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Cave Houses of Lijiashan Village – China

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Walking along the half-frozen Yellow River for about 7 kilometers, I turn and climb the hill to Lijiashan – excited to see a village of cave houses in a valley of terraced fields.

cave houses lijiashan village china

For around 5000 years in Shanxi Province people have lived in cave houses.

It makes sense as the earthen-surrounds means cool housing in the scorching summer and relative warmth during the brutal winters. (Another plus is that earth is good sound-proofing.)

Panorama of Lijiashan Village from across the valley.
Cave houses amid surreal, frozen surrounds.

Lijiashan – Li Family Mountain – is a Ming-era settlement (550 years old) that was once home to wealthy merchants from the nearby Yellow River trading port of Qikou.

(NOTE: I got a bus to Qikou then walked 10 km along the Yellow River to Lijiashan vIllage, which is now home to farmers).

Inside a family cave house where I stayed a couple of nights, drinking baijiu with the father. LOWER RIGHT: The bed I slept on, with heated chamber beneath – feed by the stove fire.
In the walled courtyard of the cave house complex: the family who I stayed with in Lijiashan in January 2011.
Scenes from Winter in the cave village (2011) including a – frozen – stream that runs thru the valley of Lijiashan Village.

The houses of Lijiashan can be rather fancy, not just caves built into the hillside, but with stone and brick facades and tiled interiors, surrounded by courtyards.

man smoking pipe lijiashan village china
Farmer enjoys a pipe.
Partially-frozen Qiushui River (a tributary of the Yellow River) seen from the dry terraces of Lijiashan Village in winter.

Revisiting Lijiashan Cave Village in 2020

Traveling Shanxi province in our van, Wei and I wanted to visit (revisit for me) the cave house village of Lijiashan.

Now, a major road has been cut up the valley and a large car park is being built, along with public toilets.

It was searing hot.

And unlike the winter of 2011, the barren frozen surrounds were green.

Verdant vegetation aside, Lijiashan had changed – been beautified. Center left: Wei in a complex for visiting art students; she had a good chat with the owner and one of the few remaining locals (her video-interview is on our Chinese social media account); we bought some walnuts and dried fruit from him.

The revisit was disappointing.

Instead of a quaint living village that I so fondly remembered, it’s now like a deserted outdoor museum.

The center of the village has been renovated and paths paved, and the work is on-going. Apparently, within the next 2 years construction will be complete and entrance tickets will apply.

Furthermore, the family I’d stayed with had moved out and the house now accommodated workers involved in the renovations. The few remaining locals sold produce.

In 2020, inhabited houses in Lijiashan number about 10 – down from 50 in 2011.

Yet the village will soon be reborn – this time as another Chinese Disney-tourism site, with hip guesthouses, restaurants and associated kitsch.

Is it still worth visiting?

Yes, Lijiashan remains impressive for the first time visitor. Just get there before it becomes a maddening tourist zone.