Hebei (河北; Héběi) is a province in China of approximately 75 million people surrounding Beijing. The province's land area forms the core of the pancake flat China Northern Plain. This is industrial China at its most raw: smog, relentless and incredible construction, and traffic stretching along expressways. While its attractions are obscured by its industrial output, the province has plenty of sightseeing, outdoors, and skiing in a region where few international tourists venture.
- 1 Shijiazhuang - The capital
- 2 Chengde - Hebei's best known attraction, the Mountain Resort, a vast palace and garden used by Qing emperors during the summer
- 3 Qinhuangdao - Port city at the eastern end of the Great Wall
- 4 Zhangjiakou - Ski resorts, hot springs and the Huailai Valley winegrowing region
- Langfang - Middle point between Beijing and Tianjin
- Sanhe - Administratively part of Langfang, but this exclave of Hebei is becoming an exburb of Beijing
- 5 Tangshan - Steelmaking city that alone produces more steel than the United States
- 6 Xiongan New Area - Eco-friendly city under construction for relocation of non-core government offices and personnel from Beijing
- 7 Baoding - Historic capital of Hebei
- Dingzhou - Tallest surviving, pre-modern pagoda in China rises over the small city
- 8 Handan - Home of the Xiangtangshan Grottoes, Buddhist reliefs carved into limestone cliffs
- Xingtai - Industrial city with settlement history stretching back 3,500 years to the Shang Dynasty
- 9 Hengshui - Industrial city known for fine handicrafts including glass bodied painted enamel and inside painted snuff bottles
- 10 Cangzhou - City of the famed 1000-year old Iron Lion statue
- Eastern Qing Dynasty and Western Qing Dynasty tombs - Imperial burial grounds on opposite sides outside of Beijing
- Beidaihe - Beijing's seaside resort in the summer and the best beach in the region
- Baiyangdian Lake - One of the largest freshwater lakes in the north China; during the summer a popular place for boat rides through blossoming lotus pads
- Baishi Mountain - One of north China's most picturesque mountains
- Zhengding Ancient City - Walled city with over 1,000 years of history as an administrative and religious center including towering pagoda temples
- Chongli - Some of the country's best ski resorts, location will be the skiing venue of the 2022 Winter Olympics
- Hongya Valley (Hongyagu Scenic Area) - Walk across the world's longest glass bridge
- Bashang Grasslands - Grasslands of far north Hebei hosted the imperial hunting grounds of Mulan Weichang during the Qing Dynasty; today the scenery is a mosaic of grassland pastures, beautiful fields of yellow canola flowers, and sheep herds
Hebei means 'North of the River' due to it being located entirely North of the Yellow river. It is at the cradle of Chinese civilization with a rich archaeological record revealing thousands of years of history and still standing historical sites built over a 1,000 years ago.
The two mega-cities of Beijing and Tianjin are carved out from Hebei. The province surrounds both cities and in addition small exclave of Sanhe is wedged in between the two cities. However, with the launch of the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei (Jing-Jin-Ji) regional initiative, much of Hebei will be integrated with the two cities as part of a giant megalopolis binded together by high speed rail connecting major points to within an hour of each other. As part of the integration plan, the Xiongan New Area is under construction, aggregating three rural counties in Hebei to form a special zone for the relocation from Beijing of government bureaucracy, state owned enterprise employees, and research and development workforce.
The majority of people speak standard Mandarin (Putonghua). Hebei Mandarin is considered to have the most classical of dialects and accents, and is the model for the rest of China. However, each city has its own dialect which is more common amongst the working classes. English fluency is rare, but younger people are more likely to speak it.
High speed rail
Hebei is served by several long distance high-speed rail lines including the Beijing–Guangzhou–Shenzhen–Hong Kong high-speed railway which runs from Beijing West Station to the major Hebei cities of Shijiazhuang, Xingtai and Handan. The Beijing–Shanghai high-speed railway starts from Beijing South Station and makes stops in Langfang and Cangzhou.
There are also short distance inter-city high speed rail lines including the Tianjin–Baoding intercity railway and Tianjin–Qinhuangdao high-speed railway. An intercity high speed rail line is under construction from Beijing to Zhangjiakou and will open in 2019.
Long distance buses from Liuliqiao Passenger Transportation Junction (六里桥长途汽车站) in Beijing depart every 30 minutes to Chengde (about 5 hours) and less frequently to towns in the rural counties in the grasslands of Hebei and Inner Mongolia.
There are train stations in virtually every part of the province except for the sparsely populated far north grasslands. However, it is common to reach county-level cities by bus due to infrequent train service outside of prefecture-level railway stops. Travel to even remoter parts of a county requires an additional trip by bus or minibus from the county seat.
North of Beijing, Hebei has a belt of tourism centered activities and sights. On the coast is Beidaihe, the nearest beach getaway; in the far north is the grassland beyond Chengde, once the hunting grounds of the Qing emperors; and the in the northwest are ski slopes and vineyards.
South of Beijing, the province is emblematic of the hand-in-hand relationship of dense industry and environmental problems in China. However the rich history, archaeology, and outdoors are not to be missed on clear sky days. There is especially a plethora of historical religious sites from the towering pagodas of Zhengding and Dingzhou to the Xiangtangshan Buddhist cave temples in Handan.
The Great Wall runs across the northern part of Hebei including beginning from the eastern end of the Great Wall at Shanhaiguan on the coast of Hebei. There is also a north-south direction inner spur of the Great Wall running down along the border of Hebei and Shanxi. Many sections are not restored like in Beijing, so are in a partially or completely ruined state (wild wall).
- Skiing - Some of the best domestic skiing facilities are in Chongli, a district of Zhangjiakou, that will be the skiing venue for the Winter Olympics in 2022
- Diving, hiking and camping on the Great Wall - Don't just go to the Great Wall for sightseeing, you can dive at the Panjiakou Reservoir at a spot where the Great Wall is submerged; take a hike exploring the "wild" or partially restored sections of the wall (e.g. Jinshanling section in Luanping County); and pitch a tent inside a watchtower to admire the sunrise over the Great Wall (e.g. Lower Chenjiapu section in Huailai County at the border with Beijing).
- Hot springs - Hot spring resorts abound in the province, located in the areas of Zhangjiakou, Shijiazhuang, Baoding, etc.
- Wine tasting - Huailai Valley vineyards
- Gallop across the grasslands - Horses ranches in the Bashang Grasslands offer touristy, short rides over the grasslands landscape
Hebei cuisine is fairly meat heavy, with more noodles than rice, and fairly similar to Beijing cuisine. As a large province, there are regional specialties. Tangshan cuisine is known for its variety of seafood. In the grasslands restaurants offer feasts featuring a whole rack of lamb cooked in plain view.
The province is a major cultivator of dates (jujubes). Vendors in town markets or grocery stores sell the many varieties of this antioxidant and nutrient rich snack.
The Huailai Valley in the northwest is a winegrowing region where Great Wall, the big nationally distributed brand, has roots. Hebei also likes its baijiu, the strong liquor found throughout China, with each city possessing a favorite, often packaged into a unique shape. Shops in rest areas along expressways offer a varied selection from the province.
Almond beverages are popular. You can find it in the form of a package of almond powder or drink in a tin can.
Smog can be dangerously high especially from November to March. In fact, 7 out of the 20 most polluted cities in China in 2018 are in Hebei (Xingtai, Shijiazhuang, Handan, Baoding, Hengshui, Cangzhou, and Tangshan in descending order). Wear a mask with a PM2.5 filter on polluted days.