Datong in 30 hours
Temples, caves, huge Buddha’s and some serenity – that’s what you’ll find if travel to Datong (大同/ Dàtóng).
Datong city, from Beijing it’s around 350 KM by car (around 4 hours) or 375 KM by train (about 6 hours).
Datong is a fairly small city, quite old and “innocent” as oppose to the uprising modern cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.
The difference is very big – if it’s the fairly bad road structure (broken roads) or authenticity of the place – all Chinese – we didn’t see Starbucks / any other “modern” coffee place, nor foreign restaurant besides one that claimed to be Italian food, but the pizza’s taste was a few light years from what pizza should taste like.
But that’s all beside the point.
The point is – Datong is a place to visit, to go have a quiet vacation.
As oppose to many other cities in China, in Datong there are several tourist spots – but not “too many”, so you can go and have a relaxed visit and not be worried and pressured in time to go see everything.
We took the night train from Beijing to Datong, and I was quite surprised by the sleeper cart and it costs only 160¥ (for comparison, when I go to work by taxi in Beijing it’s never less than 100¥).
The soft sleeper is a closed room with 4 beds, very quiet and comfy, and you even have a place for your bags / suitcases, which saves you that space on the bed (when I travelled in India the bag had to be my pillow).
I can warmly recommend – take the train if you are travelling by night and looking for a convinient way to go around.
When we got to Datong, there was a travel agent (CITS) that offered us a tour for 100¥, and we told him that we will think about it.
We arrived to the guest house at around 07:20am and the owner which was very nice not only let us go in to put our things, he also gave us the room already – well before actual check in time – which was super nice of him!
Eventually we decided to go for the tour – they take you to the 2 main tourist spot around the city with a van, and all for just 100¥, definitely worth it.
They even picked us up from the guest house which was really cool of them.
On the van we met some cool and interesting people from all around the world and with very interesting life stories – which is always nice.
Our first destination was the “Hanging Monastery” – and after a long (around 2 hours), bumpy and sometime risky drive we got there.
Before you actually climb (don’t worry it’s a short one) to the monastery, it looks ok, but nothing too impressive.
But when you get to the first structure, and you realize that it was built around 1400 years ago (think about it for a minute), you realize how amazing it is.
The structures are based on the mountainside, some in small caves, some are based on some kind of a stone base and some just hang in the air, held only by some wooden poles (a little too thin for my taste:)).
When you are walking inside, look at the marvelous paintings and details in every wooden pole, wall and rail – also worth checking out the roofs from the upper levels, they are really beautiful.
The reason the monastery is hanging, is the location – it’s protected from rain / snow by the sheltering mountain, it’s protected from floods and it’s also protected from noise (which is important for monks) as it’s well up above the ground – around 50 meters.
After finishing in the hanging monastery we went to Datong for lunch in a local Chinese restaurant – if you have Chinese speakers among the group (big thank you for Sasha), very recommended to eat in a local small place and not just fast food or something like that – have a proper experience.
We were 8 people, and paid around 140 all together and the food was great – 2 dumpling dishes, 2 gongbao chicken, 2 fried beans, chicken and some small dishes.
After lunch we continued to “Yungang Grottoes” – a set of 252 caves with over 50,000 Buddha statues of every size.
The place is very big, and contains a few small temples inside, all symmetrical and identical.
The temples are there to “protect” the caves, and were actually ruined a few times in the past, which is somewhat of a paradox.
When you enter the premises, the first path which leads to the temples and caves is full of big pillars from both sides, and those pillars are “held” by elephants and people from below.
It resembles a great deal to the Indian Buddhism culture – it looks like they combines the cultures together, which is pretty interesting, considering this place construction started at around 450 AD.
After leaving Yungang Grottoes, we departed back towards Datong.
We got back to the guesthouse, rested a little bit and then headed towards the old town for our first and only dinner in Datong.
When we arrived to the old town, we met 3 friends that were with us on the trip (not planned) so we all went together.
I have checked online before arriving and found a restaurant called “Feeling restaurant”.
After a short wait (luckily for us) we were seated and we had a great meal – gongbao chicken, duck, broccoli, eggplant, 2 kinds of dumplings, mushrooms and some more.
The restaurant asked us if we are willing to participate in their promotional activities – if they can take a video of us and some pictures – we agreed and in return got a 15% discount and a dessert.
The bill summed up to be around 240¥ for 5 people, very cheap considering the quality and quantity.
The day after we slept in and at around 11 went to checkout and the guesthouse owner said that since no one booked the room yet for the day – we are more than welcome to leave our things in the room and to stay until we go – which is super nice of him!
We warmly recommend staying in –Fly by Knight guesthouse – super new, clean, welcoming and the softest bed in China (if you like soft beds;) ) – and it is on the 22nd floor so you’ll get a good view of the city.
For lunch we went to an “Italian” restaurant in the old town, which is not really worth writing about – take it from me, stick to Chinese cuisine while in Datong!
We got back to Beijing via very comfy van (the guesthouse owner arranged) which took only 4 hours (or even a little less) and cost the same as bus! 130¥.
That’s about it about Datong for now.
It’s a very cool place and if you have the time you should definitely go!
**I recommend using taxi in the city itself as it’s not a big city so it will not be expensive and it is pretty convenient.
Here are some pictures:
Have a good one,
**P.S – take a book!:)