Located 40km (24 miles) east of Qingdao, Lao Shan is a mountain range that is part Daoist sanctuary, part natural wonder; with waterfalls, streams, and walking trails snaking through wooded hills; and jagged cliff faces rising dramatically from the blue sea. Daoism spread to the mountain during the Western Han dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 9), and emperors throughout the ages have dispatched envoys to scale the mountain in search of the elixir of life. While the water that originates from here didn't perform any miracles, today it is famous and is used in brewing Tsingtao beer.
Admission to Lao Shan is ¥70, but thanks to greedy tourist officials you must now purchase additional tickets, ranging from ¥4 to ¥30, to gain entry to specific attractions on the mountain. The most popular sightseeing route is the southern route, which takes in Daoist temples, caves, and ponds, with stupendous sea views along the way. The main Daoist temple here is Taiqing Gong, first built in 140 B.C., now with over 140 rooms and an equally mind-boggling number of gods from the Daoist pantheon. Admission is ¥15; hours are from 6am to 6pm. East of the temple, a trail leads up to Yakou temple, where you can either take a cable car or continue on foot up to Yao Lake and Mingxia Cave, where admission is ¥4. The trail down leads past Shangqing Gong (¥4), another Daoist temple; and the impressive waterfall, Longtan Pu.
To get to Lao Shan, tourist buses depart from the eastern end of Qingdao's railway station square every half-hour from 6:30am to 6pm. The 1-hour trip costs ¥20. Public bus no. 304 runs from the Ferry Terminal (Lundu) on Sichuan Lu all the way to Yakou. The Taiqing Gong cable car costs ¥50 round-trip (¥40 in low season).
Wild China: The Funeral Pits of Zibo
Once the capital of the Qi State -- during the Spring and Autumn (722-481 B.C.) and Warring States periods (475-221 B.C.) -- Zibo today is a dusty industrial town better known for its glass and ceramic production.
The town is located 116km (70 miles) east of Ji'nan in Shandong Province, but most of its worthwhile sights are actually in Linzi District about 35km (21 miles) east of Zibo. The Linzi Zhongguo Guche Bowuguan (Li Museum of Chinese Ancient Chariots) (Qilin Zhen, Houli Guanzhuang), is about 6km (3 1/2 miles) from the Linzi bus station. Admission is ¥25 and hours are from 8am to 6pm. Here you'll see two fascinating ancient horse-and-chariot funeral pits which predate Xi'an's terra-cotta army by more than 280 years. The horses' remains, dating from the Spring and Autumn Period, have been left as they were found. The first pit contains the remains of 10 chariots and 32 horses, all facing west. From the positions of the horses, with bronze bits still intact, archaeologists concluded that the animals were either anesthetized or otherwise rendered unconscious before burial. The second pit features the bones of four horses plus six chariots, which remain buried underneath the horses. Visitors can get a close look, which is a fascinating, if eerie, experience.
Ten minutes to the northwest, Xun Ma Keng (Ancient Horse Relics Museum), Heyatou Cun (¥10; 8am-5pm) is a series of over 20 tombs believed to have belonged to Qi Jing, the 25th monarch of the Qi State. The tombs contain the fossils of 600 horses. Only tomb 5 (106 horses) in the southwestern section is open, however. Unearthed in 1982, the horses are arranged in two rows with their heads facing outward. No other funerary objects were found, as the tombs were long ago robbed.
Ceramic production developed around Zibo as early as the period of the Houli culture 8,000 years ago. Four exhibit halls at the town's ceramics museum, Zibo Zhongguo Taoci Guan, Xincun Xi Lu (tel. 0533/217-2300; ¥20; May-Oct 9-11:30am and 3-6pm; Nov-Apr 9-11:30am and 2-5pm), trace the evolution of Zibo's ceramics from the Neolithic Longshan and Houli cultures to its zenith in the Tang and Song dynasties with the development of celadon ware and black glaze porcelain. Notable items on display include the dainty eggshell earthenware of the Longshan culture and the rare "Blue and Yellow Celestial Dragon" patterned porcelain reserved strictly for use by the emperor. The store here (8-11:30am and 2:30-6pm, to 5pm in winter) sells surprisingly inexpensive locally produced vases, cups, and individual sculptures. Only cash is accepted.
Getting There -- From Zibo's railway station (tel. 0533/258-2522) in the southern part of town, daily trains run to Ji'nan (2 hr.), Weifang (1 hr.), Qingdao (1 hr. 40 min.-3 hr.), and beyond. From Zibo's bus station (tel. 0533/9671-7533), just west of the railway station, buses run to Ji'nan (every 20-30 min. 6am-7pm; 1 1/2 hr., ¥27-¥36), Qingdao (every 1 hr. 7:30am-4pm; 3 1/2 hr., ¥75), Weifang (every half-hour 6:30am-6pm; 1 1/2 hr., ¥25-¥30), and Tai'an (every 40 min., 6:30am-5:30pm; 1 1/2 hr., ¥40).
Getting Around -- Take bus no. 6 or minibus no. 20 for ¥3 from Dongyi Lu just east of the railway station to its terminus at Linzi Bus Station; then take tourist bus no. 5, which stops at all the main sights listed here (¥4 for the entire loop). Alternatively, a taxi from Zibo will cost ¥60 to ¥80 one-way. In town, taxis charge ¥5 per 3km (2 miles), then ¥1.20 per kilometer thereafter.
Where to Stay & Dine -- Located in its own garden compound in the center of town, the four-story, four-star Zibo Binguan, Zhongxin Lu 189 (tel. 0533/228-8688; fax 0533/218-4990) offers rooms that lack charm but are comfortable, with clean bathrooms. Rooms go for ¥680, and can be discounted 60%. The 31-story Zibo Fandian, Zhongxin Dadao 177 (tel. 0533/218-0888; fax 0533/218-4800) was the town's first four-star hotel (1999). What it lacks in charm is made up for with a host of modern conveniences. The rack rates are absurd here, but you can bargain them down considerably. Standard rooms, with discount, cost ¥360 and have large, comfortable beds and standard four-star furnishings, though the carpets are old. The spacious marble bathrooms are dark but clean. Suites can be had for ¥480 to ¥680. The hotel's revolving restaurant on the 31st floor offers Shandong cuisine (also known as "Lu") in one of the city's more elegant settings. The Demeanor Bar serves real cappuccino and Colombian coffee, plus cocktails and imported wine. Western fast food is available at McDonald's (Zibo Shangsha at Zhongxin Lu and Meishi Jie) and at KFC (Meishi Jie 17).