2nd-hand Shanxi trip report

Aug 14th, 2005, 03:01 PM
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2nd-hand Shanxi trip report

My parents went to Shanxi with a Hong Kong tour group in July, and since there seem to be quite a bit of interest in Shanxi here, I'll do a 2nd-hand report on their trip.

While the tour was sold as a "8-day" tour, they only had 6 days in Shanxi, as the cheap tours use flights into Shijiazhuang in Hebei Province instead of flying them to Taiyuan in Shanxi.

The itinerary was basically this:

Day 1: Leave Shijiazhuang in the morning. Lunch in Taiyuan, then tour the Wang Family Compound. Overnight in Pingyao.

Day 2: Pingyao for half-day city tour. Afternoon travel north to the Qiao Family House, where "Raise the Red Lantern" was shot. Back to Taiyuen and visit JinCi, the ancient temple.

Day 3: Travel north from Taiyuen to Wutaishan. Visit the main temples in the afternoon.

Day 4: Visit another temple - Dailouding - in the morning. Then travel north to Yingxian Woodern Pagoda, then to the Hanging Temple in Hengshan. Overnight in Datong.

Day 5: All morning at Yungang Grottoes. Afternoon to 3 temples in Datong.

Day 6: Head back south through Yuanmenguan to Taiyuan. Visit coal mine museum and twin-pagoda temple.

Now, my parents have been to almost all provinces of China over the years (missing one or two). And even they think Shanxi has lots and lots to offer. Schedule was very full for each of 6 days, and most sites are world-class attractions.

I know a few of you have asked question about spending 2-3 days between Beijing and Xi'an in Shanxi, and want to know which part should not be missed, so I ask my parents the same question. They think these three are definitely the top:

1. Yungang Grottoes. They have been to Longmen Grottoes and Dunhuang Grottoes before, but still Yungang is something else. One just have to see it to appreciate what it's like.

2(tie). Wutaishan. They "only" visit 7 temples there, but wished they had more time to see more. If one's interested in Buddhism and architecture of temples, this is a must-visit place.

2(tie). Pingyao. Walled city is incredibly-well preserved. And it's less theme-park like then other ancient towns like those watertowns near Suzhou. The "hostel" they stayed at was straight from a martial-art movie.

As for logistics, one will need to travel mostly by road in Shanxi. And from the video I'm watching, there are quite a number of cars and minivans with drivers outside the Datong train station for rent. Or ask the hotel concierge after you get to Datong.

To cover those 3, one need a minimum of 3.5-4 days. Otherwise, will need to cut out one of those. For 4 days, one can possibly:

- Overnight train Beijing to Datong (6 hours).
- Day 1: Visit Yungang Grotto and other sites near Datong.
- Day 2: By car, visit Hanging Temple, Yingxuan Pagoda. Arrive Wutaishan afternoon. See as many temples as possible that day.
- Day 3: Visit one or two other temples, then car (long trip) all the way down to Pingyao.
- Day 4: Tour Pingyao. Then return to Beijing or continue to Xi'an.

There are now limited-access highways between Datong, Taiyuan and Pingyao; but constructions are common. Roads through Wutaishan are slow. Trains in that area are also much slower than in the plain provinces to the east.

If you have further questions, I'll try to find answers.
rkkwan is offline  
Aug 14th, 2005, 08:38 PM
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A tour that starts in Shijiazhuang, amazing! I don't have much to add except that I will visit Shanxi next time I'm in the neighborhood. Thanks for the report!
jimdrew is offline  
Aug 14th, 2005, 10:14 PM
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China Eastern has two weekly non-stop flights HKG-Shijiazhuang. And I guess business is slow, so they sell their seats cheap to tour companies.

On paper, Shijiazhuang is okay, as it's only about 250km from Taiyuan, and there's now a limited-access highway between the two. But of course, reality is a little different, as the roads are not that fast.

But with those tour prices, one cannot really complain. 7 nights of 3*-4* hotels, all meals, most attraction entrance fees, roundtrip air from HKG, all for about US$450 per person based on double occupany. One can spend that much on hotel in Hong Kong alone.
rkkwan is offline  
Dec 7th, 2006, 07:21 AM
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I'd always heard that Shanxi wasn't the best place to visit. Outside of the big tourist hubs it was very polluted and very poor.
Maggie_K is offline  
Dec 7th, 2006, 10:09 AM
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- Lots of places in China are heavily polluted. Shanxi is pretty bad because of the coal mines and its proximity to the Yellow Earth Plateau - which makes the place very dusty. But it can get just as bad in Beijing on many days. Or near Hong Kong. And lots of places.

- If one's interested in going to see the historic sites, then it's better to go sooner than later for two reasons. One is that the pollutant is that many of these places will deteriorate even more in the near future. The Yungang Grottoes is very very near some major coal mines, for example. Second, Shanxi hasn't been overrun by tourists, at least not yet. For example, the temples at Wutaishan are mostly the same as they were 200 years ago. But my parents just went to Putuoshan in Eastern China - they are blasting off parts of the island to build a brand new temple...

- I don't understand the comment about the place is poor. Most places in the world are poorer than the US. So?
rkkwan is offline  
Dec 7th, 2006, 10:23 AM
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So sorry to hear about Putuoshan! I was there two years ago and loved it, despite the crowds (it was right after Oct. 1st). I had planned to go back when it was likely to be quieter. Even with so many people it really had a spiritual feel.
thursdaysd is offline  
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