Renowned for spicy, mouth-numbing cuisine, giant pandas, and subtropical rainforests, Sichuan is one of China's most interesting and influential provinces. Chongqing is known as China's "mountain city." Vast and modern, while still retaining many of its old buildings—for now—Chongqing features a fascinating balance of modern Chinese dynamism and Sichuan spice.
With a population of more than 83 million, Sichuan is known for its people's commitment to leisure. The Sichuan basin, flanked by mountains on all sides, has historically shielded the area from considerable war and conflict. And the soil, some of the most fertile in the country, has created a culture of agriculture that locals are immensely proud of.
Sichuan's cuisine is famous in China for its liberal use of the chili pepper as well as the numbing flavor of the huajiao, also known as the Sichuan peppercorn. Popular dishes such as mapo tofu, rabbit head, and the ubiquitous hotpot originated in this part of the country.
The variety of ingredients found in Sichuan cooking are a reflection of the province's diverse topography. The eastern half of Sichuan is dominated by the Sichuan Basin, an area of high agricultural output that in dynastic times was fought over by rival kingdoms. Heading westward, the basin gives way to mountains that become increasingly awe-inspiring as Han Sichuan yields to the province's Tibetan regions.
Sichuan's capital of Chengdu is currently one of the country's most evolving cities. During the day, leisure-loving residents sip on tea and crack sunflower seeds while chatting or playing mahjong. When the sun goes down, there is plenty of amazing food to sample along with one of China's best live music scenes waiting afterward.
Once the capital of Sichuan—and China—the megacity of Chongqing sits to the east of the province and now answers directly to Beijing. With the completion of the Three Gorges Dam, which allows seagoing barges to make it all the way to Chongqing, the city is now changing faster than ever in its new role as Western China's seaport.