Family Travels: Shaolin Temple: The Birthplace of Kung Fu

Friday, 20 March 2009

Travelers: American couple Jim and Janie Butler, and their sons John (10) and Matthew (9).

The Plan: Keen to check out the birth place of kung fu for the boys, the family flew to Zhengzhou then drove to Luoyang, stopping at the famed Shaolin Temple on the way. Day two was spent at the Longmen Grottoes before flying home late on day three.

Kung fu warriors: A highlight for the Butler family was walking through the Pagoda Forest at Shaolin Temple – a peaceful sanctuary of endless pagodas which are actually the tombstones of monks, set against a backdrop of the beautiful Song Mountains. Janie suggests taking a stroller with smaller kids, as the path to the Forest is over 500m long.

Fighting fit: Shaolin Temple is known as the cradle of Chinese Zen Buddhism and has a 1,500-year-old Wushu history. Seeing the real Shaolin warriors perform was a remarkable experience, with some students as young as John and Matthew. The martial arts show is included with the Shaolin entry ticket, and be sure to have your picture taken with the warriors afterwards (110RMB, 8am-5.30pm daily).

Grottoes: South of Luoyang City lie the spectacular UNESCO World Heritage Longmen Grottoes, a collection of enormous Buddhas carved into cliffs facing the Yi River. First started in 493AD, visitors can enjoy around 2,300 niches and 1,300 caves, containing 100,000 statues. The largest grotto, Fengxian Temple, features the 17-meter Vairocana Buddha. Wanfo Cave has walls covered in 15,000 small Buddha statues and lotuses, and Guyang Cave, the oldest amongst the Grottoes, is where nineteen of the most famous Twenty Calligraphies are found. Janie suggests taking a dragon boat ride to view the cliff carvings from the river (80RMB, 7am-7.50pm daily).

Where to rest: The family chose the Hua Yang Plaza Hotel and thought its spacious rooms were good value for money; adding an extra bed was no problem at all. Breakfast was great, with a hilarious series of Chinglish names that kept the kids entertained. Right next door was a fabulous local park where kids could run around little streams and climb rocks (family room 1,580RMB, 88 Kairuan West Rd, Jian Xi district, 0379 6558 8123, www.huayanghotel.com).

What to slurp: Soup-like dishes known as “water feast” are a Luoyang specialty dating from the early Tang Dynasty. The family loved the noodles with cilantro, and the thinly-sliced chicken was a big hit with the boys.

First published, in part, in beijingkids magazine and on the beijingkids website.

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