Tai'an is a city in Shandong, and it's famous for Mount Tai. Much less famous than Tai'an is one of its counties, Dongping, which is a truly off-the-tourist-path area with lots to offer for those interested in old Buddhist grottoes and carvings.
Both the regular and express trains pass through Jinan.
If you are coming from Qingdao, regular trains run to Tai'an and take 6 hours while costing ¥56-65 one way. Express trains also run from Qingdao and take only 3.5 hours, though the ticket price jumps to ¥148. Purchasing your train ticket in advance is a must during busy season, unless you don't mind standing in the aisle for the entire trip.
Alternatively, you can also take a bus from Qingdao's Sifang long-distance bus station. The trip takes 6 hours and costs ¥116. Unfortunately, it is virtually impossible to figure out the bus schedule without going to the bus station (there is no number to call and nobody in town seems to be familiar with the schedule), but Sifang is a short cab ride from town (only about ¥12-15 from the train station).
Aside from Mount Tai, all of the places listed here are located in Dongping county (东平县 Dōngpíng Xiàn), which is administered under Tai'an. A bus from Tai'an takes about 2.5 to 3 hours to get to Dongping. And within Dongping county is Yinshan town (银山镇 Yínshān zhèn), which also has some worthwhile sights but is about 90 minutes from Dongping by bus. Unlike other Chinese cities, there are surprisingly few taxis in Dongping - the only place you might find some will be at Dongping's bus station, which is a couple kilometers from the center of the urban area.
Since Jiliangshan Carvings and Jianfu Temple are both located in Yinshan, it would be best to visit both of those in the same day, or at least stay in a hotel in Yinshan instead of going back to Dongping if you only had time to visit one. The last bus heading from Yinshan to Dongping is around 4PM.
The Wang Family Graveyards and Huayan Cave would best be visited by hiring a driver, as Huayan Cave is not accessible by public transport but is further ahead a few kilometers from the main road where the graveyards are. Three hours is enough time from getting a driver at Dongping's bus station and then coming back.
The holy mountain Taishan (Mount_Tai).
- Baifoshan Grottoes (白佛山石窟造像 Báifóshān shíkū zàoxiàng) - located about 4km from Dongping county's bus station, these Buddhist grottoes were carved from the Sui to Song dynasties. Millions were spent on turning the area into a tourist attraction in the 2010s, complete with a needless bird aviary, hotel and newly built temples. Unfortunately, the grotto of the Sui dynasty big Buddha statue - the whole reason to come here - is blocked by glass and stone barriers so you can barely see it. Fortunately, the nearby Grandmother Temple (奶奶庙 Nǎinai miào), two grottoes connected to each other, hasn't received the same treatment. Ask park workers how to walk to the Grandmother Temple from the big Buddha statue as it's not marked. Ticket: 120RMB.
- Dongping Museum (东平博物馆 Dōngpíng bówùguǎn) - located directly opposite from Baifoshan, this museum houses some Western Han dynasty tomb murals discovered in the 2000s during construction. While admission is free and you must bring a passport, the opening hours can be frustrating: open every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday from 9-11AM and 2-4PM (in winter) and 3-5PM (in summer).
- Huayan Cave (华严洞 Huáyán dòng) - truly a hidden gem, as it is not open for tourism but not closed off, either. Located more than 20km from Dongping's bus station, this cave has two rows of old Buddhist statues carved into the stone. All the faces were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution but the bodies remain intact. Villagers nearby may refer to it as the 'cow's nose cave' (牛鼻子洞 Niúbízi dòng). Address: located in Xishuang mountain in the northwest of Xigouba Village of Timen Township (梯门乡西沟坝村西北的西爽山上).
- Wang Family Graveyards (王氏家族墓地 Wángshì jiāzú mùdì) - located 17km from Dongping's bus station, these Ming-dynasty spirit ways for the governor of Dongping and his family are split into two parts, the more well-known 东王林 (Dōng wáng lín) and the closed-off 西王林 (Xī wáng lín). The spirit ways are lined up with statues of horses, tigers, sheep, warriors, etc. If the driver doesn't know how to get to Xiwanglin, it's just further up the road from Dongwanglin, just keep an eye out on the left side of the road for a long bricked off area of the farmer's field.
- Jiliangshan Carvings (棘梁山石刻 Jíliángshān shíkè) - located in Yinshan town about 51km from Dongping county's bus station, here are a group of Buddhist carvings on a large boulder on top of a hill dating from the Northern Qi to Song dynasties. To get here, just take a bus from Dongping to Yinshan town and tell the driver you want to get off here. From there it's an easy walk. This area is also known as the Silishan Carvings (司里山摩崖造像 Sīlǐshān móyá zàoxiàng ). Ticket: 20RMB.
- Jianfu Temple (建福寺 Jiànfú sì) - located in Yinshan town about 69km from Dongping's bus station (but only 14km from the Silishan carvings, as they are both on the western side of Dongping Lake), this temple is most famous for its Tang dynasty Buddhist rock carvings (理明窝摩崖造像 Lǐmíngwō móyá zàoxiàng), which are now protected from the elements by a building constructed in recent years. The building is locked, but monks will give you a tour of the temple and lastly the rock carvings. They do not seem to mind if people take pictures of the carvings. Although there is no admission ticket, it would be polite to give money as a donation. To get here, take the bus from Dongping to Yinshan and get off at the last stop. From there it's only six or seven kilometers.
- Dongping County Mosque (东平清真寺 Dōngpíng qīngzhēnsì) - located roughly 27km from Dongping county's bus station, this mosque has a history dating to the Ming dynasty. If you've got time to kill, it might be interesting to visit - it's at the halfway point between buses going from Dongping to Yinshan and vice-versa.
- Qingfengshan Mountain Carvings (青峰山摩崖造像 Qīngfēngshān móyá zàoxiàng) - located about 3km from Dongping county's bus station, here are two groups of Buddhist statues carved into the mountain. The two groups are located about 60 meters from each other. Song dynasty.
- Dongdu Hotel (Dongdu Bingguan), 279 Daichong Dajie, Tai'an, ☎ 0538-8227948, . A three-star hotel located at the foot of Mount Tai. Rooms have little character, but they are spacious, reasonably clean, and some have views of the mountain. Plus, each room has free plug-in internet access and a water cooler dispensing drinking water (a nice touch in China!). 168-360 RMB. edit
- Taishan International Youth Hostel (国际青年). Youth Hostel with friendly staff and clean rooms. 188 RMB/night for two-bed room. edit
- 7 Days Inn (7天连锁酒店 7 Tiān liánsuǒ jiǔdiàn) - located in Dongping county. Convenient location, able to accept foreigners and the bus from Tai'an can stop here and let you off instead of going all the way to the Dongping bus station. Cheapest price for a room is 136RMB.
- Chengxi Hotel (城西宾馆 Chéngxī bīnguǎn) - located in Dongping county. If 7 Days is too expensive and you really don't mind roughing it, this small hotel is within a few minutes walking distance of 7 Days. 60RMB for a room with your own bathroom and TV. Has wifi. They can't register foreigners but they don't seem concerned about it.
- Taixin Business Hotel (泰鑫商务宾馆 Tàixīn shāngwù bīnguǎn) - located in Yinshan town of Dongping county. The rooms are surprisingly nice considering it's in a small town. They can accept foreigners, but will need to take pictures of your passport for registration. The hotel is located directly across from where buses head back to Dongping (starting around 7AM). Cheapest price for a room is 130RMB.