The world-renowned Shaolin Temple China (or Shaolin Monastery) is the birthplace of the Chinese martial art of Kung Fu – also known as Wushu. Shaolin is also the birthplace of Zen Buddhism, and as with the nearby White Horse Temple in Luoyang, is credited as an important site in the development of the religion in China.
This famous Chinese landmark dates back over 1,500 years although the temples have been destroyed and rebuilt many times since then. The enchanting Pagoda Forest is the largest of its type in China and represents one of the most sacred sites in the region.
The temple is set within the beautiful Songshan Mountain Scenic Area, with plenty of hiking opportunities. There is even a village built into the mountainside that you can visit.
Shaolin is home to many martial arts academies and the Shaolin Temple Training School. There are daily performances where you can witness the Shaolin monks perform incredible martial arts displays!
The site was granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 2010 and sees many visitors and martial arts students from all over the world.
Shaolin Temple History
Songshan Mountain is one of China’s five sacred peaks and has been an important cultural icon since at least the first century BC.
In 527AD the monk Bodhidharma arrived from India and entered a cave at Songshan to start nine years of meditation. He emerged from the cave (now known as the Dharma Cave) with the concept of Chan Buddhism (Zen Buddhism) and began teaching monks the martial art of Wushu, (Kung Fu).
Location of Shaolin Temple China
Shaolin is located three kilometers from the town of Dengfeng in China’s Henan Province. It is easily reachable from nearby Zhengzhou, Luoyang and Xi’an.
The Shaolin Temple is set within the Songshan Mountain Scenic Area and comprises pine-forested mountains, trickling streams and is a haven for birds and insects (keep an eye out in the hedgerows for the huge and colourful Golden Orb Weaver spiders).
After a visit to the Temple and watching a martial arts performance, there are plenty of hiking trails where you can lose yourself in the tranquil nature and reach your own state of Zen!
What to see at Shaolin Temple China
Hall of Heavenly Kings
Dedicated to the four heavenly kings who bestow blessings to the people, this impressive temple hidden beneath the shade of the forest offers a glimpse into the lives of Buddhist adherence. Wafts of incense carry on the breeze as orange-robed monks go about their business.
This is where the Bodhidharma sat patiently staring at the wall for nine years while meditating. It is rumored that he cut his own eyelids off to reach new heights of enlightenment and was said to have heard the ants scream!
When the dharma emerged from the cave after those nine years, he had come up with Zen Buddhism.
It is possible to visit the cave today, as it is located within the grounds of the monastery. Though it’s not necessary to spend so long there (or cut your eyelids off)!
The Pagoda Forest
The Pagoda Forest is a Buddhist graveyard that represents the largest of its kind in China. The towering stone pagodas and stupas vary in shape and size (between 10 and 15 metres) depending on the achievements of the monks they represent.
Shaolin Temple Training & Kung Fu Acadamy
Shaolin monks have been practicing Kung Fu at the Wushu Training Centre for 1,500 years and still do to this day.
You can witness Kung-Fu displays on the hour between 10:00 and 17:00 and in the summer you can watch the students train outside on the main courtyard.
The 30-minute displays are truly something to behold and include death-defying feats of human endurance and discipline. It has to be seen to be believed!
As you leave the Pagoda Forest you can carry on up the mountain where there are hiking trails and two cable cars. The trail follows the Shaoyang River as it bubbles over fallen rocks through the dense forest.
It is possible to hike to the top of the mountain which is around 2,000 metres. The trail is moderately tough so a good level of fitness is required. One of the best ways to experience the beautiful nature around Songshan Mountain is to hike one way and take the cable car back.
Practicalities for Shaolin Temple
The Temple complex and scenic area are open from 08:00 to 17:30 seven days a week.
Entrance to the Temple and grounds (which includes the mountain park, but not cable cars) is 150RMB and is well worth the price.
How to get to the Shaolin Temple
From Luoyang bus station buses depart directly to Shaolin Monestary at 08:00. If you wish to travel later, you can take a bus to Dengfeng and take a taxi to the temple.
The journey time is 2 hours and the cost is ¥20.00 ($3.00).
The site can easily be visited as a day trip from Luoyang. However, to get the most of the beautiful mountain park I would recommend spending a couple of days there. Hotels abound in Dengfeng and prices start at around ¥300 (about $45.00) for a clean, modern and comfortable twin room.
From Zhengzhou buses depart at 07:00, 08:00, 080:50, 09:40, 10:10 and 11:00. The trip takes 1.5 hours and costs 28 RMB.
From other Chinese cities, take a train to Luoyang or Zhengzhou and take the bus as described above.
If you are looking for one of the Middle Kingdom’s most iconic places, look no further than Shaolin Temple China. From culture and history to stunning nature. Songshan Mountain and Shaolin is the perfect day out and should be on every bucket list!
About the author:
Steve Rohan is a writer from Essex, England. He has traveled to over 60 countries, lived in Armenia, China and Hong Kong, and is now living the digital nomad life on the road.
Steve prefers “slow travel” and has covered much of the world by train, bus and boat. He has been interviewed multiple times by the BBC and recently featured in the documentary Scariest Places in the World. See the About page for more info.
Where I am now: Yerevan, Armenia 🇦🇲