotpot, also known as Mala hotpot (麻辣火锅 Ma La Huo Guo or 麻辣锅 Ma La Guo), is the city’s signature dish. It typically consists of a hotpot containing a spicy Mala stock to cook your ingredients in. One of the hotpot’s best features is that you get to select and cook your meat and vegetables to your own liking – this makes it especially fun to eat with others as you can sit around enjoying some cheerful chatter as your food boils itself to perfection 😋
P.S. Beef cuts are some of the most popular ingredients for this dish – some diners prefer to leave the beef in to simmer and cook, but a more traditional method is to dip it in and out of the soup quickly until it changes colour so that it won’t overcook!
Try it out at: 重庆回味川渝清真火锅(优素福店) (Chong Qing Hui Wei Chuan Yu Qing Zhen Huo Guo (You Su Fu Dian))
Address: 松牌路米兰天空101号附23号 (大连银行旁) (Song Pan Lu Mi Lan Tian Kong 101 Hao Fu 23 Hao (Da Lian Yi Xing Pang))
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Chongqing Xiao Mian (重庆小面) is a broad term for various noodle dishes that originated in this city. If Chongqing hotpot is the city’s favourite dinner dish, then Chongqing Xiaomian is the must-have breakfast for any visitor to the city! It’s a sure-fire (pun intended 😉) way to get you ready for the day as the spiciness warms you up from inside. The basic version of this dish is a bowl of wheat noodles simply seasoned with chilli oil, vinegar, sugar, lard (which halal eateries remove) and some herbs or spices, but some restaurants also add juicy braised beef as a topping.
Try it out at: 重庆清真火锅城(真伊顺总店) (Chong Qing Qing Zhen Huo Guo Cheng (Zhen Yi Shun Zong Dian))
Address: 渝中区较场口中兴路5号附1号 (渝亚大厦旁) (Yu Zhong Qu Jiao Chang Kou Zhong Xing Lu 5 Hao Fu 1 Hao (Yu Yu Da Sha Pang))
Credit: @tina.yoon on Instagram
Chongqing Suan La Fen (酸辣粉) is yet another iconic noodle dish of the city, with one big difference from Xiaomian – it uses sweet potato noodles! The starchy noodles give this dish a chewy texture, and it’s a roadside favourite amongst Chongqing citizens. There’s a distinct sourness to this dish that comes from added vinegar, but the Mala chilli paste used in its soupy broth will light your taste buds on fire, and the peanuts, shallots, and soybeans used as toppings will give it a refreshing crunch to top it all off! 😁
Try it out at: 回味伊品清真风味小吃 (Hui Wei Yi Pin Qing Zhen Feng Wei Xiao Chi)
Address: 石灰市30℃街吧15号旁(合景聚融广场一单元) (Shi Hui Shi 30℃ Jie Ba 15 Hao Pang (He Jing Ju Rong Guang Chang Yi Dan Yuan))
2. Navigate the Up’s & Down’s of the “Mountain City’s” terrain
Chongqing is known as the Mountain City, and for good reason. Most of the main city itself is partially built on top of mountains, and rapid industrialization and modernization have only accelerated this. You may even enter a building’s front entrance only to realize that it’s located on the roof of the building as the building extends downwards! The ingenuity of Chongqing’s architects in dealing with this rocky terrain has been around for centuries, and there’s nowhere better to marvel at how much their work ‘rocks’ than at the three locations below 😆
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The Dazu Rock Carvings or Dazu Grottoes are a series of religious sculptures located within Dazu district. While some of these sculptures are placed within hollowed out alcoves in the rocky mountainside, the bigger draw is the ones that have been carved out of the rock themselves! The earliest of the carvings date back to the 7th century, and with over 60,000 figures located across the entire complex it’s an amazing place to spend a few hours and really take in the artistry and craftsmanship needed to achieve such a feat.
Credit: @yaoza42 on Instagram
The Three Natural Bridges in Wulong Karst National Geology Park are a result of the limestone floor of the caves dissolving and collapsing away, leaving ‘bridges’ shrouded in beautiful greenery. These magnificent sights are even grander to see in person, and have become an increasingly popular site over the years (did you know that they were even used as a filming location in Transformers 4?)
3. Travel like a local for convenience and comfort
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One of the easiest ways to get around Chongqing is through the bus, monorail, or light rail services. As driving in China can be daunting even for long-time residents, taking public transportation is the best way to see the sights for visitors. What makes it even better is that most (if not all) major attractions can easily be reached through all of these services!
#HHWT Tip: As station signs may not be in English, remember to double check with the staff at your accommodation for the correct stop to disembark at. The buses are a little easier to navigate as they have screens displaying stop information in both Mandarin and English – but it may be a tight squeeze to get on especially during rush hour!
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Chongqing is also in a great location if you want to visit other major Muslim-friendly cities in Western China such as Chengdu, Kunming, or Xi’an, or even popular destinations such as Beijing or Shanghai. As these train rides can be over 12 hours long however, the best way to make the most out of your journey is to book an overnight ticket with a comfy seat and sleep the hours away.
P.S. If you prefer a scenic route, book yourself a morning train, pack yourself a lunch, and enjoy the view of the Chinese countryside! By the time you disembark, you’ll be just in time for a yummy dinner at your next destination. 😄
4. Indulge in fine art & street art alike
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The exterior of the Chongqing Art Gallery (Jie Fang Bei Guotai Arts Center) is enough to warrant a visit. The bright red beams are meant to evoke the spirituality of traditional Chinese architecture (think the red beams and roof tiles you commonly see on temples) through a contemporary lens. The gallery is a small one – only 2 floors! – but with a mix of traditional Chinese oil paintings and more modern pieces, it’s a brilliant summary of Chongqing being a mix of the past and present.
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For those who want to catch a glimpse of Chongqing’s local art without being cooped up indoors, make your way down to the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute to enjoy the street art scattered around its campus. With everything from mural walls and colourfully decorated exteriors to eclectic sculptures, this is where you can catch a glimpse of Chongqing’s cutting-edge artistic vision.
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And for those who really want to enjoy street art, you can’t miss out on Huang Jue Ping Graffiti Street which is the longest street graffiti district in China at over 1.25 kilometres long and spanning 50,000 square metres. The street starts at the Fine Art Institute itself, so if you’re already there then you won’t have to go far to get to your next artistic destination 😁 The artwork and doodles were completed by the Institute’s own students, and you can see the variety of art styles at work as you walk down the street.
5. Immerse yourself in the local Muslim community
Credit: Mir Azmir on Facebook
Chongqing Mosque is located on Zhongxing Road and is one of the focal points of the local Muslim community. Being able to hear the azan (call to prayer) in a uniquely Chinese tone will remind you of Islam’s diversity, as will getting to do your prayers in somewhere so new and different, yet familiar. ☺️
P.S. The streets immediately around the mosque are full of halal eateries and shops run by the local Muslim population. Make sure to take a short walk around after your prayers to see what you can find!
6. Pay a visit to Ciqikou Old Town where the old way of life still continues
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Ciqikou is such an iconic Chongqing destination that it deserves a whole day to itself. It’s sometimes called Little Chongqing, and was once a busy port along the Jialing River specializing in the porcelain trade. Today, the town has been largely preserved to retain its old-world charm, and you can even see old stilt houses along the narrow cobblestone-lined alleyways.
P.S. Ciqikou can be packed even on weekdays or ‘off-peak’ periods, so we recommend that you take your time to explore the area rather than fight through the huge crowd.
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Any visitor to Ciqikou has to make sure they visit a traditional teahouse before they leave. Some teahouses in the town are over 100 years old, and some hold traditional cultural performances such as dances and opera within their premises to keep you entertained as you sip your tea. One of the most famous teahouses is Ma Tou Hui (码头汇), but with over 10 teahouses scattered throughout the streets, you’ll be spoiled for choice.
#HHWT Tip: Do note that most teahouses do not serve Muslim-friendly food. However, you can still sit and enjoy a cup of warm tea while watching an opera piece or two to soak in the atmosphere.
Credit: @m.miffly0310 on Instagram
Ciqikou’s history hasn’t just been preserved in its teahouses, but its shops too. Porcelain is Ciqikou’s signature trade, but the local artists also produce a wide variety of art pieces and knick-knacks that you can take home as a reminder of your trip. Everything from embroidery to paintings can be found here – you may even see vendors hawking their wares along the streets and adding into the exciting atmosphere.
P.S. If you get hungry during your visit, there are some street snacks such as fried dough twists (fried dough flavoured with toppings such as salt, honey, or fruits) and mochi (glutinous rice cakes coated with brown sugar) available but we advise that you dine at your own discretion.
7. Marvel at the natural wonders lingering amidst modern innovation
If being in the thick of the city is a bit overwhelming for you, then take your time to relax and destress at these nature parks and sights. For all of its fast-paced growth, Chongqing has managed to retain green spaces to rejuvenate and recharge you while you’re there.
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Eling Park is a hilltop park that has some of the best views of the entire city. Built in 1909 and renovated in 1958, it’s definitely a space for a short escape from the busyness of the city. The lookout point is the best place to catch the sunset, and the view of the huge Yangtze river will humble you as you gaze out into the horizon.
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For nature-lovers who want something a bit more up close, head to Wansheng Heishan Valley Tourism Area (or Black Mountain Valley) to enjoy long walks amongst the lush greenery, and stunning scenery that will take your breath away. The area is roughly 100 square metres big and consists of a range of scenery including waterfalls, valleys, and caves. Even in the summertime, the valley’s temperature lingers at a cooler 26 degrees Celsius making it a welcoming retreat from the heat 😄
8. Fill your luggage after visiting the locals’ shopping hangouts
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Jiefangbei is a pedestrian street located in the central business district that comes alive at night. All types of shops can be found here from high-end brands to street vendors, but the common thread running through them is that they’re what the trendiest people in Chongqing wear. With over 20 large shopping centres located here, you’ll be able to buy just about anything you desire.
P.S. Chongqing’s People Liberation Stele is also located here – make sure to snap a pic with this famous landmark!
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Hongya Cave is a huge former military fortress within the city that’s partially built on a cliffside. Its façade has been compared to the bathhouse in Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away and when it’s lit up at night it’s even more jaw-dropping! Within its imposing exterior, there are floors and floors of shops each with their own speciality. The 9th and 10th floors are dedicated to food stalls, with spaces to just sit back, sip a drink, and look over the Yangtze river; whereas the 2nd-floor stocks local crafts and specialities such as woven bamboo items and textiles.
Credit: @reon_sun on Instagram
As a bonus, stop by Chinese bookstore chain Zhong Shu Ge’s branch in Huangjueping to take a look at their dazzling collection, as well as their M.C. Escher-esque staircases. Zhongshuge is known for their unique interior designs and fixtures, and the Chongqing branch will leave you in awe even as you browse through the stacks for some new reads to bring home.
Did we convince you that Chongqing’s one of the best places to be in 2019? With AirAsia’s limited-time low-cost options, you’re one step away from visiting this amazing city with a unique experience for every traveller!
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