Datong – Shanxi Province

Posted on December 15, 2012


A pagoda at night – even grimy Chinese cities can surprise

Datong is a gritty kind of town.  It’s coal country – and arriving at the station in the dead of night did nothing to change our opinion that catching a train from Hohhot in Inner Mongolia into Datong was something of a risk.

Not least because there are several stations called Datong and China’s paranoia of mapping anything outside of the tier one cities means you can never be quite sure how close you may or may not be to your destination, even when armed with a map.

In our case, the destination was three-fold.  The hotel would be a start, and was tough enough to convey to the throng of taxi drivers that were vying for the business of the only people exiting the train.  Of course, inadvertently I had made something of an error in choosing The Holiday Inn – an establishment that was perfectly OK once we arrived, but which is one of the few major chains that requires the traveller to be able to translate all words in its name into Chinese!  The Howard Johnson has no such issues…

Just how well Datong’s residents are able to learn “Oreign Languae” is anyone’s guess…

Luckily, I’d spotted a Holiday Inn two days previously in Hohhot and rather fortuitously taken a photo of it, which I subsequently passed around the group of taxi drivers that accosted us as we arrived at Datong (mildly worried about the fact that said picture was on my camera’s view finder…)  Despite the English/Mandarin/Mongolian version, they worked it out in the end.

Destinations two and three were the Yungang Grottoes, a series of caves carved out and decorated by Buddhists from the fifth century AD, and The Hanging Monastery at Mount Heng – a 1,500 year old monastery that does exactly what it says on the tin, clinging to the side of the mountain at a height of some 75 meters above the ground.

These were easier to negotiate since, as it turned out, the cabbies were much more clued up about Datong’s main tourist attractions – and more than happy to sleep in the cab whilst we wandered around them buying ice-creams, postcards and ostrich eggs…

A young boy plays with his toy truck on wasteland by the city wall

The following evening, we cajoled our original cabbie to meet us to take us to the airport for a flight back to Beijing.

Gritty.  Grimy.  Dusty it may be.  But, luckily, Datong also has two of the best sights in China.

If it was a risk, it was well worth it.

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