Hi everyone! I’ve been wanting to get this story typed up for about 9 months now!! It was in June last year that I first visited the city of Chongqing in China. It was a childhood dream of mine, and when the moment finally arrived, I was just in awe of this astounding monster. I bring you my story of not just backpacking in Chongqing but the journey that took me there and the reasons why.
While some of us think of Sydney Opera house, the Taj Mahal, the Dead Sea etc. for our travel dreams, I tend to just go for places that I randomly get inspired about and longed to visit, all my life. It doesn’t matter to me if they are touristy or not, and as you can tell I normally prefer the off the wall stuff. For example it was always a travel dream for me to visit Montevideo, home of the football World Cup so I went and did it. Despite my longing to visit, I kept Chongqing out of my travel plans for a long, long time. In fact I had been to China more than 10 times before I finally stepped foot in this beast. This was one of my most eagerly awaited trips in my entire life. In June 2013, all alone, I finally made the journey to Chongqing – China’s hidden monster.
Before I give you my rundown and overview of the city of Chongqing, I want to give you a bit of background information and my story on why I went there and the personal account of my journey. Yes there will be a “top 10 things to do” post as well, but on my terms 😉
First up, the hard truth: CHONGQING is the biggest city in the world.
Quite where this astonishing fact comes from is not clear, but I’m going to stick my neck out here and believe that it’s true. Chongqing is an almost secret, hidden, mega metropolis in China’s countryside. The entire Chongqing Municipality area officially houses between 29 – 33 million people. It could be more, but it couldn’t be less. I’ve been to giants like Tokyo, Shanghai, Jakarta and my my reckoning Chongqing sinks them people wise. But it’s not really confirmed and nobody really knows.
These days Chongqing is actually classed as a separate Chinese Province, from Sichuan Province where it was traditionally part of. Even the Lonely Planet China (Travel Guide)has a separate section on Chongqing. It’s mammoth, it’s massive, it’s mega, it’s a monster. The skyscrapers don’t seem to end. It wouldn’t quite be Chongqing otherwise.
I was on the metro for an hour out of the city and it was a constant display of people and skyscrapers, out every window, at every station. And bear in mind that the metro here isn’t as busy or well known as Beijing, Shanghai, Taipei etc. I took a few buses out of the city too and they were the same. Crazy.
Michael Palin of the BBC was one of my early travel heroes. I watched his 1908s series Around the World in 80 Days with my Dad as a child and we later watched Full Circle together. It was on Full Circle that Michael Palin arrived by boat along the dreamy Yangtze River into what he described as “the town of Chongqing”. (quite the understatement to class this place as a “town”. He then went on to walk through the old town as the TV shots focused on a seemingly magnificent metropolis sunk deep into countryside amidst polluted air and the waft of Chinese cuisine. I was totally intrigued and I earmarked as a spot to tick off. It had to be special for me though.
I didn’t just want to go there on my first trip to Asia, nor on my first trip to China. I wouldn’t have liked it back then (in 2007). I would have felt overaud and out of place, I knew it then and I admit it now. So instead, when I was based in Hong Kong and with a multiple entry China visa, with a lot of backpacking experience, I was ready for it.
My Personal Journey to Chongqing
It was June 2013. It all happened a bit quick really and I was working flat out. I was knackered, and I didn’t have the time to get a train all the way up to Chongqing, so I flew direct from Hong Kong Airport. Life had been busy. I worked on a Monday in June at our Kindergarten Graduation End of Year event. It was held at Tsuen Wan Town Hall, and was a marvellous spectacle. It was the second time I had been to a K3 Kindergarten Graduation event in Hong Kong (2012, 2013). What was even crazier was that on the Monday morning, I was in Guangxi Province of China, at Guilin Airport flying to Shenzhen (within 20 hours I’d have visited 4 airports in China, spanning 4 provinces and worked a full shift in a school). We had toured Yangshou and Guilin for a few days, then I was back in Hong Kong to do this graduation for a day before flying to Chongqing. Manic.
You could call it “taking advantage of my China Visa while I had it”, but then again, I’ve had another two Chinese visas since!
I left work at the graduation in Tsuen Wan town hall in Hong Kong, and headed straight to Tung Chung on the MTR and then a bus to Hong Kong international airport (the cheap way to do it). I was still in my shirt and tie at check in, got through immigration and security and checked into my Chongqing flight. I was buzzing. It was also the first time in SIX YEARS that I had been to China on my own. My previous 9 trips had all been with my girlfriend Panny Yu.
I was meant to go with my Northern Irish and Hong Kong based buddy Neil, but Neil pulled out through illness at late notice despite already booking his flights (crazy I know but these things happen in life…) and perhaps this was fate, as it meant I would make that dreamlike visit to Chongqing on my own. Completely loving it!
I hadn’t travelled alone much in the previous three years since meeting my girlfriend Panny Yu in Antarctica. We do almost everything together. Except when I’m busy travel blogging and writing (read: it happens a lot), she uses the time expertly and wisely to plan all of our trips (read: Panny plans everything) – Panny is a travel expert. But this time, Panny was working, she had been to Chongqing before and so I was off on an adventure on my own.
I get sentimental when travelling alone, and I often use my luxury money to relax with a beer, as happened at Hong Kong Airport. I popped into the Deko Bar there for a pint of Murphy’s and boarded my late flight to Chongqing. I was the only foreigner on board my flight. More travel bliss and Hong Kong Airlines included free water, snack, tea and a Tsingtao beer.
Back to Chongqing: Chongqing is mega. China is endless, unknown and untravelled. Really? Yes. China is NOT touristy. Anyone that tells you it is, hasn’t really been to China. I have spent countless days and nights on trains, buses, climbing mountains, visiting temples and been the ONLY foreign tourist there. Parts of China are VERY VERY untouristy, very unknown and if I say so myself, beautiful. China is one of my favourite countries on the planet.
With the exception of Shanghai, Beijing, the Great Wall (and at a push Lijiang), I’ve always felt that China is not touristy at all. It’s always felt special to me. It’s always felt like I was really out travelling when I’ve been in China. The weird thing is, I don’t see myself as a “normal tourist” most of the time when I’m in China, and here’s why: normal tourists don’t want to spend their days getting lost, speaking a strange language and arriving in ridiculous unknown cities with no major sights and no comfort of a cosy living room. I’m the opposite. I buzz off getting lost, exploring new places, arriving in cities where there are no other tourists, no obvious sights and certainly no “comfort zone” of a cosy living room or a language that you know. In all factors, Chongqing ticks those boxes.
On the 10th June 2013 at 11.45 pm, I landed in Jiangbei International Airport, Chongqing, China. It wasn’t quite the elaborate Yangtze River Cruise entrance that Michael Palin had done years before, but I was buzzing at the thought of just being here. I even arrived too late for the metro or airport bus so my travel bug bear of getting a taxi had to be done. As I got checked into my really cool downtown hostel (the awesome Green Forest Hostel) and had my first local beer, a bottle of Shancheng, I planned my travel round the city for the next few days. What an adventure this was! I was so happy that I had lived my childhood dream of visiting Chongqing!
I will share my top tips on the sights of Chongqing in another post soon! Here are a few videos of my trip to Chongqing: