With an average height of 1000m above sea level, Shanxi province is effectively one huge highland plateau. Its name, not to be confused with Shaanxi (home to Xi’an), means “west of the mountains”, though rocky peaks indeed stream happily throughout the provinces, ending abruptly at all borders bar its northeast and southwestern corners. Tourism staff in the province call it a “museum above the ground”, a reference to the many unrestored but still intact ancient buildings that dot the region, some from dynasties almost unrepresented elsewhere in China.

Just outside the coal-mining city of Datong lie the Yungang cave temples – one of China’s major Buddhist art sites – and the gravity-defying Hanging Temple. To the south lies Shanxi’s major mountain drawcard: the beautiful, if seasonally inaccessible, Wutai Shan range. South again, past the uninteresting provincial capital, Taiyuan, is a host of little places worth a detour, the highest profile of which is Pingyao, an old walled town preserved entirely from its Qing-dynasty heyday as a banking centre. Southwest of here and surprisingly time-consuming to reach, the Yellow River presents its fiercest aspect at Hukou Falls, as its chocolate-coloured waters explode out of a short, tight gorge.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

China features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

China travel tips: 8 things you need to know before you go

China travel tips: 8 things you need to know before you go

Even 20 years ago China was not a conventional tourist destination. Despite the allure of its beautiful landscapes and history-filled cities, politics, poverty,…

13 Jan 2017 • Simon Frank insert_drive_file Article
The roof of the world: a first-timer's guide to Tibet

The roof of the world: a first-timer's guide to Tibet

The ‘roof of the world’ has exerted a magnetic pull over travellers and adventurers for centuries. This vast, high altitude desert has spawned myths and leg…

10 Nov 2016 • Stuart Butler insert_drive_file Article
Video: 10 Taiwanese street foods you need to try

Video: 10 Taiwanese street foods you need to try

Street food in Taiwan has a charm that restaurants just can't match. There's a distinct pleasure to be found in wandering through the labyrinthine stalls glo…

24 Oct 2016 • Colt St. George videocam Video
View more featureschevron_right

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month