A Little Something About Datong (大同)
The city Datong was assigned to me. According to my research, Datong is a city not far from inner Mongolia, in the northern part of Shanxi (山西) province. It was the capital of the Northern Wei dynasty (北魏朝) from 398 to 494 AD.
Today, Datong is known across China as the “Coal City”, and travel information across the net advice us to bring face mask and shades just in case the pollution becomes unbearable, or when there will be a sand storm.
Needless to say, Dalvin and I began imagining that we were visiting District 12 (I was Katniss Everdeen of Hunger Games, and he, Peeta Mellark Too bad I didn’t foresee this, or else I would have learned how to braid my hair Katniss style prior to the trip.
Sorry for the digression. Datong, for all appearances, looked like a humble town. However, I felt that the people of Datong were the type of rich Chinese who do not flaunt their wealth. Tourists flock here, not to enjoy the city, but to use it as a place to rest when visiting the famous sites near the city.
And So We Begin
We arrived at the city of Datong (大同) at 6:01am, sharp. We just had around six hours worth of rest, without changing clothes, when we begin our official Datong tour.
It was so cold in that city, that our breath was fogging up. Outside the terminal, our driver, Mr. Gu (古) fetched us holding a paper with ‘SHANDA’ written on it. He drove us to a nearby hotel, to allow us to freshen up a bit, and then to a convenience store to get snacks for us to eat.
We arrived at this majestic mountain before 8am. There was no one in the ticket office so we had to wait a while. The cable car service going up the mountain was still closed, so Mr. Gu drove us up the mountain midway, and encouraged us to hike all the way up, instead of waiting for the cable car.
It was strenuous. The air was so thin, and our faces were freezing. We didn’t walk together, because we each had our own agenda.
There were only a few people in the mountain, mostly locals. They probably thought we were some crazy tourists who love hiking in cold weather.
After around 90 minutes hike, we finally reached our end point. We then followed the signs to the cable car, which has already opened.
Hanging Temple (悬空寺)
We then proceeded to Hanging Temple. We had fun here! The 1400 year-old place was an architectural wonder. Wooden crossbeams were inserted into the rocky mountain to build the foundation for this temple. The toothpick-like struts visible to us were merely there to assure visitors of their safety, and were only added 600 years ago. Three religions/philosophies were featured in this temple: Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism.
A Short Break
We went back to Datong City for a quick lunch. Mr. Gu ordered local Datong cuisine specialties for us to try. It was a feast! We kept on saying “bula” (不辣), meaning not spicy, but the dishes were somehow still spicy. I wonder how they would taste like if we didn’t say “bula?”
Mr. Gu brought us to China Mobile branch, and they also wouldn’t sell us a local sim. The girl in the counter had an old sim, but she was willing to sell it only for cny 185 (php1300) and we deemed it too expensive and risky, so Fil said no. Now, if the running joke about me was “Cherry Blossom”, Fil’s was “sim card” ha, ha!
Yungang Grottoes (云冈石窟)
We arrived at our second UNESCO heritage site in our trip. This again, was a relic of the northern Wei Dynasty from year 450. The area was excavated along Wuzhou (梧州) Mountain, extending 1 kilometer. It had 53 caves and over 51,000 stone statues.
As we viewed the different types of Buddhas, I couldn’t help but notice that Buddhism was not really a Chinese thing – It actually came from India. So we discovered that different Buddha shapes and styles – fat ones, thin ones, ones that looked like their emperors, small-eyed, etc.
When I was still planning the itinerary, I had a dilemma. How could I reconcile my being a Christian with visiting and promoting sites like these? It was settled when I came upon Acts 14:16-17 in my Bible reading:
Acts 14:16-17 New International Version (NIV)
16 In the past, he let all nations go their own way. 17 Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.”
Weidu International Hotel
We left Yungang around 5pm . Mr Gu drove us to our hotel, apparently, our Php2,500 per room could already book a five star room in Datong. It was the nicest hotel we stayed at in our entire trip. We even managed to ask for free breakfasts, as well as late checkout.
A Rest Day
The next day, we took advantage of the late checkout, and left hotel 2pm. We decided to explore the malls in separately. Fil opted to hang out in a coffee shop, Dalvin and George went exploring together, and I ventured out alone.
When it was time to go, we collected our things from the hotel, and took a cab to the train station. To our delight, they had a special waiting area for soft sleeper passengers! We really appreciated it after our Beijing train experience.
This time, riding and sleeping on the train was second nature to us. We knew our places, where the luggage should go, our winding down routines. The conductor when morning arrived was kinder and more polite.
Our next destination: Ping Yao Ancient City
For Datong tour, contact Jonathan http://www.pingyaotravelguide.com/