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Shanxi Province（山西） is a historically important province in Northeast China. It was a centre for banking throughout several dynasties. The area was heavily damaged during the Japanese Occupation and was the setting for many bloody battles during the Communist Revolution.
Presently the main economic force behind Shanxi Province is coal mining with over 300 million metric tons a year. There is also extensive metal refining within the province, which can make some of the larger cities extremely polluted. Today Shanxi Province is trying to create itself into a banking center again against such economic mega houses like Shanghai. Although it's by-passed by most tourists, cities such as Pingyao and sights like Wutai Shan make Shanxi Province well worth visiting.
Shanxi is on a plateau between the Taihang Mountains and the Luliang Moutains. It is also bordered by the Yellow River to the west. Shanxi shares borders with Hebei, Shandong, Henan, Shaanxi and Inner Mongolia.
China has three "Golden Week" holidays per year. People get a mandatory two or three days off work for each holiday, and workers' companies can grant them the rest of the week off, making each holiday a total of 7 days. As you can imagine, having almost 1.4 billion people with the same days off can make travelling at these times arduous to say the least.
Travelling during the Spring Festival/Chinese New Year is incredibly difficult. Chinese New Year is China's Christmas, so the millions of migrant workers and students flood back to their home towns. Everybody else takes the opportunity to spend their hong bao (gifts of money traditionally given at CNY) and go travelling. Most of the time, since you are only allowed to purchase train tickets 6 days in advance and must be present in the city of origin, sometimes only standing room tickets are available. Be aware! The Spring Festival is undoubtedly the busiest time for the Chinese transportation system. Flying will avoid the crowded trains, but book early and expect to pay higher prices. All the main tourist attractions will be crawling with tourists (worse than usual), so unless you like crowds, it's best to avoid it altogether.
Chinese New Year is based on the lunar calendar, so the date changes each year. The Chinese New Year/Spring Festival holiday is 7 days long and usually starts on New Year's Eve.
The two other national holidays are October 1st, National Day, celebrating the founding of the People's Republic of China and May 1st, which is International Labor Day. Almost all Chinese get the two holidays off and many take the opportunity to travel. If you want to avoid the crowds, fly, but it should get a lot less busy towards the end of the week.
Taiyuan airport has flights to most major cities of China.
There is now an express train from Beijing to Taiyuan, which takes less than 3 hours (formerly, it took about 8 hours).
Shanxi is famous for its noodles and its black vinegar (the best in China). A bowl of "dao shao mien" (short noodles chopped off a large block of dough) costs only a few yuan, but is very satisfying. Other noodle dishes include "cat's ear noodles", which are shaped like a cat's ear, and "lao mien" which are very long, stretched noodles.
Shanxi cuisine is not as famous as Sichuan or Cantonese cuisine, but it is very good and generally inexpensive. If you don't like to burn the roof off your mouth with every bite, you'll appreciate Shanxi's more moderate cuisine.
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