Wutaishan National Park

Mount Wǔtái (五台山 Wǔtái Shān), is one of the four Sacred Buddhist mountains of China, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Shanxi Province in China.

Understand

Temples at Wutai Shan

"Wǔtái Shān" means Five Plateau Mountain. It is a popular pilgrimage destination for Buddhists, who regard it as the domain of the Bodhisattva Manjusri - an emanation of wisdom. Plentiful vegetarian food(素-sù). The weather is cool - wear long trousers in the evening in summer. The town of Táihuái at the center of the park offers many accommodation options.

Maybe worth a 3 day visit - 1 day for Táihuái town temples, 1 day for a plateau or five, and one day for some out-of-town temples.

Get in

Wǔtái Shān is in northeastern Shanxi, near the border with Hebei. It is about half way between Taiyuan and Datong, the two largest cities in the province. These two cities have the two nearest airports, and Wǔtái Shān can be reached by bus from each of these cities in about 4-5 hours. The occasional train also stops at Shahe Town (labeled as Wǔtái Shān Station), about a one hour taxi or minibus ride from Wǔtái Shān.

Full price entry ticket is ¥168 (it doesn’t say - but students etc get half price, ie ¥84). On top of this you have to pay a compulsory ¥50 ‘green coach’ fee for travel within the park (no discounts). So, full ticket price plus bus ticket is ¥218.

Bus

A bus from Tàiyuán East Bus Station to Táihuái Village (in the centre of Wǔtái Shān) costs ¥78 and takes 5 hours.

From Dàtóng, 2 buses per day in summer leave at 8:30am and 2:10pm from Dàtóng South Bus Station (新南站 Xīnnánzhàn) for Táihuái in the centre of Wǔtái Shān. 75Y. 4 hours.

By plane

By train

Get around

See

Although most monasteries are free, larger ones charge up to ¥10 entrance, some of these offer half-price student discount.

At the foot of Dàiluó Peak is the ticket office for the minibuses to the five plateaus (and also their starting point).

Seeing all five plateaus, you might see the Central, West and South plateaus in the morning. The North and East plateaus are more desolate/rocky. Likely to be windier/wetter/colder. The North peak is the highest point in northern China (3058m) and you may notice the thinness of the air when climbing the temple steps - but not to the extent of getting altitude sickness.

In theory you can choose to see only one plateau - but the minibus company at the foot of Dàiluó Peak likes to have at least 6 customers for each minibus (in a minibus designed for 15). Visiting one plateau not just saves you money: if you arrange it correctly you should be able to have more ‘plateau time’ and less ‘minibus time’ which could make you day much more enjoyable. Individual plateaus (by minibus) around ¥60-80 per person, but taxi drivers may be able to offer a deal (for a taxi). The South(南)plateau is the lowest altitude (2474m), the greenest, (some forest en-route, mushrooms?), and might be the nicest one to visit if you only see one. The weather is likely to be slightly milder - better for a picnic or a short ramble. Maybe you could stop at Jīngé Temple (金阁寺 Jīngé Sì) en-route. At the Central or Western plateaus you might see more wild flowers.

The plateau monasteries are not equipped to supply food to tourists - suggest you stock up at the start point on snacks. Toilets at the monasteries are Chinese old-style, communal, outdoor squat, dirty and stink. In theory you can trek to each plateau and, it is rumored, by doing this earn the right to stay overnight - but facilities are basic - and where are the maps/guides?

For the record: East is Wanghai Peak (Peak Overlooking the Sea), West is Guayue Peak (Hanging Moon Peak), South is Jinxiu Peak (Splendor Peak), with Nantai Temple at its summit, North is Yedou Peak (Peak of Flourishing Leaves) and Central is Cuiyan Peak (Peak of Green Rocks). ¥350 per person to see all five peaks..

Temple etiquette When stepping over the plank of wood at the foot of each door it is best to enter and exit on the right, and use your right foot first. “游客止步”and”闲人免进” both mean “no entry to tourists”. “禁止拍照” and "请勿拍摄“ mean “no photos”. For religious sites without such signs, it is strongly recommended to obtain consent from resident monks or managerial staff before you shoot, to avoid possible offence.

Beware Beware of monks at shops offering to tell your fortune. Beware of monks at a small temple below Zhenhai Temple.

Eat

Various small restaurants. ¥10 for buffet breakfast at small restaurant is a common offer. On the street, yóutiáo at ¥2, and dòuhuā ¥3 are cheaper breakfast options. For lunch, noodles (刀削面 dāoxiāomiàn) a Shanxi specialty for ¥10 per person including sauce. Also fried noodles, soup noodles etc. for around ¥10 per serving. More regular rice dishes for ¥15-20 per person up. 台蘑 táimó (a mushroom) is the local delicacy. In practice this term seems to be applied to various different mushrooms. Comments vary from: “It’s just a mushroom with little real nutritional value” to “There is one type that is much tastier - but even locals pay ¥800 a kilo - or tourists pay 288 in restaurants for a small portion. This type really is much tastier - buying it is a way of offering a gift to your friends.” Try it in stews,or made into a sauce with 刀削面 (cheapest option - ¥10 - this won’t be the tastiest type). More typically ¥40+ for tourists with chicken/tofu etc. 2011.

In theory free food at monasteries (but you would leave a donation?). Rules such as separate areas for men and women, standing until the master has sat, not allowed to waste food, no talking (you indicate with chopsticks how much you want, and how dense congee you want).

Sleep

Lodging is concentrated in Táihuái Village in the centre of Wǔtái Shān.

Many rooms usually available, however rooms are scarcer on (Friday and) Saturday nights, and prices also rise at full and new moon, but otherwise there is an oversupply in the market and prices drop sharply.

Budget

There are temples offering guestrooms at ¥20 per person upwards, (Xiǎntōng Temple Tǎyuàn Temple and Kuangren Temple), but temples in the central area may refuse lodgings to foreigners (being fluent in Chinese does not seem to help, though being a devout Buddhist might).

At the bus station 招待所 zhāodàisuǒ there was a room for ¥50 ensuite, western toilet, kettle, TV with 24hr hot water (but hard beds, no soap or towels) on a Sunday night in August 2011 (not full/new moon). The bus station is in the south of the village.

Midrange

Most traveller's lodges range from ¥50 to ¥100 for a room for 2 persons.

20 mins walk north of bus station on the right of the river (or 2 bus stops) Jīnshān hotel (金山宾馆) with solar hot water looked good (near Miào Jí Xiáng 妙吉祥 health vegetarian restaurant bus stop and ABC Yinxin hotel) as did the nearby Cíyuán Inn 慈缘客栈 kèzhàn (modern rooms) which is slightly further down on Míngqīng street 明清街 (that runs parallel to the river) - both ¥100 for much nicer rooms. Around here there are various 宾馆 with more comfortable rooms at ¥80-100 during the week. Never believe rack rates - For example, after explaining the rack rates (eg ¥288) you ask if they can offer a deal, see the room, they will pull out a calculator and offer much cheaper (eg ¥100), then when you walk away to explore other options saying you might be back, it will drop to ¥80. Maybe on a Saturday full-moon night you will hardly get any discount, however. Further north still are cheaper options if you are willing to live with some lively Chinese tourists.

Go next

Last bus leaves from Táihuái Village for Tàiyuán at 1530hrs.

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Sunday, September 13, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.