What sites should I visit in or around Taiyuan? Is it practical to make day trips to places such as the Datong Buddhist grottoes?
In Taiyuan there are three old temples - Jin Temple (Jin Ci), Twin Pagoda Temple (Shuangta Ci), and Chongshan Temple (Chongshan Ci). Of the three Jin Temple is the more notable (The Hall of Saintly Mother was built in the 11th century). Not too far away from Jin Temple (10 km or so) is Tianlong Mountain Scenic Area, where one find over 20 caves that shelter carved Buddhist figures that date centuries back.
As grottoes go, Yungang Grottoes outside Datong is better know (among the top three along with Dunhuang Grottoes and Luoyang Longmen Grottoes). Datong is about 4 hours north of Taiyuan, reachable by train or bus.
Wutaishan (Wutai Mountain) is another nationally famed Buddhist site, known for a large cluster of old temples. This is a bus ride of about three hours from Taiyuan. Pingyao, located about 100 km southwest of Taiyuan, is a well-preserved ancient town, with a city-wall and other buildings that date back to the Ming Dynasty (14th-17th century). The neighboring Qi Xian (Qi County, in between Taiyuan and Pingyao) also has some historical sites, most notably Qiao Jia Da Yuan, which is a large traditional residential compound used to be owned by a Qiao family (many scenes in the movie Raise the Red Lantern were filmed here).