Our driver, who we called Mah, was fantastic. He was courteous, knowledgeable and was a safe and competent driver. Mah was waiting for us at our scheduled pick up time of 5 a.m. in a very nice VW Passat. We all chose to leave a little early to get a start on the day and Beijing traffic can be pretty notorious. We arrived in Chengde in under 2.5 hours, so we had time for a late morning snack or breakfast and to our two teen American daughters, McDonalds was honestly a perfect pick. We chose to go on the Friday of the October Holiday week so the drive home was not quite so easy. Mah was patient and used humor to get through the over 5 hour drive and multiple accidents to return to Beijing.
The parking Mah found was right across the street from the Mountain Summer palace and Mah helped us purchase our tickets. We would have never known that we could purchase tickets for all three locations at one time without his help. But we did. The girls, as students, were half price. Be sure to bring kids passports or student ID cards for the discount.
We had 3 to 4 hours at the Summer Palace property, which for us, was more than enough, but you could honestly spend all day there. We exchanged contact information with Mah and were able to let him know when we were ready to go on to the next location.
The Summer Mountain Resort was built on a lake and had at least 36 different points of interested. At each point there was a different description such as: 1) This is where one would be entertained by music 2) this is where one would relax in the morning sun and warm oneself or 3) this is a place where one would be entertained by jesters. It was kind of funny to me that they took the time to point this out. They had buildings at all these sights, many of which were closed.
As we walked the property, My husband stated the obvious, you know why the emperor chose this location. It was simply gorgeous and relaxing, even with the holiday crowds. Everywhere you looked there was something new to look at and something interesting to see. The space was beautiful and we are from the State of Washington in the US.
You entered the main campus through what felt like a village and a museum like area with artifacts. We did not spend a lot of time here because it was incredibly crowded. Then you walked down a hill and the beauty opened up to you. We headed to the island in the middle of the lake first and worked our way over to the palace.
We chose to stay to the right and walk along the stone pathway. The path we took was long and along the waters edge. The inlet was built in the early 1700's. Their was a boat out in the water that day that had a lady dancing to someone playing the harp on it. The music filled the valley. It was so peaceful and relaxing as we walked along the waters edge.
The temple is a long way over, so plan for walking shoes, but the walk is beautiful. We enjoyed the walk as a family and had fun along the way. As we approached the palace, we chose to climb up to it along a rock path in the back and among the trees. You can take a boat over the the palace if you chose and the boat drop off point was in the front. The main entrance was packed on the holiday week and you could hardly move, so our access point made getting to the top fairly easy. As we approached the top and looked back, we noted a garden on the other side of the hill. We had to go take a look at that as well.
We spent 3 hours at the Palace.
The Second Stop was Puning Si (The Temple of Universal Peace)
As we approached entrance to the first Temple, Puning Si, the smell of incense immediate engulfed your olfactory. The wind was blowing towards the entrance. As we entered the property it was similar to other temples we had seen except this one had a fire pit burning with incense and a stand where visitors could buy incense to burn. Many of the Chinese or Buddhist visitors purchased, bowed in multiple directions and then lit the incense.
The Temple was grand, but the most amazing part and the thing to now miss was the statue of the Goddess Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy, carved from wood that stood over 72 feet. There is just no words to describe it and in my opinion it is a must see and worth the stop if you are in Chengde. My teen girls loved it.
The day we were there, during the National Holiday week in October, there were a ton of visitors to the property, both Western and local. Throughout the property not far from the incense burning areas were these large copper drums that everyone would walk down and turn. It was clearly a ritual of some sort. Although I am not up on my Buddhist transitions. It was honestly a very cool looking thing to watch.
At the top of the property were a ton of locks, yep, pad locks. Strung all over the place. You could purchase one to hang for what ever fortune you wished bestowed on you: Peace, Love, Fortune, Health, Career, Good Luck, Inner Peace, or Affection.
As with most ancient properties in China, to really see everything, be prepared to walk stairs. There are many. But it is so worth the hike!
There were shops as you exit the temple that were fun to look through as well. There was not pressure to buy but fun to explore.
We spent about 1 hour here.
Our third stop was lunch. Mah found a local restaurant where we ordered salad and dumplings. It was really good and truly authentic and reasonably priced.
We then headed to our final destination.
I have seen it called three different names: The Small Potala Palace or Putuo Zongcheng Temple or the Temple of Potalaka--either way, it was pretty awesome too and I was really happy to visit. The Temple here is quite large, over 2.4 million sq feet and is a replica of the Buddhist Palace in Tibet, so it has both architectural styles. Once again, be prepared for a lot of stairs, as the temple is very high up, but worth the hike to see the flags and the inside of the Temple.
We were all pretty tired by the time we got here, but we had no issues getting up to the top and enjoying the property. It had many unique features worth taking the time to see.
We truly enjoyed our VERY long day to Chengde.