Shanxi – the Chinese province perfect for traveling
During my first visit to China in 2008, I had a vague idea about the country’s interesting places and sites. That’s why Shanxi province, frequently called an open-air museum, was not included into my itinerary. Later I visited Shanxi once and realized that this province can indeed attract a traveler even for several weeks.
China Daily and Shanxi Tourism Bureau have sponsored the “Shanxi through the eyes of foreigners” event for several years already. Foreigners interested in photography and travel story writing are invited to visit the province in order to make Shanxi popular among tourists from abroad. This year I was lucky enough to take part in this event.
The Shanxi name means “to the West of the Mountains” (of the Taihang Mountains). Looking at the relief map of the area, one can notice that 75% of its territory is covered with mountains. So, obviously, those with a fondness for mountains can definitely have a heyday here.
One of the five Sacred Taoist Mountains – Mount Hengshan – is located in Shanxi, nearby another well-known tourist attraction – the Hanging Monastery. Mount Wutaishan is also in this province – it is one of the Sacred Mountains of Chinese Buddhism. It is included into the UNESCO'a World Heritage List.
But, it also has the less famous sites, for example, the Mianshan and Luyashan mountains.
The Mianshan Mountain represent ancient Taoist and Buddhist temples, precipitous cliffs with hermits’ caves, numerous picturesque sceneries (especially, the canyon), historical military structures, waterfalls, and clean fragrant air. I highly recommend that you visit it – emotions you’ll get there will stay with you for the rest of your life.
The Luyashan Mountain is little-known even among the Chinese. I visited it only thanks to China Daily. The thing that impressed me most of all there was the dense coniferous forest growing on precipitous mountainsides and an Ice Cave.
I have never heard about such caves before. This 80-metre-deep cave is located 2 thousand meters above the sea level and it's fully covered with ice. Tourists descend to this cave from the outside where it is about +30℃ in summer and walk in these labyrinths of ice. Personally, I have doubts concerning the origins of this cave. I ask myself a question: don’t they use the ground-freezing equipment, like the one used in subway construction and in mining industry, there? My answer is: who cares, anyway? This cave is anyway an exciting place, and one cannot help admiring it.
I added my own part to the itinerary suggested by China Daily. I covered this part on my own. This year I chose the unique railway route from Beijing to Datong (a big northern city) for my journey. This 7-hour journey by rail allows seeing some sections of the Great Wall of China located to the north of Beijing. Moreover, several hours later one can see from the train window the unrestored sections of the Earthen Great Wall of China stretching for several kilometers. This wall used to protect the Han from the raids of northern nomadic tribes. Nowadays, this section of the Wall is located in many parts almost on the border of Shanxi and Inner Mongolia. By the way, in the eastern part of Shanxi, on the border with Hebei, there are also some sections of the Great Wall with ramparts, e.g. Niangziguan and Guguan. The total length of the Great Wall of China in Shanxi province amounts to approximately 1,500 kilometers.
This was not the end of my journey along the Wall. I visited four more parts of it including two parts located 70 kilometers to the north-west of Datong, not far from the town of Fengzhen. One of them hosts Deshengbao fortress built in 1538 during the Ming Dynasty. The other one is located near the village of Juqiangkou.
Several days later, as a member of the tourist group invited by China Daily, I visited a very picturesque place – Laoniuwan – located 170 kilometers to the west of Datong. There the Great Wall of China is crossed by the mighty Huang He river, the long banks of which is often called the cradle of Chinese civilization.
After a brief acquaintance with the mountain-and-river scenes of Laoniuwan, our close-knit team of foreign and Chinese tourists headed 5 kilometers southward, to the place where the Yellow River does a double bend. The view from the mountain was breathtaking. A high pagoda had been thoughtfully built there – it makes the view on the surrounding scenery even more amazing. It seems that one could enjoy this beauty endlessly.
The way from the town of Pianguan, where our hotel was located, to the Huang He river was also full of beautiful mountain scenes. During the bus ride, our cries of admiration were every now and then accompanied by the clicks of our cameras’ shutters.
Easy to get around
The good transportation and easy accessibility to Shanxi province, especially from Beijing, make it a comfortable trip from the tourist's point of view. It can provide a convenient transit hub for people going on to neighboring Shaanxi province, home of the famous Terracotta Warriors or to Huashan Mountain. Thanks to the high-speed trains, visitors can see such well-known places as Pingyao or the Mianshan Mountain within a day's ride, with a night's stay in the city of Taiyuan.
South of Taiyuan there's an Old Town with its own several-kilometer-long wall - Pingyao - that has managed to preserve its Ming and Qing appearance. The Old Town, as well as the temples of Zhenguosi (12 kilometers from Pingyao) and Shuanglinsi (6 kilometers from Pingyao), are also included into the UNESCO's World Heritage List.
I would like to suggest one thing to the Shanxi Tourism Bureau. Xiaohai, the guide of our group, had a very good tourist map of Shanxi in English. During my traveling in Shanxi, I failed to come across any of such maps, neither in tourist locations, nor at hotels. Please, ensure that tourists can easily get them! They would come in handy to us, foreign tourists.
I would like to thank the staff of China Daily, especially Sun Ruisheng, Shanxi Bureau Chief, for the opportunity to visit Shanxi province once again. I appreciate the high organizational level of our journey.
Traveling in China, visiting its cities, towns, and tourist attractions, watching the Chinese, one can’t help realizing that China is a country that heads towards the future, and nothing in this world can stop it on this way. If you want to see both the historical past and the rapidly approaching future in one shot, at the same time, you should visit Shanxi.