Qikou Yellow River Town

Qikou Town 碛口 Shanxi Province山西省

Qikou Yellow River Town
Qikou Town 碛口

Qikou Yellow River Town

Qikou Yellow River Town is an ancient historic riverine town on the banks of the Yellow River in a remote part of Shanxi Province. Even though Qikou is virtually unknown to western tourists, Chinese domestic tourists are beginning to arrive in ever increasing numbers. 

Qikou Yellow River Town

We arrived  in Qikou after one of those frustrating and often terrifying China back road trips that make you swear to yourself “never again” but you  always return for more. On arrival we were rewarded with grand vistas of the mighty Yellow River and seduced by an enchanting classic Chinese ancient town, as yet not converted into a tourist theme park.

Old Street Qikou
Qikou Town 碛口

Frustrating and Terrifying Journey to Qikou

It had been a frustrating ride because of a huge, infernal traffic jam, caused by one of the thousands of overloaded coal trucks that ply the Shanxi roads, which had rolled over and blocked the narrow, mountainous and potholed road. Terrifying, because our tiny car, dwarfed by the lurching trucks, kept having to dodge them as they overtook each other on blind corners.

Yellow river Qikou
Qikou Town 碛口

However, as we opened the first of many cold beers on the grand terrace of the Qikou Guesthouse, any nasty lingering memories of the trip were soon dispelled.

Qikou Guesthouse
Qikou Town 碛口

Qikou is an ancient port on the Yellow River (see our previous article on The Qikou Inn for more information). Nowadays there is scarcely any river traffic; a few sad, rusting boats tied up along the river bank are all that remains of a once thriving commercial town.

Qikou Yellow River
Qikou old shop
Not so thriving Qikou-Shop

Qikou Yellow River Town is Remote

Qikou is also very isolated; it is almost only accessible via the tortuous mountain road from Lüliang Lishi 吕梁离石 or just Lishi离石. On the other bank of the Yellow River are the barren hills of Shaanxi Province with no other settlement in sight. It is probably this isolation that has preserved Qikou as an authentic old town with few amenities to entertain the domestic tourist hordes.

Qikou Yellow River Town
Some tourism in Qikou Town 碛口

Changes are coming

However, that will all change in the near future. Many new hotels, admittedly tastefully done up to resemble traditional Inns, have popped up along the main street by the river. A new car park was being built in the town centre, while a huge stage was under construction on the banks of the river a few kilometres out of town, apparently to hold opera performances and other types of entertainment.

Qikou Yellow River Town
Qikou Town sign 碛口

Qikou Yellow River Town: How to Enjoy it

For the moment though, you can still enjoy peaceful strolls around the town. Signposts in Chinese and English point out the historical importance of some of the buildings. While some of the old Ming and Qing houses are rather run down, others are being spruced up and restored.

Qikou old buildings
Qikou courtyard 碛口

Locals don’t seem to mind you glancing into their attractive courtyards. Many of the houses have back rooms tunneled into the hillside.  In fact, this is one of the best areas to explore Shanxi’s cave dwelling architecture.

Qikou old buildings
Qikou Town 碛口

The windy cobbled streets all head up from the river to one place: The Black Dragon Temple 黑龙庙. The temple is small, simple but attractive and includes an ancient opera stage whose acoustics apparently were so good that the performances could be heard on the other side of the river.

Qikou Black Dragon Temple 黑龙庙
Black Dragon Temple 黑龙庙 stage
Black Dragon Temple 黑龙庙 Qikou
Black Dragon Temple 黑龙庙

Mostly though, it’s for the sweeping views over the old town and the Yellow River that visitors climb up here.

Views over Qikou
Sweeping views of Qikou

It’s no wonder the place is frequented by art students practising their painting and drawing skills. At sundown, the Black Dragon Temple is a magical place and the old town of Qikou down below looks picture postcard perfect.

Qikou Artists
Qikou Town 碛口

Lijiashan 李家山

Another reason for coming to Qikou Town 碛口 is to visit the mountainous cave village of Lijiashan 李家山,  whose ancient dwellings have been entirely built into the surrounding hillsides (see next article).

Lijiashan 李家山
Lijiashan 李家山


Qikou Guesthouse or Inn

Even though there are other, newer hotels, the Qikou Guesthouse or Inn (see our previous article The Qikou Inn for more information) must be the most atmospheric one! We paid 188 Yuan for a double with bathroom on the second floor, with its own small sitting area outside. There was no haggling. Also, unfortunately, no towels, though we managed to persuade them to give us a couple of stamp-sized ones.

Qikou Guesthouse or Inn
Qikou Guesthouse after dinner


We ate in the Qikou guesthouse where meals are simple, but very tasty; especially the homemade noodles! Beers were very cold.

Getting there and away

Shanxi cave dwellings
Road to Qikou

Taiyuan to Qikou. A bus from Taiyuan’s Western Bus Station to Lishi离石, sometimes known as Lüliang Lishi 吕梁离石, cost 48 Yuan and took nearly three hours.

There are frequent buses from Lishi to Qikou, but we negotiated a taxi for 150 Yuan, hoping to save some time… The way there was a nightmare, with dozens of massive coal trucks causing huge traffic jams. It took over two hours to cover the mere 50 kilometers. However, on the return we never saw a single truck and the journey took just an hour. Bizarre!

Black Dragon Temple 黑龙庙

If you are moving on to Pingyao, there is a bus from Lishi, departing at 13.40.

Author: Adam

My name is Adam. I have a degree in Chinese History from SOAS and a masters in International Politics focused on China from the same university. I have travelled around China 9 times and since 2000 I have travelled every year for two months. I guess I kind of like the place!

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