Saturday, January 07, 2006

Datong (China) - Coal Country

Datong is a large industrial city about 280km west of Beijing. The journey by train from Beijing takes about 7 hours and winds through some spectacular mountain scenery and endless paddy fields. There are even sections of the Great Wall for you to spot along the way.

This is a coal mining region and the pollution in the air in and around the city is immediatly apparent as you approach. Black soot appears to have lightly coated everything, including the
outside of the train and the attendants close all the windows when the train approaches the city as a result. The last thing you want is a face full of soot!!

The train station is chaotic, full of people either coming home from Beijing or those looking to leave Datong for a better life elsewhere. You'll be pestered by the touts and taxi drivers outside, something you can expect all over Asia. You'll also be pointed out and stared and face the likelyhood of a trail of interested kids following you around, which is kinda cute. But before you even get outside the station the chances are that you will be nabbed by one of the CITS guys who are based here in the station. Check out my post on those guys by clicking the link above.

Stay Here:
The Datong Hotel - 3 star (though more like four star) This place is the tops. We managed to bargain about 50% of the price!! The staff are very friendly and helpful, especially the consierge who has good English and is dying to use it!! It's literally across the road from the train station. Make sure you avail of your complimentary massage (there's a massage and relaxation floor) and the restaurant serves a good breakfast (included) as well as excellent lunch and dinner fare.

Do this:
Xuankong Si, or the Hanging Temples (pictures above) as they are more commonly called, are a bunch of spectacular tempes impossibl perched on the side of a sheer cliff face, hidden deep inside the mountains about 50km from Datong. You can make your own way here by using public transport, but it is not advisable if you don't speak the language as the buses have no set route and may not go directly there, or even take you back to town. The best way to get there as a tourist (if you are not from China, you are a tourist. I don't want to hear any of this "I'm not a tourist, I'm and 'traveller'" bullshit!!) is with the CITS, located in the train station. We met some people who went on trips organised by other places, such as thier hotels and hostels and can safely say they had a terrible time. A half day is plenty of time to see the temples.
The Yungang Caves, about the same distance from Datong as the temples though in the opposite direction, are another must see here. There are over 50 caves, each of them with spectacular sculptures of The Buddha some of which are over 50 feet tall. Some of the caves are deep enough for you to go into and walk around but most are sealed of with a waist high fence, though you can still see what is inside fairly well. Flash photography is prohibited here in order to preserve the paint on the walls, though that doesn't seem to stop a lot of people lighting the place up. The caves are also accessible by public transport with the same risks as the temples but an easier option is to, again, go to see them on a tour. The CITS can include both the caves and temples on the same day if you wish as they visit the temple in the morning and the caves in the afternoon. If you do decide to take both trips in one day with CITS you will get a complimentary (though not very appetising) lunch after you see the temples.


One more thing to see around Datong is the Wooden Pagoda, China's oldest surviving and tallest wooden structure. Unfortunately we didn't get to see it as it is a bit far out of town and it rained heavily the day we planned to go, meaning that some roads were impassible. Shame really. So obviously I can't really comment.

Datong city itself is nothing really to remark about. The only things of any interest are the Drum Tower in the centre of the city and the Nine Dragon Screen, a screen with nine golden dragons used to keep bad spirits away. The main street through the city, Xinjian Xilu changes name to Da Xijie (big west street) inside the walls and then to Da Dongjie (big east street) further east. Both it and the north south Da Nanjie are where you'll find most of Datong's main shopping, with some decent bargains to be had, though not too much choice.


Eat Here:

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4 Comments:

At Friday, June 30, 2006 5:49:00 p.m., Anonymous Joel said...

Hi,

I'm heading to China this August and wanted to stop by Datong. I'm trying to book train tickets now to avoid the hassle when I'm there, but I can't seem to book tickets from Datong to Xi'an from outside China. Is it much hassle to buy them in Datong? I currently live in Japan, and I know how difficult it can be to buy tickets and transport around (especially with time constraints) if you don't speak the language so it'd be interesting to hear about your experiences.

If you get this message, my email address is yonderboy.thefirst (AT) gmail.com

Cheers,

JOEL

 
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