One hundred and forty miles northeast of Beijing in Hebei province, Chengde has a population of 200,000. It’s an unassuming town that wouldn’t be worth much attention were it not for the beautiful Qing dynasty
imperial Mountain Resort (Bishu Shanzhuang) and the astounding collection of temples at the foot of the mountains to the north.
The palaces, pavilions, pagodas, grasslands, lakes and temples of the retreat make it an ideal weekend escape for Beijingers, and the park’s main attractions can get very busy. But fortunately the grounds are large enough to make finding a quiet spot easy and the northwest offers good hiking opportunities.
See also Bishu Shanzhuang and Chengde Attractions , Chengdepictures
Chengde rose to fame when Emperor Kangxi of the Qing dynasty passed through the region and was bewitched by its cool mountain breezes. He ordered the construction of lodges, palaces, pavilions and temples. Chengde enjoyed continued royal patronage under Yongzheng (1723-35) and Qianlong (1736-95), who added a significant number of the buildings you’ll see now.
The rugged landscape and hunting lifestyle appealed to the traditions of the Manchurian Qing rulers, but its northerly temples, built in Lamaist style, were designed to impress and, at the same time, appease the various northern vassal leaders who were entertained here during the summer months. In 1786, the Tibetan Panchen Lama came and must have been astounded by the imitation of Lhasa’a Potala Palace, the Putuozongcheng Temple.
Seven years later the British sent Lord Macartney, bearing gifts provided by the East India Company, to open negotiations for trade, the first of many attempts, which would eventually lead to the Opium Wars.
Macartney refused to kowtow and Qianlong refused to trade but the meeting was otherwise amicable enough. The imperial retreat was also popular under Qianlong’s successors, but when emperors Jiaqing and then Xianfeng died here, Chengde was deemed inauspicious and went to seed, even avoiding attention during the Cultural Revolution.
Since economic reform, tourism has become one of the town’s mainstays and the historic buildings are gradually being spruced up, although the town itself could do with a little of the same.
Getting Here & Away
Chengde is served by several trains daily from Beijing Station, which take between four and five hours to reach the station on the east bank of the river in the south of town – the N211 leaves at . For the round-trip journey, buying tickets at the train station isn’t too traumatic, but most hotels in town can book them for you for a small fee. It’s difficult, nigh on impossible, to get soft class tickets, but paying a little more for one of the faster trains should put you in carriages that aren’t as busy. To get into town, take bus #5 or a taxi, although it can be hard to get drivers to use the meter – the ride should cost ¥5.
Buses from Beijing’s Deshengmen depot take four or five hours to reach the Long Distance Bus Station at the southern end of Wulie Lu in Chengde, from where you can take a taxi or walk into town.
The town of Chengde is small enough to navigate on foot, but the usual array of transport options are on hand to get out to the temples or if you get tired.
Chengde is fairly small and taxis are cheap enough (if they use the meter) so buses shouldn’t be necessary around town, although they can be useful for getting out to the temples. Bus #6 runs from Bishu Shanzhuang to Puning Temple and #188 heads to the eastern temples.
Chengde’s taxi drivers have seen too many tourists and can be a little unscrupulous, often refusing to take foreigners for less than ¥10. Flagfall is ¥5 and ¥1.4 per kilometer (0.6 miles) beyond this. Most journeys around town should cost ¥5, or ¥10 to one of the northern temples. If the driver refuses to use the meter then hail another taxi.
Bicycle isn’t a bad way to get up to the eastern and northern temples, although the main roads are far from tranquil. Ask at your hotel for bike hire.