If you go to Beijing for longer than two or three days, you need to visit some exciting places that are relatively close. A very attractive spot is Chengde Mountain Resort. You can reach this resort by a cab, rented car, train or bus.

We went there for a summer weekend by car. The drive took a bit longer than we expected (4 hours), as we left Beijing in peak traffic, but it was easy to follow directions to get there.

Evening in Chengde Mountain Resort

A Summer evening in Chengde

A history of Chengde Mountain Resort

Chengde is a relatively small town (about 700,000 inhabitants) in Hebei province with an inspiring history. It is surrounded by mountains and is situated approximately 180 km northeast of Beijing on the Re (Hot) River.
For quite a long time this area was populated by non-Chinese people. It first became part of China during the Liao Dynasty (907-1125). The Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) abandoned it and it came under the rule of the Mongolian Chahar tribe.

In 1703 it was chosen as a summer residence by the Kangxi Emperor of Qing Dynasty. The complex was built between 1703 and 1792, and covers 611.2 ha. It was used as a resort to help escape the heat of Beijing. Emperors used Chengde Mountain Resort in summer and autumn to handle administrative and military affairs, and to receive leaders of minority groups and foreign envoys. This resort and its temples were meant to foster relations with minorities in the area, and therefore the architecture has Han, Tibetan and Mongolian features.
From 1933 to 1945 it was under the Japanese control. In 1948, the People’s Liberation Army took control of Chengde, and the city became home for large populations of ethnic minorities, Mongol and Manchu in particular.

Visiting Chengde Mountain Resort

This hunting area of Chinese emperors has been a UNESCO world heritage site since 1994. It includes an imperial mountain resort and eight outer temples. I enjoyed visiting the resort and its gardens. In summer you can wander through the gardens along wooden corridors similar to those in the Summer Palace. There you can hide from the sun‘s rays and enjoy the cool drafts. There are several lakes that are full of water lilies and lotus flowers, and small and large boats.

Serenity of Chengde Mountain Resort

Enjoy serenity of the park

The entrance and the first part of the resort get quite crowded, but later you can disappear into nature and enjoy the serenity of the par

The gardens in the resort are not very well looked after compared to the naturally-growing water lilies in the lakes. The further you walk from the entrance, the calmer it becomes, and you can enjoy the singing of the birds in more remote parts of the garden. I liked the relaxing atmosphere of the resort, climbing the small hills and just walking throughout the park. We saw a crowd of photographers in the park, and at the outset we thought that they were waiting for someone important, but they were just participating in a contest and waiting to take pictures of fishing birds. All in all, you can easily wander around the park for several hours, enjoying nature and that calm atmosphere.

 

Boats in one of the Chengde Mointain Resort lakes

Boats in one of the lakes

Exhausted after some enjoyable hours spent walking, we decided to take a boat trip on a lake, just to rest and enjoy the ride, but we were disappointed as the trip is only one way. So, be aware that you can take a boat trip, but it‘s only one way, and if you do not leave through a nearby exit, you need to walk back. You will need around three hours in the resort to enjoy a relaxing walk there. The atmosphere there is fantastic and the entire trip was fabulous.
The ticket price of 145 RMB includes a visit to the outer temples, but it is only valid for a one-day visit. My advice would be to leave the temples for the next day (and buy a cheaper ticket just for the resort), as the visit to the temples implies a lot of walking and climbing as well. We managed 32,000 steps in two days.

 

I would suggest visiting the Temple of Universal Peace (Punning Si). We had a car, but left it in the hotel car park, and took Didi, a Chinese Uber, to get there and to another temple fas well. The fare was around 13 RMB one way, and was fast and comfortable. You can also take public bus number 6 from the resort.

The entrance ticket price was 80 RMB. It is a gorgeous temple, peaceful and serene, and is the only active Buddhist temple in Chengde. It was built in 1755 in anticipation of Qianlong‘s victory over the western Mongol tribes in Xinjiang. It has a mixture of Chinese and Tibetan architecture.

The most interesting part

The most impressive part of the temple

The most impressive part of it is a gilded wooden statue of Guanyin (the Buddhist goddess of Mercy), which is over 22 metres high, made of different kinds of wood; pine, cypress, fir, etc. It has many outstretched arms; every palm has an eye and holds a Buddhist artifact.
There is a Puyou temple on the grounds, which you can visit with the same ticket. This temple suffered from a fire in 1964, but still worth visiting for a short time.

Mini Potala temple

Mini Potala

The Putuo Zongcheng Temple is built in a style similar to the Potala Palace in Lhasa, and is also a complex of buildings.

Panoramic views

Panoramic views

Like the real Potala, it requires a lot of climbing. If you want to see the main hall, you need to climb to the very top, where you will be rewarded by impressive panoramic views. If it is hot, climbing might be quite demanding, but you can buy cold water in quite a few places and find some shade to hide. This is a unique opportunity to have a Potala experience without altitude sickness.

One special tip for Chengde: in the evenings – at least on weekends – near Commerce Street you will find at least four places where you can find Chinese dancing. You can find music to suit your taste – Chinese, international, and even sport dance. Come and join! Frankly speaking, you‘ll hear conflicting styles of music, but choose your favorite.

Where to stay

As we decided to go to Chengde on short notice, we had problems finding a hotel for less than US$200 per night. Our criteria for accommodation is a clean hotel in a central location, so we opted for Super 8 Hotel Chengde Bi Shu Shan Zhuang, address: No.2-1 Lizhengmen Main Street, Chengde 067000 Tel:

A hotel room in Chengde

A simple, but spacious room

The hotel is very close to Chengde Mountain Resort. It is clean, has all amenities, and the staff can speak basic English. So it’s okay for one night. We did not have breakfast at the hotel. There are several places offering coffee, pastries and sandwiches across the street, so we opted for this as a local experience. It was rather funny, as it took some time for us to understand why they would not accept payment for additional coffees; apparently, we were entitled to some additional coffee due to the number of pastries we had ordered, but they had difficulty explaining this to us.

Places to eat
Restaurant in Chengde

An entrance to the restaurant

 

We really enjoyed Xinqianlong Restaurant (1-3 F, Dijingyuan Mansion, Xinhua Road, Shuangqiao District, Chengde, +863142072222.)
It is a casual place that serves good Chinese food. I would recommend the leg of lamb, black mushroom salad with walnuts, and signature dumplings. The prices were reasonable and the food was delicious. They have an English menu with photos of the dishes.

A Giraffe coffee place in Chengde

A stylish Giraffe

We also found a nice coffee place called Giraffe, not far from the restaurant. They do not serve any food there, but serve good coffee and some snacks. The place is stylish, local and worth visiting. Bayi Street,Zhulin Temple, Chengde 067000, China.
+86 133 1338 7210

My advice – if you have some spare time – do not forget Chengde!