White Horse Temple

Buddhist Monastery in Luoyang

Although its original structures have all been replaced and older Buddhist shrines may have vanished, this vast, active monastery outside Luoyang is regarded as China’s first surviving Buddhist temple, originally dating from AD 68. When two Han dynasty court emissaries went in search of Buddhist scriptures, they met two Indian monks in Afghanistan; the monks returned to Luoyang on white horses carrying Buddhist sutras and statues. The impressed emperor built the temple for the monks; it's also their resting place.

More than 500 years later, the monk Xuanzang began his 'journey to the west' pilgrimage from here, and served as the abbot of White Horse Temple upon his return.

In Mahavira hall, it is astonishing to note that the main sculpture is hollow and weighs only 5kg. Outside, keep an eye out for the bronze 'longevity peach' – give it a good rub, then brush your hands over your head or whichever body part you think might need a little extra luck.

Tucked amid the smoky incense burners and usual Buddhist halls are some unusual sights; plan on spending at least two hours here. In the back of the complex, beneath a raised hall, is the Shiyuan Art Gallery (释源美术馆, Shìyuán Měishùguǎn), displaying temporary exhibitions. Also in the back of the complex is a surprisingly chic teahouse (止语茶舍, zhǐyǔ cháshě), an excellent place to take refuge and relax with a bowl of weak tea (free: help yourself from the warmer).

West of the historic grounds is the remarkable International Zone, featuring Thai, Burmese and Indian Buddhist temples. It's certainly worth strolling around.

At the opposite end of the grounds are gardens and the ancient 12-tiered Qiyun Pagoda (齐云塔, Qíyún Tǎ), encircled by worshippers. People say that if you stand 20m back from the pagoda and clap your hands, the echo sounds like a croaking frog.

The temple is 13km east of Luoyang, around 40 minutes away on bus 56 from the Xīguān (西关) stop. Bus 58 from Zhongzhou Donglu in the Old Town also runs here.