My friend Nina and I planned a 2-day trip to Chengde. It’s a prefecture-level town northeast of Beijing that houses several of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. For fear that we may not be able to buy a ticket going back to Tianjin, we shortened it for a day. Yes, it was quite a rush, but it was amazing, nevertheless.
We shortened the trip because, you see, we would not want to experience what we had going to Chengde. Apparently, on holidays lots of Chinese would either go back to their hometown or visit touristy places, and Chengde is among the list of go-to places especially during summer, which was right around the corner.
The train ride
the train to Chengde got so crammed with Chinese excited to reach home. I smelled sweaty feet, bad breath, foul underarms, and the constant shout of Chinese people when they speak to each other inside the train…
We took the train on our way to Chengde from where we live, Tianjin. But here’s the problem: there were no more seats available, so we opted to buy the standing tickets, hoping that our folded chairs would suffice. We had no idea that our folded chairs would end up being useless as the train to Chengde got so crammed with Chinese excited to reach home. I smelled sweaty feet, bad breath, foul underarms, and the constant shout of Chinese people when they speak to each other inside the train. Why do they shout to each other inside the train, I had no idea!
It was the worst train ride ever, no kidding. We had a train stop to Beijing and some people could no longer get in through the train door because there weren’t enough space to move in inside. Hordes of people outside the train started opening windows to get in. And to make it worst, train attendants came to push and squeeze them in, like pushing boxes, just so they can get through.
My companion, Nina, kept saying “no way, this is terrible.” Yet, the flooding of people continued. It was obviously not a wonderful experience but I was still glad to experience something like it, for experience’s sake. This is why we decided to take the train back the next night to avoid getting the same experience and indeed, we had beds and slept through the ride.
It is the largest imperial palace garden existing in China with over 5.64 million square metres.
Chengde houses some of the famous sites in China – temples, mountains resorts, and parks. During the Qing dynasty, Chengde was the summer destination of the emperor (to escape the heat in Beijing) so it has the Mountain Resort which became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1994. It is the largest imperial palace garden existing in China with over 5.64 million square metres. Construction of the entire mountain resort lasted for 89 years from 1703 to 1792.
Chengde also houses the Puning Temple, another UNESCO Heritage site, which is famous for its ginormous wooden Buddha statue, the largest in the world. Inside the temple, you would see several lamas, and is the only temple resided by them in Northen China.
Another attraction is the Putuo Zongcheng Temple (built after the model of Potala temple in Tibet), yes, also another UNESCO World Heritage site and is remarkable for the magnificent pattern of Han-Tibetan Buddhism architecture. This is also the largest temple among the outlying temples in Chengde (built from 1767-1771) with an area of 220,000 square meters. Our guide said that the roof of the temple is made of gold, yup – pure, lavish gold.
More than a day
I would tell my friends who would like to visit the town one day, to allot a day at the Mountain Resort
It would had been better to spend 2 or 3 days in Chengde and see all the other picturesque areas. I would tell my friends who would like to visit the town one day, to allot a day at the Mountain Resort which is divided into three main parts – the hills, mountains and lakes. There are buses to get you around the area for 40RMB (which is what we took cos we don’t have much time).
It would have been fantastic to see more of the place, befriending the deers that roam freely within the resort, enjoying the scenery of the lakes and mountains, or looking at the beauty and hugeness of the earth by passing through the walls of the resort. Those things would have been a great experience, but maybe not for now.
Written: 02 June 2009
Photography: Cathy Perez