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Due to a cancellation of another trip I was stuck in Beijing for eight to nine days and changing the flight back home was not an option as it was booked as a promotion, which I actually didn’t mind. In Beijing at that time the air was full of smog so bad that I just had to escape there. Beside that I had been there on a dozen or so trips before and there was basically nothing left to see and to party for eight days I could better do somewhere else. So what to do?
Planning an alternative trip on short notice
In Beijing I decided to stay a night more to have a day to plan the alternative trip and sleep long. The trip had to fulfill my wishes:
- I had to stay in China due to my single visa.
- I had to end in Shenyang as there would start my flight back through Beijing to Amsterdam; could not change this.
- Had to be maximum 2 hours by plane or 4 hours by train from Beijing and Shenyang to not loose all the time on moving around.
- Had to have sights which I did not see before.
- The place had to have IHG hotels as I could complete my “into the nights” promotion with these nights and get quite a bunch of bonus points for free nights later (more as I would spend here!)
I did not just want to go all the days to Shenyang but did want to stay there three nights to have two days to explore there. With OpenFlights I checked from where I could fly to Shenyang and the approximate timetables. I found two great options to fly from Luoyang and Zhengzhou. Both cities had hotels of the IHG brand. Longmen grottoes are in Luoyang and between Luoyang and Zhengzhou are the Historic Monuments of Dengfeng in “The Centre of Heaven and Earth” so a lot to see too. Plan made and booking of hotels, train and flights was a matter of minutes!
My trip would look like this: First day by train to Luoyang from Beijing in about 4 hours and afternoon visit some Luoyang sites. Next day to the Historic Monuments of Dengfeng in “The Centre of Heaven and Earth”. The third day in the morning to the Longmen Grottoes and some Luoyang sites and afternoon train to Zhengzhou. Fourth day to explore Zhengzhou as there was not that much to see and on the sixth day by plane to Shenyang to stay two days and the last day early morning catch the planned flight back home.
The town of Luoyang is a boring Chinese town where you should not go unless you are visiting the Longmen grottoes. Arriving just after lunch time from Beijing on one of the fast bullet trains, first class of course. It took me just 10 minutes to get to my hotel. At check-in I already arrange a taxi (cheap!) to take me to the White Horse Temple or in Chinese: Báimǎsì where Bái means White and Mǎ horse. This is a buddhist temple and the first one sanctioned in China and one of the oldest in the world. If you do not have the time to visit this temple: don’t mind! But if you do have the time do not miss it as it’s an important site in the history of China. After a great dinner at a local Chinese restaurant I went to bed early as next day at 08:30 my driver would be there for my trip to the Historic Monuments of Dengfeng.
Note: after the Longmen grottoes below I also visited the Guanlin Temple which is nice but not a must see.
Historic Monuments of Dengfeng
At 08:30 hours my driver was waiting for me at the hotel lobby. For only 350 kuai (yuan) he drove me all day, which was about 40 euro at that time. If you need help for a driver around Luoyang sent me a message and I’m happy to share the info!
Dengfeng area is located at the foot of Mount Song or Songshang. It is the central mountain of the five sacred mountains in China. During nine dynasties religion, science & technology and education was practiced here. This research included also astronomy as this central mountain was believed to be the only (central) place where the measures were accurate. During the various dynasties the buildings where build and rebuild and what remains today is mainly from the Ming and Qing Dynasty.
In the area various sights are inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list and the most famous is probably the Shaolin temple and its pagoda forest. The pagoda forest is a collection of dozens of pagodas very close to each other making it a kind of forest. In the Shaolin temple the monks practice Chinese martial arts or Kung Fu. In the temple one can watch a demonstration which is worth it. It’s cheap and the duration is about 30 minutes. Do not miss this performance. You can also walk up the mountain and do various treks from which I recommend to walk to the Chuzu Buddhist Convent which is also part of the UNESCO site up the mountain to the Dharma Cave. It’s about an hour up and down which is worth it. My walk was during drizzle and cloudy so not the best views but I do not regret it.
The total area consists of the following world heritage structures: Various Gates, Zhongue Temple, Songye Temple Pagoda, Architectural Complex of Shaolin Temple (Kernel Compound, Chuzu Temple, Pagoda Forest), Huishan Temple, Songyang Academy of Classical Learning, Observatory. Besides the Shaolin Temple area I visited the Songye Temple Pagoda and Songyang Academy of Classical Learning which are very close to each other. The pagoda is actually a short visit but if you have the time I do recommend it as it’s very unique compared to other pagodas. At the end of the day I got tired due to the bad weather and smog everywhere that I just had a dinner and looked for my bed early.
At the Longmen grottoes you will find over 110.000 large and small Buddhist carvings and statues. Wow that’s a lot! Will you count them? 🙂 After my visit to the Grottoes of Yungang last year these at Longmen were still a big surprise. The total site is even bigger as Yungang. It’s said to be the most impressive collection of Chinese art of the late Northern Wei and early Tang Dynasties carved from the 5th to the 8th century.
The site is located on both sides of the Yi River just south of Luoyang, Henan Province. To reach the ticket office and entrance you first walk like several hundred meters through tourist shops which will try to sell you anything. The west bank of the river is the most impressive with the most carvings and grottoes. Here you will also find the 17 meter high Vairocana Buddha in the Fengxian Temple. To cover the site in a quick way you can walk it in 2 hours, but then you will not manage the East bank and the temple and tomb there (not part of the UNESCO site). The perfect time to cover all the places I would suggest to spend around four hours on the site.
Early evening I took the high-speed train to Zhengzhou to position myself for my flight two days later.
So what’s to do in Zhengzhou? Not much! My flight to Shenyang would depart from here so I decided to have one full day in Zhengzhou (2 nights) to relax a bit, take a massage, have some great dinner and just see some highlights. These highlights basically are Erqi square with its double pagoda, the Shang Dynasty wall and some minor small cozy temples. The pagoda at Erqi square houses a museum about the city development in old times and when you look outside you will see all the new western brand shops 🙂
All in it was nice just to hang around for a day here. Another option would be to visit the Dengfeng area from Zhengzhou using Zhengzhou as a base. Maybe this would be better as the city does have more nightlife going on in the evening compared to Luoyang. After two relaxing nights I took a taxi to the airport which was about 40 minutes drive. Off to Shenyang which I will cover in a next post.
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Did you visit this part of China too or do you have questions? Please leave a comment at the bottom of the page. Love to hear from you!
Gallery Shaoling Monastery & Longmen Grottoes
Click an image for a full screen gallery of more photos taken during this trip. If you like to use any photo for commercial, private or editorial use please contact first for permission and/or pricing.