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.)
Lijiashan – Li Family Mountain – is a Ming-era settlement (550 years old) that was home to wealthy merchants from the nearby Yellow River trading port of Qikou.
Today, the village is home to farmers
Some 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.
I slept on a Kang bed – a brick base that doubles as a bed and daytime seating area.
Now, in winter, heat from the coal fire cooking area funnels under my bed, providing warmth day and night, with a roof-vent to allow smoke outside.
How to Get to Lijiashan Cave Village
Transportation schedules often change – so I won’t bother listing anything except to say, one of the best ways is to bus-hop by going to a bus station.
Start at Pingyao – yes, do visit China’s best preserved ancient walled-city – and get a mini-bus to Luliang Lishi coach station ( 吕梁离石汽车站 ).
Then grab one of several daily mini-buses to Qikou ( 碛口镇 ), which will take up to 3 hours. (NOTE: You have to come this way if using public transport, but Qikou is an ancient riverport town also worth a visit.)
Back in the day, I walked from Qikou about an hour along the Yellow River and uphill to Lijiashan (but you can hire a taxi there now as the walk is nowhere near as scenic as it once was: construction + beautification, alias).
Maybe, you’ll leave Qikou and go direct to Taiyuan ( 太原市 ); it’s a 5 hour trip.
In 2011, I stayed in Lijiashan for 2 nights and along with journey time there and onwards, you really need 4 or 5 days – if including a night in Qikou – to do the journey justice, traveling leisurely and without stress.
This area is not one you want to rush thru, so take it easy and wander at the local pace!
My advice – MRP
Revisiting Lijiashan in 2020
Traveling Shanxi province in our van, Wei and I wanted to visit (revisit for me) the cave houses.
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.
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.