I’m in Xi’an, just having arrived from Henan Province — and my old stomping grounds in Zhengzhou. While my husband and I had a spectacular time reconnecting with my roots and enjoying the cultural sites, we’re still recovering from the kungfu punch of Shaolin Temple. Yes, that Shaolin Temple, the one famous for martial arts. The reason? It’s one empty kick of a site that doesn’t merit a 105 RMB (approximately 15-16 USD) ticket price.
Yes, Shaolin is enshrouded in some extraordinary history (including the fact that Boddhidharma spent several ponderous years at the temple). But most of that has been cheerfully restored out of the place, giving the actual temple grounds more of a Disneyland feel (complete with the crowds of tourists), apart from a smattering of steeles throughout the grounds. As a historical site, it’s a most average looking temple otherwise with nothing distinguishing whatsoever.
The forest of pagodas is truly the coolest part of it — but it hardly merits the entrance price.
Worse is the fact that all tour buses dump you off in a parking lot far removed from the site itself. I don’t mind a long walk, however the pathway itself first passes through a conglomeration of souvenir shops, restaurants, a hotel, the kungfu demo area, and hawkers before you even get to the temple. The mountain w/ the cable car is also a joke, especially since, after forking over such a big sum, they still want you to pay for the cable car.
Admittedly, I was already left with a bruise by the bus ride over. We bought the tickets to Shaolin from the Zhengzhou bus station, the ticket said it was going to Shaolin Temple. But no, the bus has to stop first at Songyang Academy (not really worth the time, either — go to Yuelu Academy, a much more authentic place in Changsha, instead), then to Fawang Temple, then to a lunch spot where the tour guides obviously get a commission, then Shaolin. We eventually forked over our money for the “less expensive” tour group ticket (175 RMB) which gave us entrance to all of the places we visited (Songyang Academy, Songyue Temple Pagoda, and Shaolin). Nevertheless we couldn’t help but feel ripped off by how average the sites were, and we were especially perplexed when, after our tour guide told us that the pagoda cost 50 RMB to enter, not a single person there checked our ticket.
So, we decided to stop at a government office with oversight of the tourist area, and find out if we got cheated. Turns out, the ticket checkers were apparently “on lunch break”. However, we learned an interesting fact: locals from Dengfeng can visit all of the sites in the area by just getting a yearly tour card for only 20 RMB!!!
So it goes. As for us, we drop-kicked it out of there, and are happy to say, we’ve been there, done that, and aren’t going back anytime soon.