While most people know about the Summer Palace in Beijing, few know that the real Summer Palace is actually a few hours northeast of the capital in Chengde. As summer in Beijing can be excruciatingly hot, the Emperor used to flee to this city in Hebei province to relax and cool down in his very own Summer Mountain Resort. As Chengde is just a cheap 4-hour train ride away from Beijing, we decided to head there when we had a short holiday for the Tomb Sweeping Day in 2012 with two of our friends on a couple’s retreat.
Arriving in Chengde, we found Ming’s hostel a short walk away from the train station. Apparently, they have since moved, expanded, and upgraded, which is great news because they’re really friendly people. We decided to save the mountain resort for the next day, so we headed out to see some of the city’s many temples. In order to appease minority groups and create a more “harmonious society”, the Emperor had temples built to replicate Tibetan, Mongolia, and Manchu structures. We visited the replica of the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet as well as the Puning Temple.
A short video tour of the two temples we visited in Chengde.
As Chengde is also historically known as a place for hunting, it should come as no surprise that you can find venison on menus here, in addition to other gamey meat such as rabbit. We hit a restaurant that came recommended by our hostel and tried eating deer for the first time. It was delicious, as was the rest of our dinner. After dinner, we found the “Bar Street” that had all of two bars. We sat around drinking and chatting for a while before calling it a night.
The next day, we went to the massive Summer Mountain Resort. This massive summer retreat for the Emperor and his family features multiple palaces and the largest royal garden in China. It’s officially split into four areas – Palace, Lake, Plain, and Mountain, and you can easily spend a whole day wandering around the grounds. Exploring this massive retreat made us all think how it must have been good to be the Emperor – not only did he have the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace in Beijing, but he also got to come out here when it got really hot to kick back and relax.
From the resort, we headed across the street to get lunch in a local restaurant. We got a bunch of different dumplings, a spicy pot full of potatoes, onions, peppers, and meat, and a few cold ones. Needing to walk off that huge lunch, we strolled around the city and eventually found ourselves sitting by the river, taking in the sunset with a bottle of Chinese booze. Our night was spent lounging around the hostel and pigging out on BBQ across the street, and we headed back to Beijing the next day.
Our full day in Chengde – the Summer Mountain Resort, a tasty lunch, and being derelicts down by the river.
Chengde isn’t on the radar of many foreign tourists here, but it’s definitely worth checking out if you have some extra time in Beijing, or especially if you live there. It’s easy to catch either a train or bus there, and you can take in most of the sights in just a few days without making much of a dent in your wallet.
Transportation: The fastest train from Beijing is the K7711, leaving at 8:05 and arriving at 12:30. A hard seat is 40 RMB, a soft is 60, and a hard sleeper goes for just under 100. There are also busses that leave every 20 minutes or so from Beijing, but these may find you stuck in a horrible traffic jam.
Get Around: Your best bet for getting around Chengde is the local bus system or taxis, which are cheaper than they are in Beijing.
Accommodation: We stayed in the Ming’s Dynasty hostel, which has since moved. At the time, we got a double room for 140 RMB/night.
Activities: The main reason to come to Chengde is to see the Summer Mountain Resort. There are also eight temples of interest, but it’s definitely not necessary to see them all.
Food/Drink: As Chengde is also known as a place to hunt, you’ll find plenty of game here, so load up on a big tasty plate of venison. There is a bar street, but don’t expect very much going on there. We preferred drinking street beers down by the river like a bunch of derelicts.
Recommended Time: Two days is enough for Chengde – one for some temples and one for the resort.