The Hanging Monastery in China

I said farewell to my travel companion and headed north from Hong Kong to Beijing. It was a long train journey but a week before Christmas, I was on a mission to see the Great Wall of China and be on the wall wearing my Santa hat and eating turkey sandwiches for Christmas day. Always good to have a goal in life. No matter how stretched it was. The greatest wall on the planet fulfilled all my expectations and more. Stretching as far as the eye could see, I could not have asked for a better day. Blue skies and the sun was shining. Lucky as it's not often you get to see a clear sky in China.

I had a wonderful few weeks in Beijing but then decided to travel south and had a list of destinations to visit along the way. I had heard of this wondrous place near a town called Datong where I was told there was a monastery that was hanging from a mountain edge. Sounded intriguing and listed in the Top 10 Most Dangerous Buildings in the World, it was a backpackers dream destination!. I added it to my bucket list and felt I had to witness this architectural masterpiece for myself. I traveled there by coach. The journey did not disappoint.

The Xuankong temple was built more than 1,500 years ago into a cliff near Mount Heng in Hunyuan County near Datong City. Perfectly located in the small canyon basin, protected from sunlight and erosion, the temple was remarkably well preserved.


Shielded from flooding and high winds the mountain also protects it from snow and rain. We climbed up the side of a mountain, following the many steps and narrow staircases, which were indeed clinging to the side of a cliff face. I was amazed at its architectural engineering and hoped it would stay up long enough for me to pass through it. Not for the faint-hearted but I embraced the oddity and the challenge to get over my fear of heights.

Littered with around 40 connecting halls and filled with cabinets, the rooms contained treasures of sculptures in copper, iron, terracotta and stone. This photo of the Buddha was taken in one of the prayer rooms, not completely intact but beautiful none the less surrounded in ochre and jade faded paintwork. The monastery is the only existing temple which combines three  of Chinas traditional religions: Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism and these are conveyed harmoniously in the artwork found throughout the buildings.

Debbie Millington