A building suspended mid-mountain, being within 2 metres of a powerful waterfall, 2,000 year old Pingyao City are some of the sights you can see if you visit Shanxi Province. Pingyao City is the only Ming-Qing Dynasty style town still standing. The city was the birthplace of China’s banking institution and at its height, much of the country’s banking business took place here. Yet there are no longer any banks in the city today.
The City Wall gives you an idea of the size of the city; you can see from one end of the city to the other with its rows of houses, wooden framed doors and identical dark grey roof tiles. Chickens and donkeys were being kept in some of the backyards and on the street a horse drawn cart was delivering coal to the locals. The Wall is an ideal place to see Pingyao at night as the streets are lit up with glowing red lanterns.
Although one could easily walk, riding a bicycle is a more active way of exploring the city. Hiring a bicycle is a convenient way to go outside the City Walls to see the Shuanglin Temple. The 1,500 year old Temple contains an impressive collection of sculptures which are well worth the visit.
Food wise, the town has much to offer; a dish that should be tried is the delicious five-aroma seasoned Pingyao beef. Another local speciality is Wantuoze, which is a thick noodle made of wheat that is rolled up, steamed and then dipped in sauce.
On arrival at Datong, the hotel arranged transportation to the Hanging Monastery, located on Hengshan Mountain and the Yungang Grottoes. After previous failed attempts to construct the Hanging Monastery near the river, it was finally built in the middle of the mountain, preventing it from being flooded by the river below. It is an incredible sight; the 1,400 year old Monastery looks as if it is balancing precariously on the mountain side, being held up by bricks on one side and long, thin wooden stilts on the other. Hengshan Mountain is one of the five Holy Mountains of Taoism; however, in the Hanging Monastery representations of Buddhism, Confucius and Taoism are sitting side by side.
The Yungang Grottoes situated at the foot of Wuzhou Mountain, date back to 400-500AD;they are examples of both Chinese and foreign influences and the grottoes are one of three major cave clusters in China and contain over 51,000 statues. Large Buddha sculptures, a pagoda, a cave with 10,000 mini Buddhas and well preserved colour sculptures are some of the impressive carvings that can be seen.
After an overnight coach journey to Linfen, a travel agent arranged the excursion to Hukou Waterfall. Although much construction work was occurring along the route to make the road more viable, the 4 hour car journey to the waterfall was uncomfortable. However once there, it was worth it. There were small bridges and paths that led to the waterfall from the roadside but due to the time of year, the river below this path had turned into ice making it safe to walk over. Near the waterfall
there was a downward spiralling staircase leading down into a cave, which opened up next to the waterfall mid-fall, it was a wet but breath-taking experience.
Shanxi province is an exceptional destination if you are planning a short break. It is close to Xian and well connected making travelling around the province easy and convenient. Although all the places were worth the visit, Hukou Waterfall was the highlight of Shanxi.