White Horse Temple

Buddhist Monastery in Luòyáng

Although its original structures have all been replaced and older Buddhist shrines may have vanished, this vast, active monastery outside Luòyáng is regarded as China’s first surviving Buddhist temple, originally dating from the 1st century AD. When two Han dynasty court emissaries went in search of Buddhist scriptures, they met two Indian monks in Afghanistan; the monks returned to Luòyáng on white horses carrying Buddhist sutras and statues. The impressed emperor built the temple for the monks; it's also their resting place.

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 Shìyuán 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 pot of weak tea (free).

West of the historic grounds is the new International Zone, featuring a large collection of temples built by Thailand, Myanmar and India. It's certainly worth strolling around.

Way at the opposite end of the grounds are gardens and the ancient 12-tiered Qíyún Pagoda (齐云塔; Qíyún Tǎ), encircled by worshippers.

The temple is 13km east of Luòyáng, 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.