What can I say – Lonely Planet you got it wrong again! The LP entry on Shaolin kind of disses on it, making it seem like an over-touristed slock show. LeeAnne and I went in with very low expectations, but if you’ve seen as many Kung-Fu movies as I have, going to China without visiting Shaolin Temple is like eating a peanut butter sandwich with no peanut butter. And we were greatly rewarded.
First, getting to Shaolin is not exactly easy. It isn’t the hardest to get to place we’ve been in China, but it did require an overnight stay in a neighboring city we didn’t particularly want to visit, a long bus ride, followed by short bus ride and some confusion over where in the heck to stay in the middle of bumkin-ville. All worth it.
We might have a different perspective on the whole thing if we had stayed in Zhongzheng or Dengfu and just made Shaolin a day trip. But we had heard there were a few guesthouses near the temple and if you wanted to you could actually spend the night at one of the Kung-Fu schools that dot the area. Luckily for us, when the bus dropped us off at Shaolin the we were directed by the locals to “Darhma Hall” located on the campus of a Wushu School with 7000 students between the ages of 7 and 18. That really made it worth it for us.
The Temple itself has been destroyed several times and the most recent reconstruction dates only from the mid-eighties, so if you’re looking for charming architecture this ain’t it. The weather when we were there was crappy, so hiking in the hills around the temple (which is suppose to be very nice), wasn’t an option. And Lonely Planet was right about one thing, there are a few too many Chinese tourists. Although the monks do put on a great Vegas inspired martial arts show in the auditorium.
The highlight then was staying at the school. Even though we didn’t participate in classes, we got a great look into the school just by being there and watching them practice. Nothing like spending the evening with 7,000 Kung-Fu bad-asses.
We also learned why China will rule the world. These kids were up at 5:30 practicing in the courtyards and after a day full of Kung-Fu, they were studying in school all night! We walked by one classroom at about 9PM on a Friday, and there they were studying their little Kung-Fu hearts out. I’m not sure, but if I’ve learned anything from Kung-Fu movies, I think they may also sleep on their heads. This place is just that hard core.
Lonely Planet, get it right next time – Shaolin is worth the trip!