Shānxī (‘West of the Mountains’) gets its name from the Taihang range that runs along its eastern border. Nearly 70% of the province is mountainous, with much of the population residing in the inner Loess Plateau (thick layers of microscopic silt that blew down from Siberia beginning in the Ice Age). The hallmarks of China’s ‘yellow earth’ are cave houses (yáodòng) and a fissured, treeless landscape.
Shānxī is as dry as dust – precisely 0cm of rain in February is normal. All in, the province averages a mere 35cm of rain a year; the only time it really does rain is July, but it’s usually only 12cm.
Thankfully skies are often blue, because temperature fluctuations can be intimidating. In Tàiyuán expect lows of around -8°C in January, with wind chills icing that down quite a bit; the summer average high is a relatively comfortable 25°C. Much of the province outside Tàiyuán is mountainous, so adjust temperatures accordingly. Plan to arrive in May or September for optimal conditions.