China Travel Photography

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location map of Taigu County

Detail (click image for full map):太谷县的位置Location of Taigu County -- green arrow

太谷Taigu county was one of the stops that I had to make to see some of the well-known merchant mansions in 山西Shanxi province -- in this case the 曹家大院Cao family's compound, which is about 5km away. In the county itself there is also the 孔家大院Kong family's compound that I did not get to visit, but you should. Other historical structures are the 鼓楼Drum Tower and the 无边塔Wubianta ( Wubian Pagoda or Boundless Pagoda ).

The county is not very big; I believe there were just 2-3 buslines. As you walk around you will see its history in the many small alleys and narrow streets that I saw were in the process of being cleared for newer designs. Pay especial attention to the stone and brick walls, many had unusual designs, marks and carvings. Unfortunately, I did not document it.

Historically and culturally important towns like Taigu, 祁县Qixian, 平遥Pingyao and others are obviously different the moment you set eyes on them.  Of course, the reason is because the old structures are still there and, by being there and immovable, everything else moves around them. Usually, none of the newer structures have the aura and substance of the older structures and this added strength and character to the historical creations.

Generally, these important buildings and old streets are set apart from the new comers. When you come near them, there is a sense of aweness, both cause by its aesthetics and by its exact existence. This sense of aweness is especially true of Taigu. Unlike neighboring towns like Qixian and Pingyao, Taigu has no billboards or signs telling you what is what. You actually have to know that it existed and go find them or bum into them. And, of course, I saw no tourist; they would have gone straight to the Cao mansions without a reason to come here. But make a visit here and you will never forget it.

NEW -- July 21, 2010

The beautiful city of Suzhou crisscrossed with narrow water canals

Region: 山西Shanxi

太谷图片Taigu Pictures

  • Picture of 太谷 - 鼓楼 Taigu - Drum Tower

    Taigu's grand drum tower.

  • Picture of 太谷 - 小贩 Taigu - Street Vendors

    Street vendors beside the drum tower. The large structure sits on the center of a crossroad. The old alleys and narrow streets have good traffic. As I moved away from the old tower I soon reached the new part of the town, which of course have much more traffic.

  • Picture of 太谷 - 鼓楼 Taigu - Drum Tower

    The tower is a square-based two-storey structure. What is unusual in its design is the double eave in the mid-section. The addition of the upper eave, which is supported by a series of gigantic 斗拱Dougongs ( Brackets ), appears to be an entirely aesthetic decision. The old streets are packed with stores and are vibrant with locals, unlike the old streets in Pingyao that are populated with tourists.

  • Picture of 太谷 - 无边塔 Taigu - Wubianta (Boundless Pagoda)

    I found Wubianta (Boundless Pagoda) while I was looking for the 孔家大院Kong family's compound. It's entrance was in an old narrow street, so it was impossible to take a photo. I around and came into a middle school. I sneaked in and went to the school's ball field which has a full view of the beautiful pagoda.

  • Picture of 太谷 - 无边塔 Taigu - Wubianta (Boundless Pagoda)

    I took one last photo of the pagoda before I left the area.

image of Jiayuguan fort

嘉峪关Jiayuguan (Jiayu Pass) - the lone fort at the edges of the desolate and bare Gobi desert. It is at once both a timeless symbol of human's uncompromising reach and an otherworldly mirage.

Travel Information

Getting There:

From 太原市Taiyuan city, the provincial capital of 山西省Shanxi province, take the bus to 太谷县Taigu county at the 建南汽车站Jiannan Bus Station (South Bus Station).

When I made the decision to visit the 曹家大院 - 三多堂Cao Family Compound, I first came to Taigu because I knew it was near this county. I had no idea of where the mansions were nor where I should stop in the town. I just popped in. I asked the driver to stop anywhere nearest to the town, and he just dropped me off on the national highway just outside the town. After something like that I would usually get in a restaurant to think of what to do while I eat. Since I am giving them business I would ask the workers where things are. In Taigu I went in the nearest restaurant by the road. While I sat waiting for my meal. I saw the owner stood observing a camera crew doing a video commercial of his restaurant. When he seemed not busy I called him over and asked for the whereabouts of the Cao compound. He sat down beside me and immediately drew a simple map of Taigu on a piece of napkin. I could just hire a cab on the road and get there in half an hour or so. He then looked at me curiously and asked if I knew there is also the 孔家大院Kong family's compound in this town. Of course I knew none of this and was very thankful for the information. 

After I was done with the impressive Cao residence, I went to look for the Kong mansion. On the way I came to the Drum Tower. From a distance just after a turn on the old streets, this lofty tower loomed like general in a shiny armor. As I wandered further I was enticed into an old narrow street about a meter wide. Here I found a surprising entrance to a pagoda. A stone tablet identified it with the these characters: "无边塔"( Wubianta: Wubian Pagoda or Boundless Pagoda ). But like all things not planned, you take whatever comes. Both the compound and the pagoda were closed for the day. Next time then.

Accomodations:

I don't go around town looking at hotels and noting them like your normal travel guide, but I can judge whether a place will have decent hotels if you do look for them. Taigu was not as commercialized as other towns that I visited in the area, so their accomodations did not appear to be as upscale as 祁县Qixian or 平遥Pingyao. Right from the roadside where I was dropped off from the van, I saw a few hotels. I justed picked the one next to the restaurant I first had my meal.  Most of the better accomodations are in the town center, which isn't very far away. There was bus stop right near the highway, so just hop on and stop whenever you see something good.

Travelogues and travel notes.

trucks on the desert road

Pictures I took while on a bus traveling through the sandy deserts of 甘肃Gansu on my way to 嘉峪关Jiayuguan.