Until it was plucked from obscurity in 1703, the city of Chengde was not oft-visited. But when Qing emperor Kangxi visited on a fated early 18th-century hunting trip, he saw so much potential in the area that he chose it as the location of his summer palace. Thus began an 89-year construction project that turned the area into a sprawling imperial compound now known as Mountain Resort, which features lakes, plains, hills, temples, halls, and a hunting area. Kangxi’s grandson, Emperor Qianlong, benefitted especially from the resort, spending extended periods of time there. Little did they know that, 200 years later, their palace would become a popular tourist attraction and an idyllic trip for families looking to escape the clamor of Beijing.
Located about 200km from Beijing, Chengde’s Mountain Resort is best seen over a weekend. The Mountain Resort is an extensive, walled-off complex that comprises 5.64 million sqm, almost half the area of urban Chengde. In Chinese, the Mountain Resort is called bishu shanzhuang, literally “mountain villa for avoiding the heat.” While late-autumn visitors run no risk of getting heatstroke, November is the ideal time to visit before temperatures drop below freezing.
Completed in 1790, Mountain Resort is a UNESCO World Heritage site divided into districts or “areas”: the lake area, the plains area, and the mountain area (the largest of the three). The palace and its surrounding temples are known for their architecture, but not
because they are original. In fact, most everything in the entire complex is checkerboard of copies of famous landmarks or riffs on the traditional architectural styles of different ethnic groups.
The front of the palace was the court, where state functions were held, and where the emperor greeted visiting dignitaries, nobles, and officials, while living quarters were at the back of the palace. Palace rooms have now been turned into museum exhibits, one of which contains a wax exhibit detailing the history of the Qing Dynasty, which feature decent English translations. Save yourself a trip to Southern China and take a moment to admire the Tower of Mists and Rain on Green Lotus Island, which is a dead ringer for the tower at Nanhu Lake in Zhejiang Province. The Shang Di Ge, which sits on Shang Lake, might also remind you of Beijing’s Summer Palace. The grounds are also home to one of China’s tallest stone pagodas, which stands an astounding 70m high.
Originally, the grounds contained 12 temples; however, four of them fell into disrepair and were not restored. Of the eight that were restored, the most famous is the Putuo Zongcheng Temple, which resembles the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet. Don’t let the Putuo Zongcheng Temple replace any trip to Tibet; while it’s the largest and perhaps the most impressive of the temples, it pales in comparison to the real thing, and those with a keen eye may spot false walls or constructional flaws.
The most popular of all the temples may be the Puning Temple, which is based on another Tibetan landmark, the Samye Monastery. The Puning Temple was constructed with the intent to unite Tibetan Buddhists, and devotees still practice within the temple today. While inside Puning Temple, be sure not to miss the 23m-tall wooden statue of Guanyin Buddha. Stick your head into Puyou Temple, a small, oft-overlooked Manchu-style temple that has a collection of dark green Buddhas clustered within a hallway. When you step into Pule Temple, you might mistakenly believe you’re back in Beijing. It pays obvious homage to both the Temple of Heaven and the Forbidden City, but it does, however, have one thing neither of the Beijing landmarks do: pictures of multiple-armed gods participating in acts reminiscent of the Kama Sutra.
The city of Chengde itself doesn’t have much to distinguish itself from other cities around China, but there are plenty of comfortable places to stay. The Chengde Hotel is a popular and comfortable choice and at about RMB 300 per night, it won’t shatter a budget. Another hotel choice is the Chengde Tianbao Holiday Hotel, which starts around RMB 500 per night. There is also the Mongolian Yurt Hotel on the grounds of the Mountain Resort, which will satisfy those with an adventurous streak without scaring away those who seek creature comforts. The concrete yurts, which have modern flourishes like television sets and comfortable living spaces, start at about RMB 900 per night. Booking ahead can be tricky, so try going through Ctrip’s hotels section or call them directly if you speak Chinese.
Chengde is big on dumplings, which you can find at most local restaurants when meal time comes around. A dumpling restaurant famous among both locals and visitors is Da Qing Hua. For tasty Xinjiang food, try Lao San Yang Tang, which features delicious lamb soups and roasted, meat-filled buns to fortify you for your return trip to Beijing.
Chengde Mountain Resort 承德避暑山庄
RMB 90 (Nov.1- Feb.28), RMB 120 (Mar.3-Oct.31) Daily 8am-5.30pm. 20 Lizhengmen Lu, Chengde, Hebei Province (0314 202 3771) www.bishushanzhuang.com.cn 河北省承德市丽正门路20号
Chengde Hotel 承德宾馆
19 Nanyingzi Dajie, Chengde (0314 208 8808) 承德市双桥区南营子大街19号
Chengde Tianbao Holiday Hotel 承德天宝假日酒店
Bldg A, XinhuaYuan, Chengde( 400 601 1595) 河北省承德市新华园A座
Mongolian Yurts Hotel 承德避暑山庄蒙古包度假树
Wanshu Yuan Scenic District (near Shanzhuang Donglu), Bishu Shanzhuang, Shuangqiao District, Chengde (0314 216 3094)
Da Qing Hua Dumpling Restaurant 大清华饺子馆
1) 19 Lizheng Lu (across from Mountain Resort), Chengde (0314 203 6111) 承德市双桥区丽正路19号(避暑山庄对面); 2) 241 Chezhan Lu (across from City Five Hospital), Shuangqiao District, Chengde (0314 777 7707) 承德市双桥区车站路214号（市五医院正对面; 3) 2 Zhongxing Lu (near China Unicom), Shuangqiao District, Chengde (0314 210 8878) 承德市双桥区中兴路2号(近中国联通)
Lao San Yang Tang 老三洋汤
Shangye Bldg 8, 1 Xinglong Jie Xiaoqu, Shangzhuang Donglu, Shuangqiao District, Chengde (0314 227 2283) 双桥区山庄东路北兴隆街小区1号商业楼8
By public transportation: Take train K7711 from Beijing Station
(8.05am) to Chengde (12.31pm). Tickets cost under RMB 100 one way.
By car: Get on the Jingcheng Expressway from Wanghe Qiao on Fourth Ring Road. Continue along the Jingcheng Expressway for 130km. Pass the tollbooth and enter Dagao Expressway. Follow this for 74km; about a kilometer after the tollbooth, turn left on Huanbin Lu and follow the sings to Chengde.