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72 Hours in Chongqing

China has been rolling out a new 72-hour transit visa exemption policy in major cities throughout the country, making visiting China even easier. Now travelers from the U.S., Canada, and 49 other countries can include China as an additional destination on an existing trip without needing to get a visa. Under the policy, visitors are able to enter select Chinese cities for up to 72 hours without a visa, as long as they have a booked plane ticket to a third country or region within the 72-hour time period. This applies to the cities of Beijing, ShanghaiGuangzhou, Chengdu, ChongqingShenyang, Dalian, Xi’an, GuilinKunming, Hangzhou, Wuhan, Xiamen, Harbin and Tianjin. China continues to expand this policy to additional locations throughout the destination. In the meantime, these cities are the ideal stopovers or add-on destinations for travelers already in Asia.

Chongqing is one of China’s largest cities, with a population of more than 32 million. It sits at the confluence of the Yangtze and Jialing Rivers, so the city is surrounded by picturesque natural beauty, especially water and mountains. The climate in Chongqing is quite temperate, though the spring and fall can bring foggy skies, earning the city its nickname “The Capital of Fog.” Now that you can visit Chongqing for up to 72 hours without getting a visa, the only question is what you want to do while there. The good news is that Chongqing is very doable within three days. Here are some of the top things to do in Chongqing to make the most of your 72-hour trip:

Dazu Rock Carvings

The steep hillsides of Dazu County are home to many grottoes containing ancient rock carvings that date back to the Song Dynasty (960-1279). The largest cluster of carvings is found at Mount Beishan, where more than 10,000 carvings span a cliff face, reaching 23-33 feet high and stretching for almost 1,000 feet. In the U-shaped gorge at Mount Baoding, there is another large group of carved figures that stretch across 1,600 feet. The carvings are not only grand in scale, but also very well-preserved, thanks to many centuries where they were off-limits to visitors. The carvings were named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999 and are open to the public. The elaborate craftsmanship of these ancient art pieces depicts themes from Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism.

Ciqikou Old Town

Situated on the bank of the Jialing River is the ancient village of Ciqikou, also known as Porcelain Village. While Chongqing is a modern city, Ciqikou has remained much as it was centuries ago and in 1998 was named a protected cultural site by the State Council. During the Ming and Qing Dynasties, Ciqikou was famous for its production of porcelain and was the site of more than 20 ancient porcelain kilns. Ciqikou also served as an important supply post along the river, as you’ll see in the many shops that line the stone streets of the town. Tea shops, restaurants, artist studios and other shops dot the 12 main streets of Ciqikou, as well as historic houses displaying old-style architecture. Ciqikou is known for porcelain, as well as its tea bars and embroidery workshops. This lively historic town remains an authentic and interesting place to visit, eat, drink, shop and experience a piece of the past.

Wulong Karst Areas

The Wulong Karst is a part of the Wulong Karst National Geology Park as well as an important part of the South China Karst formation. This incredible landscape of towering rock pillars and craggy caves is actually a cluster of several karst landscapes. Gorges, natural bridges, underground streams, giant sinkholes (called “dolines”) and other natural phenomena can be found here. The Wulong Karst includes three main attractions: Lotus Cave, Three Natural Bridges and Houpin Giant Doline. The Three Natural Bridges are the largest natural bridge cluster in all of Asia; their sheer height and grand scale make them quite a sight to see. The Houping Giant Doline is the longest underground cavern system in Asia, parts of which visitors can tour. Because the area surrounding the Wulong Karst is uninhabited, the breathtaking landforms have retained their pristine natural offerings and provide an even more spectacular view.

Ghost City of Fengdu

Fengdu has been known as the “Ghost City” for 2,000 years, dating back to the Eastern Han Dynasty. Located on Ming Mountain, Fengdu is considered a place of judgment in the Chinese culture, as the dead head into the afterlife. In the Chinese vision of the afterlife, the dead must undergo three tests that will determine whether a person would be sent to heaven or hell (or perhaps be sent back to earth for another try). The tests take place in Fengdu at Nothing-to-be-Done Bridge, Ghost Torturing Pass and Tianzi Palace. During the Tang Dynasty, a massive temple was erected on the side of the mountain, and depicts life in hell, including displays of torture devices and scenes from hell. Visitors must climb many steps up the mountain, but there are many stops and interesting sights along the way, so it’s a very doable ascent; there are also carts to assist people and an easier path for the way down. Nighttime tours by torchlight make for another amusing way to take in the statues, grounds and learn about this interesting city. Despite what some might consider an eerie topic, Fengdu is a fascinating peek into understanding Chinese culture and concept of afterlife, and the architecture and craftsmanship is a must-see as well.

Three Gorges Museum

This massive museum is situated opposite the Chongqing People’s Hall. With its free admission and close proximity to other sights, it is convenient even while in Chongqing for only 72 hours. The Three Gorges Museum opened in 2005 with its striking architecture and large glass domes. The museum houses exhibits about the people of the region, sculptures from the Han Dynasty, cultural relics from the surrounding area of southwest China, and a 180° panorama depicting Chongqing’s temporary appointment as the capital of China during World War II. The 360° cinema provides incredible footage of the natural scenery from the Three Gorges before the construction of the dam.

Chongqing Restaurants

The famous “Chinese hot pot” was invented in Chongqing as a warming dish during cold winters. People would huddle around a table, eating from the hot pot of food in the middle, and be warmed by the food and people around them. Hot pots can be found throughout China now, but it’s worth having one in the original source. Cygnet Hot Pot Palace in New Chongqing Square is a cavernous space decorated with winding corridors, stone walls, red columns and dramatic décor. It is frequented by both locals and tour groups who revel in the nightly performances and infinite varieties of hot pots. Spicy Sichuan cuisine is also available throughout Chonqing, especially in warmer weather. The floating restaurants along the river offer lunch and dinner on these brightly lit boats. Another legendary restaurant is Fish Eating Sheep, where you’ll eat among locals and enjoy tasty food at budget prices. It’s said that Marco Polo named the iconic dish “lazhilian” here when he visited. Ziyang chicken is also a specialty.