Giant Buddha Temple

Top choice buddhist site in Zhangye

Image by Christian Kober Getty Images

Originally dating to 1098 (Western Xia dynasty), this lovely temple contains an astonishing 35m-long sleeping Buddha – China’s largest of this variety and among the biggest wooden reclining Buddhas in Asia – surrounded by mouldering clay arhats (Buddhists who have achieved enlightenment) and Qing dynasty murals.

Legend states that Mongolian warrior Kublai Khan was born here.

This is one of the few wooden structures from this era still standing in China and there is a wealth of traditional symbols to examine. Even the unrestored exterior is fascinating and there's an impressive white clay stupa (土塔; tǔtǎ) dating from the Ming dynasty. The former Princesses Wencheng hall towards the back of the temple now contains an exhibition showcasing Buddhist artefacts, and there is also a display of golden sutras associated with the temple.

The Shanxi Guild Hall at the northeast corner of the temple is also worth a look. Dating to 1724, this Qing era complex was used as a meeting place and includes rare intact wooden stage and platform viewing areas.

From the drum tower, head south on Nan Dajie about 1km.