Saturday, September 21, 2013

Hanging Monastery of Datong, China: Not for the weak hearted!

The sights of Datong did not disappoint so far. Yungang Grottoes was nothing short of amazing, making my expectations set high on our next destination, the Hanging Monastery. After lunch, our group took a 3-hour ride going there, though it was a long and tedious one, provided us with brilliant views of the mountain ranges in the area.

Hanging Monastery
Hanging Monastery of Datong, China

The Hanging Temple (悬空寺 Xuánkōng Sì) is  a temple precariously lodged on a cliff 275 feet above ground of Hengshan Mountain, meticulously engineered during 491 AD  led by a monk called Liao Ran. I have been curious to go there when I saw it featured on Time’s Top 10 precarious buildings.

majestic views of the surrounding mountains
View from the entrance. The temple is actually quite small.

Why on earth would a monk decide to position a temple on a place like this? Aside from being dangerous, it is also very tiresome to reach, especially for the elders. It was said that the area used to have a big river years ago so the effect of flood has a double or triple effect, creating a big fiasco on the area. The monks decided to place the temple on the cliff to shield it from this kind of tragedy.  It is also a good location for followers who seek for tranquility and meditation.

Going up the temple was no problem aside from the crowd of tourists that will make all exit and entry points congested. The steps going up tend to be narrow and steep the more you get to the higher levels. If you have a massive fear of heights, it may be recommended that you just appreciate the temple from below.

Hanging temple
Too crowded!

The entire complex is comprised of 40 chambers that are linked through six main halls. There are also three levels, the entrance features the most solid area of the monastery built with brick and stone.A total of 80 sculptures are on display, one that is most noteworthy is the Three Religions Hall wherein you could appreciate the harmony of three religions in the temple: Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism, something that I have first seen in my travels.

Hanging Monastery datong

cool mask sold at the souvenir store inside the monstery

slippery wooden mini stairs

Hanging Monastery datong

Hanging Monastery china

The temple is considered as an architectural wonder. Just by looking at it, one could not help but wonder how a small structure supported by thin fragile stilts could survive nature's brutal force for over 1,500 years? A unique and ingenious system was applied on its framework – strong wooden crossbeams were utilized and were inserted into the rock to build a sturdy foundation. Thus, the toothpick-like struts that are visible to us tourists are actually optional and was only added 600 years ago, it can be removed if not for assuring the visitors of their safety. The location on where the temple is facing was cleverly thought, it is facing north thus making its exposure to the sun and harsh winds very limited.

precarious building china
the thin old wooden support added for the visitor's assurance, personally, I thought it would actually be pretty cool to see the temple without these though
Hanging temple
Certainly enough to test someone's fear of heights!

My only problem with this Hanging Temple was that in its very limited space, it is jam-packed by tourists and when I went there, there were no monks in sight. Heck, there was even a souvenir shop in the first level of the temple. It didn’t felt like a religious place to me at all. I felt robbed even though I only paid for the student price entrance fee. I would have probably enjoyed the moment of being at this gravity-defying spot if not for the constant loud-talking and heavy footsteps of the tourists, but of course that is very impossible to be experienced in China.

Hanging Monastery blog

Hanging Monastery travel

After the butt-numbing 6-hour round trip wherein we were stuck at the roads going back to the city proper, I enjoyed seeing this literally breathtaking spectacle of a temple and I can say that the time spent going here was worth it. It’s not like I can visit a magnificent 1,500 year-old “floating” temple every day! Certainly, Datong did not fail to impress me and I hope these sites can be taken good care for more generations to see.

Hanging Monastery china

How to go there Hanging Monastery, Datong:
From Datong train station, fifth stop on bus line 15 takes you to 市供排水集团 Shìgōng Páishuǐ Jítuán. From there, walk ahead to crossroads, turn left and main bus station 大同汽车站 Dàtóng Qìchēzhàn is just ahead on left. (taken from Wikitravel)

I would personally recommend you to take a taxi or join a group at the hostel to divide costs. The way going to Hengshan Mountain is way too crowded and accident-prone. The fee split for five people at Datong Youth Hostel for two sites (including Yungang Grottoes) was only 75 CNY).

Follow my footsteps from Beijing to Xi'an for 12 days!
Day 1: Datong
City Tour

Day 2: Datong
Yungang Grottoes

Hanging Monastery

Day 3: Pingyao
City Tour

Day 4: Pingyao
City Tour and Attractions

Day 5: Pingyao

Day 6: Xi'An
City Tour

Day 7: Xi'An
Yangling Mausoleum

Day 8: Xi'An
Terracotta Army

Day 9: Beijing
Qianmen Street/798 Art District

Day 10: Beijing

Forbidden City

Day 11: Beijing
Summer Palace

Day 12: Beijing
Great Wall

Railway Train Experience
Standing, Hard Seats, Sleepers

12 Day Trip
Itinerary & Budget

More of China here


  1. Interesting! Is it still being used?

    1. As a temple, nope. I haven't seen any monk or people praying inside when I went there. It's mainly open for the tourists' "entertainment".

  2. Lucky you. Its a beautiful place.


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