Chengde Travel Guide
Chengde is about 230 km northeast of Beijing. Lush forests, bleak rock formations and unique temples make a trip to Chengde an outdoor adventure and cultural tour.
If you thought the Summer Palace was a nice place to escape the city swelter, then you should head further north to Chengde, a town that boasts the largest imperial summer retreat complex in China. Known as the Imperial Summer Villa, "escape the heat mountain villa," the
park has been Chengde's main attraction since 1703. Set in a mountain valley and surrounded by an ancient wall, the parkland includes its own lake, pine forests, hunting ground and pavilions.
The town of Chengde was originally born only to support the imperial entourage that set up camp there every summer and has never lost the feel of a tourist destination. Radiating from the southern gate of the Imperial Summer Villa, modern Chengde is small, but has a lively street scene with vendors and markets and tree lined lanes. Crossing the Wulie River on the only bridge into town, you'll find Chengde is a relaxed town far from the din and bustle of Beijing.
These days travelers don't come just to escape the summer heat, but also for Chengde's clean mountain air.
When the weather is still warm, people of all ages come to relax in the Town Square, fly kites and play badminton well past dusk. The square on Nanyingzi Da Jie is the heart of the town and a fine place to sit and people watch. Continuing north along the road is a towering statue of Qing emperor Kangxi on horseback guarding the city's largest traffic circle. Close to the statue is Lizhengmen Da Jie which curves close to the Imperial Summer Villa wall with grassy spaces that make for pleasant walks past the two main gates of the park. The eastern edge of town is bound by the Wulie River, a broad gentle waterway with views across the hills that tumble right down to its banks. Along much of the length of the river is a waterfront park with winding paths, pine trees and rock sculptures; another fine place for a stroll. If it's hot, you could try the public swimming area just upstream from the city's main bridge.
Besides the famed Imperial Summer Villa, Chengde also boasts the Eight Outer Temples, built during the reigns of Emperor Kangxi and his grandson Qianlong. There were once 12 temples, but today only eight remain open to visitors. In its heyday, the temples had imperial patronage, and supported a large and vibrant spiritual community. The eight temples are all set in the hills north of the town center where the mountain scenery alone makes it worth the trip, not to mention the amazing Buddhist art.
One of the highlights of the eight temples is the enchanting golden statue of Guanyin, the Bodhisattva of Mercy, at Temple of Universal Tranquility. At 22m tall and with 42 arms, her statue is a figure that's not easily forgotten. Climb a ladder to get a closer look at the Bodhisattva, one of the most stunning statues of its kind. The temple was built by Emperor Qianlong to commemorate his victory over Mongolian tribes and mixes Han Chinese and Tibetan ethnic styles.
And if you don't have time to swing through Tibet during your stay in China, you should check out Putuozongcheng Zhi Miao, a replica of Lhasa's Potala Palace, set against a backdrop of piney hills just to the north of the Imperial Summer Villa Park. The temple was built for visiting heads of various Tibetan and Mongolian tribes who came to celebrate Emperor Qianlong's 60th birthday; it was hoped they would feel more at home with a familiar sight. When you enter the first gate you can smell the whiff of incense, and heading up the stairs you're slowly transported to Lhasa. The Potala is one of the finest architectural gems around, even if only in imitation. Spin the old brass prayer wheels for good luck but make sure to spin them clockwise. Also make sure to look for the numerous artifacts exhibited within. The view from the top of the temple is stunning.
Also incorporating Tibetan architecture is the Temple of Happiness and Longevity, built to honour the sixth Panchen Lama who visited Chengde in 1780 for Qianlong's birthday celebrations. On sunny days, the roof of the main hall is spellbinding. The hall's double tiered roof is made of copper and is gilded with 500kg of gold, and each eave sports two dragons each made from about a ton of gold. This and Putuozongcheng are typical Lamaist structures as the Qing emperors were fervent believers of Lamaist Buddhism. The Temple of Universal Happiness was built in 1766 for visiting dignitaries from minority groups.
Beyond the outer temples, the dry mountains of northern Hebei Province recede into the haze. The sandstone formations here are truly spectacular; they're vaguely reminiscent of the American southwest. A few of the more fantastic rock forms have been given names, the most notable being Hammer Mountain, which looks like a giant hammer with its handle up, and Frog Rock, which looks like a frog about to jump. These two unusual formations are just uphill from the Temple of Universal Happiness, so it's easy to do both in one excursion. More intrepid travellers might want to explore the trails heading off southeast that connect with peasant tracks and can be linked up with more distant mountains and ridges, all without entrance fees.
For those looking to make a complete circuit of the sites outside the town, buses leave from many of the large hotels every morning and taxis are not hard to find. The temples aren't too far away from town and going by bike is an excellent way to see the sights.
Chengde Memorable Experience
Sitting outside for dinner at a small table with short stools eating various local meats, from tasty rabbit to spicy lamb, and drinking beers with some locals.
Watching the nightly procession of dancers and music-makers walk from the Statue of Kangxi southeast into town, beating gongs and cymbals all the way.
Hiking up to the Hammer Mountain and gazing at the superb view.
- Tour Code: BJ201
- Days: 2
- Destination: Beijing-Chengde-Beijing
- Tour Code: CDE01
- Days: 2
- Destination: Beijing-Chengde