My journey out to Datong was extremely smooth, the coach was fairly new and it was a direct line. The hostel I was staying at in Datong had told me to ignore the drivers trying to give you rides from the bus station and find any other cab.
Getting off long distance transport and looking for a local transfer is probably my last favourite aspect of traveling, you are such an obvious target and get mobbed by touts. Often a bit tired from a long journey and with all your baggage I’m certainly not in the best of moods. Getting off in Datong was no different, I was swarmed by around 10-15 divers and had to quite physically push my way out the station. One driver even got semi accidentally swatted around the face as I tried to clear a path.
The way I always view it is to go away from the station and look for any driver stood by their vehicle paying no attention to you. They probably don’t speak any English, have no intention of trying to play a tourist, but are perfectly capable of reading a Chinese address and taking you there. Unfortunately the other drivers spotted me approaching the driver and chased after me trying to pull me to their car and saying all kinds of things I couldn’t understand as I tried to show the driver I wanted the address that was on my tiny camera screen. The guy was on the ball enough to just get me in his car drive down the road then pull over and check the address properly. Sure enough I arrived at my hostel exactly on the price they’d said it should cost.
Going from a below average hostel to this 22nd floored beautiful apartment hostel was amazing. The managing couple were fantastic, the views out over the city incredible and there was a living space with all amenities. When I was shown my dorm room and told it was all for me these next few nights, I think the lady could read the mild concern in my face, so quickly added don’t worry there’s other people staying here, and they’re young!
I set off for a stroll around the old town and park around it. Datong is a mining town that is going through a development boom. It has a walled ‘old’ town, surrounded by countless ugly tower blocks in all directions. I counted around 10 that were currently halfway through construction. The old walled off town is also going through redevelopment, with the ancient residential Hutongs pulled down to be replaced with new old styled buildings. A fairly large section has been completed, wandering down the spotless paved streets with traditional modern Chinese buildings lining the pedestrianised streets is fairly odd, especially when you then wander down the dirt side streets, with collapsing residential buildings and tiny local businesses going about their work.
The park that sounds the moat circling the wall is also new and about 50% completed. Walking through that evening I was struck by the music everywhere. At first I thought they’d installed hidden speakers to create atmosphere, but gradually came across countless people that had a taken up a bench and were just playing, it was beautiful.
Arriving back at the hostel I met a French girl Margaret who had just arrived and an American, Gabby who’d been out at the monastery that day. We made plans to go see the Yunyang Caves the following day, the main reason I’d come to visit Datong. This collection of Buddhist caves were built over several different dynasty’s and feature some of the best carvings in China, some of them that still have their paintwork showing.
After a drizzly morning we caught the local buses out to the caves and spent the afternoon wandering them. The long strip of caves number about 50 that are accessible with 7-8 really impressive ones. You would enter in through a small passageway to a cavern covered from floor to ceiling in painted carvings and a large central piece. The rooms were hugely impressive and very difficult to capture effectively on camera with the dim lighting and wrap around feeling within the caves not really represented in pictures.
The other large attraction near Datong is the hanging monastery, a monastery built on the side of the cliff. I had initially intended to visit it, but after hearing that it isn’t really that impressive and the very high cost of visiting, (£50 – that’s a weeks accommodation), I gave it a miss and instead went to walk around the city walls and explore the inner city further.
I’ve had some great food whilst here in Datong and also tried some local dishes. We went for a big hotpot one evening, where you get a boiling broth and cook different meats, fish and veg in it. The food was fantastic and not too expensive either. I also accidentally ordered chicken feet from a local restaurant, so gnawed away at the talons. They were very hard to eat, with lots of small bones and quite stringy meat with lots of flesh covering it. Didn’t taste too bad though and it was in a crazy spicy broth so that pretty much killed my taste buds anyway! Last night we ate at a local market, I had this kinde flat noodle, egg, meat and veg thing, closest thing comparable is an omlet, but still not really. Very tasty though.
Gabby and I found we had similar plans heading down towards Pingyao so we’re together for the next few days. Currently on a much less swish bus to the mountain town of Wutai Shan, inaccessible during winter. Wurai Shan translates into ‘Five Terrace Mountains’ and the road we’re on is already fairly spectacular. The mountain range is a sacred Buddhist area so I’m hoping the effort of getting in and out off it will be worth it!