• Photo: FPSO / Shutterstock


Recent development has not been particularly kind to Chengde, but the sights here are well tended, and in fine weather it’s still possible to glimpse the natural beauty of this river valley that so captivated Emperor Kangxi on a hunting trip in the late 1600s. With the Wulie River gurgling through and the Yanshan Mountains providing an impressive backdrop, Chengde was deemed an ideal spot to establish a summer retreat where the emperor could escape the heat of the capital and indulge in hunting and fishing. Later Chengde would serve a crucial diplomatic function, its grand temples erected in honorific tribute to host visiting religious and political leaders of China’s border ethnicities.

Today it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, awarded collectively to the magnificent Mountain Resort and the Eight Outer Monasteries (though only five are open to tourists at time of writing). Although children enjoy romping through the imperial gardens, there's little else to entertain younger visitors. It's generally considered best to visit in summer or early autumn to escape the heat of cities like Beijing, but a visit during the off-season is a good way to avoid the tourist hordes, and the rather steep admission prices are reduced after the first of November.

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