One of China’s four Buddhist mountains, the five flat peaks of Wutai Shan – the name means “Five-terrace Mountain” – rise around 3000m in the northeastern corner of Shanxi province, near the border with Hebei. Its main base, the village of Taihuai, lies on a backroads route linking Datong and Taiyuan, and it’s possible to access the mountains from either of those cities. The long bus ride here is rewarded with fresh air, superb scenery, some fascinating temple architecture and a spiritual (if not always peaceful) tone. Though increasingly accessible, many of Wutai Shan’s forty temples have survived the centuries intact and remain functioning, full of resident clergy.
Despite a surprising number of ordinary Chinese people here as pilgrims – thumbing rosaries and prostrating themselves on their knees as they clamber up the temples’ steep staircases – it has to be said that intense summertime tourism at Wutai Shan can put paid to feelings of remoteness, and might make you regret the effort taken to reach here. Crowds fade away between October and April, though during this period you will have to come prepared for some low temperatures and possible blizzards. Note that all temples are open daily from sunrise to sunset.