As a side-trip, or in combination with a trip to the Great Wall; Hong Luo Si (Red Snail Temple) is an interesting place to visit. Located in Huairou County, about 57 kilometers north of Beijing; quiet Red Snail Temple is a perfect blend of the spiritual and nature.
Obviously with a name like “Red Snail Temple”, there must be an interesting story behind the name. According to the local legend, there were two giant red snails that lived on the side of the mountain where the temple was eventually built. Apparently these were some kind of alien snails as they supposedly emitted strange lights at night, which led the local villagers to pay homage to these giant red snails. The mountain become known as Red Snail Mountain, and the temple itself, which was originally known as Great Brightness Temple, was eventually given its current name of Hong Luo Si, or Red Snail Temple.
In addition to its interesting background story and genuinely captivating ancient history, Hong Luo Si is a great place to see as an off-the-beaten-track destination when visiting Beijing. It is rarely seen by foreign tourists, and it is well worth your time to spend a few minutes reading the history of the temple at the entrance to get the most out of your visit. It is located far enough away from the crowds of Beijing in more of a rural setting in the far northern Huairou municipal district to allow for a quiet and relaxed visit any time of the year. Spring, when the flowers begin to bloom, and Fall, when the leaves on the trees begin to change colors and the chrysanthemums are in full bloom, are ideal times to visit.
One of the highlights of the temple are the 500 Buddha statues that are nested in groups amongst the forest of trees up and down the mountainside where the temple is located. Clad in red robes, it is not possible to see all 500 Buddha statues at once, but dozens of them can be seen in groups scattered throughout the trees at one time, which provides for dramatic and striking scenery that will definitely leave a lasting impression. There is also a very large Buddha statue located alongside the field of 500 Buddhas.
Another feature of the temple is a winding path lined with numerous carved statues of all of the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac, which makes for a nice walk up the mountain and good opportunities for photos with the animal from your particular birth year (or just an animal that you like). It is interesting to note the contrast in the different styles of the carved animals as there are several representations of each animal, each one obviously created by different artists.
There is also a massive stone-carved dragon located on the temple grounds, a nice stream that runs through the park, and a small fish pond that complement the old temple buildings while also emphasizing their spiritual relationship with nature. It is possible to see the Great Wall of China from the top of Red Snail Mountain if you are willing to make the long trek past the temple grounds to the summit.
Hong Luo Si is a great alternative option to add to your Beijing tour and it can easily be incorporated as a side trip along with your Great Wall tour to the Mutianyu sections of the Great Wall of China.