The driver from hell, some great temples and a rip off palace
Chengde Travel Blog› entry 312 of 658 › view all entries
People I met here who contributed to, and improved my trip: Julia (Russia)
The minivan driver from Beijing to Chengde proved to be a complete and utter psycho, who apparently had a death wish and was taking us along for the ride. Having sat nearly 2 hours waiting for passengers and then in the crazy Beijing traffic, he appeared to have made the decision that he had some lost ground to make up. The next 4 hours were spent swerving in amongst traffic, overtaking on blind corners and pulling moves that even daredevils would have been impressed with.
A particular favourite was when he overtook a car on a blind ridge on a single lane road.
Five and a half hours after leaving Beijing, we somehow arrived in one piece and i am genuinely surprised and thankful to be able to write that, it really was THAT bad. From where we were dropped off, it was a 10 minute walk to Jingcheng hotel. It was pretty easy to find, as it was located right next to the train station. 120RMB ($17) got us a fantastic room, kitted out with a/c, tv and a nicely furnished bathroom, which by Chengde's standards is a real steal.
After heading out to eat Dinner, we moved on to an internet cafe, where we searched online for trains heading back to Beijing the following day, as we really didn't fancy the road option again. Annoyingly there was no train back after 13.30, which wouldn't leave us with enough time to see the cities attractions. I did spot a sleeper train heading to Tianjin just before 23.00, which i figured may be a possibility, as we wanted to go there after Beijing anyway. But the chances of scoring a sleeper berth a day in advance seemed rather a long shot, after the troubles we had experienced with booking tickets over the last few days.
To my complete shock, there were actually 2 hard sleeper spots available when we asked at the train station, so we snapped these up with little consideration.
The following morning we ate some street food for breakfast and then caught a taxi up to Puning Temple, so as to economize on time. The driver was a female, as would be our second one later in the day, and it seemed like the women of the city had a tight stranglehold on the taxi business within the city, which was a refreshing change.
I was pleased upon entering to find that the Temple wasn't just like any ordinary Chinese Temple, but was a large complex that incorporated Tibetan style elements. Having passed into the front court yard and seen the Hall of Heavenly Kings, we climbed up the bell tower, which gave us some great views across the complex.
Next stop was the Mahavira Hall, which contained three Buddha images, and beyond this, up some steep steps, we came to Mahayana Hall. It was this giant structure that housed what we had paid 50RMB ($7) to come and see, the 22m statue of Guanyin, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy. Entering into the room, you had to crane your neck to get any kind of view of the 42 armed megalith, which is carved from pine, cypress, fir, elm and linden. Sadly i couldn't take photos within the temple, but stood ogling it for some time, trying to imprint its image into my memory. On either side of Guanyin were a male (Shancai - Guardian) and female (Longnu - Dragon Girl).
Having come toe to toe with the Goddess, we made our way out to the back of the Hall and continued up the hill to receive some superb views of the Temple.
As we began our descent, we couldn't help but pop back into Mahayana Hall for one last look at Guanyin. I also found it interesting to watch people pray in front of the Hall, whilst having a musical rendition played for them by a small band. To do this would set you back 100RMB ($14), which i found a little steep to say the least!
As we have had our plans scuppered on going to Tibet, we decided that the next best thing was to go to Putuozongcheng Temple, which is modeled on the Potala Palace in Lhasa. A 10 minute 6RMB ($0.
It was a lovely warm, sunny day and we were soon stripping down to our t-shirts as we made our ascent, passing interesting steles, crippled elephant statues (see photo), a triple archway and buildings with flags outside and trapezoid windows. I found the windows of interest as the Inca's used the same design, i believe to help prevent damage during earthquakes.
The Red Palace was fronted by large poles with colourful fabrics draped from them, and its facade had a vertical row of Buddha carvings running from the base to the top. Having wandered around the perimeter, we went up to the top and entered a courtyard, which contained an ornate Hall that was enclosed by a three tiered building.
The views from the roof were equally spectacular. You could see as far as 'Club Rock', which comes jutting out of the mountains, and also get a birds eye view over the neighbouring Temple of Sumeru, Happiness and Longevity. It was proving to be a fascinating day, and my next cultural experience was entering the toilet facilities. Hmm, i won't talk too much about the experience, I'll just let you look at the picture and imagine the sells emanating from the shack. It was time to move on, already it had past 13.30 and we still had the biggest attraction left to see... or so we thought.
Walking east we first encountered the outside of the Temple of Sumeru, Happiness and Longevity. From here we jumped in a taxi again and headed south, to where the former Emperors and Empresses came to escape the Beijing summer heat. Our entry fees so far had already appeared a little steep by Asian standards and therefore the 90RMB ($13) that was been levied to gain entry into the Imperial Summer Villa, seemed like complete extortion. In my head though, i was thinking that if it cost THAT much, then it must be THAT good... idiot.
Entering through the Lizheng Gate gains you access to the alleged star attraction, the Front Palace. Within the first few paces of entering, i realised i wanted my money back! The buildings were small and rather unimpressive and reminded me of the Korean architecture that i had seen all too much of in the 3 palaces in Seoul.
We stopped at every room possible and even checked out all the porcelain in order to try and get some sort of value for money. All but one of the bedrooms were hidden behind filthy glass windows, which made it impossible to have a good look inside. To my bewilderment, we reached the exit of the Palace in under 30 minutes, and fro here the path led into the gardens. I was a little shell shocked at just how bad it had been and felt ripped off.
Thankfully the weather was still splendid, so we opted to walk around for a couple of hours and see what was on offer. The highlight for me was the 9 storied Yongyousi Pagoda, although watching the deer roaming around freely was also pleasant.
At the exit of the park i went to look at how much it cost to just see the park, and i was even more flabbergasted to find that entry was 90RMB, whether you went to the Imperial Summer Villa or not. The place had been very busy and i just couldn't fathom out why anyone in their right mind would pay so much to just see a bog standard park, beats me! At least i didn't feel quite so foolish anymore.
The day was almost at an end, so it was off to a restaurant for a sweet and sour pick me up and then on to an internet cafe to try and organise our trip a little further.
My advice for anyone coming to Chengde is obvious, skip the Imperial Summer Villa and spend your money elsewhere. I really enjoyed the two Temples, but sadly Chengde just isn't somewhere that anyone on a budget can hang around in for more than a day!