China Daily/Asia News Network
The scenic of Dazu Rock Carvings religious sculptures and carvings. (Shutterstock/File)
Chongqing, a metropolis of more than 30 million people in Southwest China, is different from some other Chinese cities.
In 1997, it became the fourth municipality of China after Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin. But many people are drawn to Chongqing by its delicious food and natural scenery. The city looks futuristic with its skyscrapers, while at the same time, with some 3,000 years of history, it still preserves local culture and lifestyles.
Largely built on mountains and surrounded by the Yangtze and Jialing rivers, it is often called the mountain or river city. After building more than 4,500 bridges in recent years, the largest number in China, it is also referred to as the "city of bridges."
After the popular TV documentary A Bite of China introduced Chongqing noodles and hotpot to the audience at home and abroad five years ago, the two spicy local delicacies have become very popular. Restaurants in many Chinese cities are selling such noodles and hotpot, though people in northern and coastal regions tend to eat less chili.
Boasting the largest number of hotpot restaurants in the country, Chongqing was named "China's hotpot city" by the China Cuisine Association in 2007.
According to the Chongqing Hotpot Association, there are more than 50,000 hotpot eateries, employing at least 3.5 million people.
Natural hot springs are a hidden gem of the city, where some of the world's oldest hot springs are said to be located. Nowadays, thanks to ample geothermal resources and its beautiful landscape, Chongqing has developed dozens of hot spring spots across the city.
In 2012, the World Federation of Hydrotherapy and Climatotherapy held its annual conference there and dubbed the city the "global capital of hot springs," a first of its kind in the world.
The best seasons to visit Chongqing are spring and fall. The city has long been one of the hottest in China due to its geographic features and summer temperatures there can cross 40 C.
China Daily recently planned a 72-hour trip in Chongqing covering many of its scenic spots and a sampling of its local food.
Day One: Old Town
The Yuzhong Peninsula, or the Old Town, is where the city started to grow over 3,000 years ago. It is perfect for a walking tour.
In the morning you can visit Chaotianmen Port, literally the "gate that faces heaven". This is where the Jialing River meets the Yangtze River. Near the port is a huge construction site that looks like a sailing ship. It will be a new landmark of Chongqing where the "highest infinity swimming pool in the world" is being planned.
Jiefangbei, or Liberation Monument, is located in downtown Chongqing. There is a saying that if you do not visit the site, your trip to Chongqing is incomplete. It is the equivalent of Times Square in New York, surrounded by giant billboards and name-brand retailers.
The Yangtze River Cable Car, the only one in China now, is a must-go if you want to have a perfect city view from above, especially at night. It was built three decades ago and the 1,166-meter cableway used to be a major means of transport for residents.
Then you can visit the People's Great Hall of Chongqing. Built in 1955, the whole complex is an imitation of the Temple of Heaven in Beijing. In front of the building lies the People's Square. From morning to evening, many people practice tai chi, dancing and singing at the square. It is a great place to observe retiree life.
If you want to experience the famous light rail system, you can take Line 2 from Jiefangbei. The route runs by the Jialing River and through mountains, like a roller-coaster. At Liziba station, the train runs through a residential building, a scene that went viral worldwide after it was uploaded online last year.
In the afternoon, you can visit the Three Gorges Museum. As the landmark of Chongqing, the museum is not only the largest monographic museum in China, but also a public undertaking for the preservation, education, scientific research of cultural relics and the natural environment of Chongqing and the Three Gorges Dam area.
A 360-degree film of the river shows the natural scenery of the Three Gorges prior to the construction of the dam.
There are more than 170,000 cultural relics on display at the museum.
At night, you will want to enjoy the spectacular view of the city. The best way to do so is to take a cruise ship at Chaotianmen Port that links the Yangtze to the Jialing. The tour is about one-and-half hours. Keep warm because the river breeze is chilly.
Day Two: History tour
Just an hour by road from downtown, is another side to Chongqing, viewed best at the Liangjiang International Movie City. It preserves its illustrious past as China's wartime capital during the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1931-45).
A trip to the movie city is like traveling back in time. Opened in late 2016, the movie city features a replica of six Chongqing street blocks from the 1930s containing over 220 buildings, as well as riverside neighborhoods featuring wooden houses and docks from the era, and sections of the city's ancient walls.
The shops, cafes and restaurants around the scenic area offer authentic food and drinks from the '30s, while a range of cultural activities are offered to help evoke memories of the old days.
Back from the movie city in the afternoon, you can relax with a cup of tea in Ci Qi Kou, an ancient river town. It features traditional southwestern architecture, small shops, a variety of snacks and even restaurants on boats.
Day Three: Nearby attractions
The trip to Dazu Rock Carvings will take a day. One of the four greatest Buddhist grottoes in China, it has a history of more than 1,000 years. It was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999.
What makes the Dazu carvings so special are their aesthetic quality, state of preservation, rich diversity of the subject matter, both secular and religious, and the light that they shed on daily life in China during ancient times. Many of the carvings are brightly painted and tell religious, moral and historical stories.
If you are interested in Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism, the carvings are a must-see destination.
After enjoying the spiritual journey, you can eat at the Lotus Garden on your way back to the downtown. The recommended dishes include lotus-themed food - soup, pork and porridge - and also drinks. You can explore more all by yourself. The restaurant is built on a lotus lake.
After the day's sightseeing is over, you could go to the well-known tourist spot Yi Ke Shu, or One Tree, on top of Nanshan Mountain to experience a splendid panoramic view of Chongqing at night.
Last but not the least, if you can stand the spicy local flavor, you should try one of the open-air hotpot restaurants on the mountain.
Street snacks are available on Haochi, or "foodie's street" in the city's Jiefangbei area. Mouthwatering options include hot and sour rice noodles, small sweet dumplings and the Chongqing noodle. A local favorite, the "flower market noodle with mashed beans and minced pork" near the JW Marriot Hotel is highly recommended.
You could try dinner at Nanbin Road, which runs by the Yangtze. There are dozens of upscale restaurants with a view of the river and the Yuzhong Peninsular. Yuxin Sichuan Dish and Yun Sheng Restaurant are good places to go.
A less glamorous hotpot shop called Big Dragon, down an alley in Shapingba district, is the go-to place for real foodies and is open until 3 am. The shop opened at least 20 years ago and it has not changed since.
If you want a more upmarket restaurant, Bai Le Tian Hotpot might be your place - it is the first known hotpot shop in Chongqing, dating to 1921. The newly-renovated restaurant in downtown Jiefangbei features a 1930s retro-style decor, with a local traditional music played by a live band.
Bars to try:
Sky bar at Niccolo, the tallest in Chongqing, with a live band; Mr Tipsy Whiskey and Cocktail Bar, cross the Hongya Cave, a posh and quiet place to have a drink and enjoy the river view; and River Terrace at Regent Hotel, with a nice outdoor seating and views of the Jialing River and the city.
Since November 2013, Chongqing has been offering foreign tourists a 72-hour window to explore the city without a visa, following the introduction of a new policy for transit passengers from 45 countries.
Visitors eligible for visa-free stays must have air tickets to a third country with confirmed dates, and visas where required. A service center for transit passengers operates at the Chongqing Jiangbei International Airport.