I’ve seen a lot of amazing temples in my time in China. One of the most amazing was the Hanging Monastery in Datong, China. It’s built on the side of a sheer cliff face, and is holding up thanks to a few beams and walkways.
But the Hanging Monastery has now been ousted from the number one spot, and a new temple took it’s place as my favorite: the Mati Temple in Zhangye.
It’s because the Hanging Monastery hangs. It’s built on the outside of the cliff face, with a few walkways dug slightly into the temple. But not the Mati Temple. It is built almost entirely inside the mountain. And you get to walk, and crawl, and scramble through the narrow passageways to explore it.
No one knows when exactly it was built though based on the style of art, it was probably 5th or 6th century. The name, translated, means Horse’s Hoof Temple because there is a hoof print of a magical horse embedded in the floor of one of the rooms.
Travel Tips: It’s located about 65km away from the city of Zhangye, so you need to hire a car. At my hostel, they arranged a shared car/van for 50rmb per person. Of course the taxi drivers in the city (with official blue uniforms) are used to driving tourists there and will wait for you and shuttle you around, though for a considerably higher price. Taxi drivers meet each arriving train and wave brochures around trying to sell their services.
I went during the peak of the summer travel season and the place was relatively empty. No giant tour buses or big groups which I found refreshing. Though some of the narrow passages and stairwells in the mountain were monitored because they were too small for two people pass each other so they had to control the foot traffic.