If you are wanting to visit a unique place in China, then a unique place to spend some time is Shaolin Monastery. By taking a fast train from Beijing, Shanghai or Xian, you will find yourself away from the large cities to a more tranquil place.
Shaolin Monastery and Longmen Grottos was part of a tour package we had booked prior to arriving in China. And one of the reasons for the tour was to visit the home of Kung Fu.
At the time we booked with GAdventure, we didn’t feel confident travelling by ourselves in China. Mainly because we didn’t have a full comprehension of the language.
But what we found after only 10 days by ourselves in the cities of China, is we could easily make our way on public transport and find places to stay using Free Travel Apps.
You can read more of how we explored Beijing and Shanghai with tour guides here:
Related Post: 10 Best Things to Do in Beijing
Related Post: 7 Days in Shanghai including Xitang
How to Get to the Shaolin Monastery
- Take a train to Zhengzhou city from Beijing, Xian or Shanghai
- Take a bus or taxi from Zhengzhou to Shaolin
Even if you are with a tour group, the most likely way to get to the Shaolin Monastery is by train and bus.
Our tour group took an overnight train from Beijing to Zhengzhou city arriving the following morning at 7 am. From here, a bus was booked for the 2 hour trip to the entrance of the monastery.
Did we sleep on the overnight train?
Yes and no.
The bunk beds were comfortable enough, but having travelled on overnight trains in Vietnam, we were conscious of keeping our bags and personal items safe while we slept.
At least we had a two-hour bus trip to the Shaolin Monastery to catch up on some sleep.
Why Visit the Shaolin Monastery?
Shaolin Monastery is the birthplace of Zen Buddhism and Kung Fu.
Boys from the age of 5 years are sent to the monastery for schooling and learning the art of Kung Fu. Your first impressions os Shaolin, to see all the groups of students practising, is incredible.
It is said 30,000 children and young adults attend the monastery.
The various groups of students rise at 5.30am for fitness lesson, followed by breakfast about 7.30am and then school at 9.30am. After lunch, their lessons in Kung Fu go until they stop for dinner. After dinner, the students practise more Kung Fu finishing about 9.30pm. A long day!
Shaolin Temple Fees
- Admission Fee: RMB 100
- Opening Hours: 08:00 to 17:30
Where to Stay at Shaolin Monastery
The bus stopped at the car park on the edge of the “scenic area” and after collecting our bags we commenced the 3km hike through the Shaolin grounds up the hill to our Guesthouse.
The tour is sold as “comfortable” but looking more like “budget” as we realise later, there are electric buses to take you closer to where you are staying.
But walking did give us time to stop and watch the students practising the art of Kung Fu as well as many warm-up exercises.
The Guesthouses in the Scenic Area provide accommodation to the many visitors and family who visit the monastery. As the guesthouses are alongside where the students stay, we were able to follow the students daily routine and see them practising their craft.
Where to Eat at Shaolin Monastery
Although the guesthouse does offer paid meals, you do have the option of finding small eating places within the village.
We often went next door to a smaller eating place for better coffee and more variety.
And in “pidgin” mandarin, ordered some breakfast.
Knowing the words for chicken and pork helps, plus pointing at pictures or objects will always ensure you have something to eat.
Watch a King Fu Demonstration
Every day the Shaolin Monastery has a number of Kung Fu performances for visitors.
Tickets can be purchased for the theatre performance.
It was amazing to watch the flexibility, skills and strength of the various ages of the students.
However, we were a little disappointed they were using foil paper swords rather than plastic, but the performance with sticks was impressive.
Shaolin Temple History
Shaolin Temple founded in 495AD as the birthplace of Zen Buddhism.
The original founder Bodhidharma was a Buddhist monk who lived during the 5th or 6th century. It is said he spent 9 years in the Dharma Cave staring at a wall meditating and contemplating the existence of Zen. (That’s impressive)
Shaolin Temple is a major cultural temple for the Chinese people, detailing the many Zen Masters worldwide. And is one of the reasons there are many Chinese tourists visiting here.
The monks dressed in a grey fabric were available selling prayer cards and candles. Compared to other temples we had visited, the temple area seemed to be in need of some maintenance.
Take a Walk in the Pagoda Forest at Shaolin Temple
From the Temple, you can take the path to the Pagoda Forest.
A wander through the Pagoda forest area has at least 100 pagodas housing the ashes of the monks.
The most impressive was the last Abbot who’s pagoda had carvings of a car, travel and aeroplane. Interesting!
Song Shan Mountain Cliff Walk
Today was another “wow” day for us as we walked along Song Shan Mountain on the way to the San Huang Zhai Temple with some of the tour group.
You have two choices to get to Song Shan Mountain cliff walk:
- Take the Cable Car or
- Hike up or down (beware one section has 500 metres of steps)
We took the cable car up to the Song Shan Mountain and walked down.
From the cable car, it is a short walk to the cliff face and you may be wondering, like us, if you have made the right choice.
The narrow path, long cliff drops, rocks in precarious positions, and the handrail being replaced does not create a lot of confidence for the walk. Plus, the rain is starting to drizzle.
San Huang Zhai Temple on Song Shan Mountain
To reach the San Huang Zhai Temple, you have to first cross over the suspension bridge.
With the rain now becoming heavier and the wind chilly, we had to quickly take our photos midway across the bridge. We then ran to shelter on the other side at the makeshift shop.
Imagine carting stuff up here.
But it proved to be a great spot with a view of the temple, built into the cliff wall. Definitely, an ideal place to get away from everyone and anything.
And a “salute” to the men who carved this pathway, and to those who continue to repair it today.
Unexpected Highlight Staying in a Shaolin Guesthouse
Staying in a Guesthouse is one of the best things to do as you are able to see how the local people live and interact with each other.
We were amazed at the elderly “in residence” gentleman (89 years) who was pleased to demonstrate his Kung Fu moves. He had attended the schooling here at Shaolin Monastery and still practises his Kung Fu daily.
And one evening we were also treated to fireworks to welcome the arrival of a new baby in the village area. A very large gathering and meal for all those invited.
Visiting the UNESCO Longmen Grottoes
Our next stop on the tour from the Shaolin Monastery was Longmen Grottoes.
A private bus had been booked for the two hour trip to Longmen giving us a few hours to explore the grottos before the afternoon train to our next destination of Xian.
Unfortunately, we awoke to rain which continued throughout the day, making the visit to Longmen a little damp.
With the entrance to the Longmen Grottoes 3kms away from the bus park. Our walk to the ticket office had everyone was feeling a little like a drowned rat.
Ancient Longmen Grottoes
Longmen Grottoes in northern China is a UNESCO site. It was the work of the North Wei Dynasty, 1500 years ago who carved the 100,000 Buddhas.
Despite the rain, it is an impressive area of caves hollowed out of the rock wall housing many different sizes and styles of Buddhas. Unfortunately, erosion has over time damaged some of the grottoes.
The most impressive grotto was the Lotus Cave.
Tombs of the Poets
Crossing over the Yi River away from the grottoes, are the Tombs of Poets. Here you wander up and around the many tombs on the hillside.
If you walk further along the road, you will find the Xiangshan Temple and residence of Chang Kai Shek, of the People’s movement.
And it is a great place for views back across to the grottoes.
There are restaurants on this side of the river where you can enjoy a spicy bowl of noodles.
China’s Fast Train to Xian City
The bus from the Longmen Grottoes took us to Luoyang train station to catch the fast train to Xian.
We sped through the rolling countryside of vineyards and nurseries, entering two large tunnels, arriving in Xian three hours later.
To our surprise, the train hostesses asked us for a photo, to the amusement of the tour group. Although we were still feeling a little damp and bedraggled, we were happy to oblige.
Craziest Taxi Ride in Xian
Our guide organised the group of 16 into four taxis for the craziest ride through peak hour traffic to the hotel. We realised the taxi drivers had no idea where the HNA Hotel was until we produced the hotel name in Chinese and Terry directed via GPS.
Luckily we were taken within 500 meters of the HNA Hotel with the taxi drivers deciding they weren’t moving any further. One had even lit a cigarette on the route, obviously needing to de-stress.
For us, where’s the scotch?
We organised the hotel room (our guide was still in one of the taxis), asking for a non-smoking and a double bed. Terry needed to explain what we meant by a double bed by cuddling me in the lobby. To the amusement, giggles and smiles of the reception staff.
A quick change and the group headed out for dinner to a local restaurant for some yummy, spicy food at reasonable prices. Time to go, should we get a taxi?
Related Post: 5 Best Things to See in Xian