Day trippin' in Datong

Trip Start Aug 09, 2010
Trip End Feb 01, 2012

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Where I stayed
The hotel that's replaced Feitian hostel

Flag of China  , Shanxi,
Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Our next destination after Beijing was Datong which we managed to reach by bus. I'd never heard of Datong before visiting China. Unlike Beijing or Shanghai I didn't have preconceived ideas or expectations when we got there. And yet, a few miles out of the place is one of the most beautiful and impressive sights I've seen so far. But before getting there, there was the simple matter of finding somewhere to lay our hats for the night.

By this point Paul and I had really gotten into the backpacker swing of things and had done away with booking accommodation before getting to our destination. At least we knew where we wanted to go and we had the address. Even better, taxis in China are as cheap as boiled rice so we could avoid the whole public transport palaver and get Mr. Taxi man to take us there pronto. When we got into the cab our taxi driver kept trying to tell us something but we couldn't quite figure out what he wanted to say. The cynical traveler in me made an appearance, thinking that the driver had no idea where this place was. At least we knew it was by the train station so we got him to stop us there. After an hour of to-ing and fro-ing, checking and re-checking the map we realised that our hostel had been magically replaced by a new hotel. So THAT's what he was try to tell us. By this point we were so tired that we didn't care how much it would cost so in we went and asked for their cheapest room. 

Seeing not one, not two, but five receptionists behind an empty desk we figured check-in would just take moments and didn't even bother to take our bags off. After much discussion, one receptionist gave us 6 zillion forms to fill in, another disappeared with our passports, one receptionist offered us pens while the other two looked on and discussed us between themselves. Thirty minutes later as we took the bags off our weary shoulders we were reminded that quality always prevails over quantity. On the bright side we managed to get a room for 16 so we were pretty chuffed with that. The only thing that stood between us and a good rest was the simple matter of paying. As Sod would have it we could only pay by cash, and of course Paul and I hadn't taken out cash before we left Beijing, of course we didn't have enough money to pay for the room, of course we couldn't get into our rooms before we paid and of course it took us an hour and two goes before we found an ATM that gave us money. I don't know if it was all the hassle we went through before we got to our room, but the minute we opened the door and got in it seemed we'd entered Nirvana. A lovely hotel room, all modern and freshly decorated, with a huge double bed and thick cotton sheets. Our own bathroom all clean and sparkly and new. I did a little jig of joy and jumped on the bed. Who'd ever thought that cotton sheets and ceramic toilets could prove so exciting! Everything is relative in life.

We woke up bright and early the next day, bought our bus tickets for 2pm that same day and then set off to Yunguan Caves, the main attraction of Datong. We decided to try and get there by public transport - bad move on such a tight schedule. After an hour or so on the bus we realised that the shops we were passing all looked familiar. I went to double check with the bus driver and sure enough his sigh and look told me that he had forgotten to tell us when to get off. The bus had looped back to its starting place with us still on board. Our second attempt finally got us to the caves. The initial three hours we originally had to see them had now dwindled to one, but at least we'd actually made it there.

   We then preceded to run around like guide book writers! Like everything in China, the place was massive, so it took us a good 15 mins to get to the actual caves. The lead up was beautiful and if we had more time we would have spent most of the day there. Instead we saw something  we liked, took a quick snap and hurried on. It was such a shame as the place is amazing. They are 5th century caves with giant Buddhas carved out of stone. Imagine entering an ancient cave and coming face to face with a giant foot. You slowly look up and realise that the foot belongs to a cross legged Buddha that was carved out of stone. around him are hundreds of other Buddhas carved into stone. The whole scene is jaw dropping. If you ever come to China, these caves are not to be missed. We'd recommend spending at least half-a day rather than an hour here though.

So after staying there for an hour we had to get 2 buses and a taxi before jumping on our coach to Taiyuan. Bizarrely it was a sleeper coach? For a 4 hour journey (which took 6 hours)? I did not mind as I had never been on one before. As we got on we passed loads of buckets. I thought they were bins but they actually turned out to be spittoons! Yaaaaaaccckkk. I don't think we will ever get used to the spitting! ha ha. Anyhow, we were getting concerned as we knew the last train to Pingyao was at 21:00 and as i mentioned we were running late. Thankfully, we got to Taiyuan station and amazingly managed to get train tickets to Pingyao! The only catch was that they were standing tickets! That's right, we would have to stand on the train for the two hour journey! Oh and did I mention this was the last official day of the holiday? Which meant that anyone who had to get back to their home town was doing it on that same last train! When we got on the train it was everything I had read about and much much more. Nothing can prepare you for it. It was so packed. We stood in separate doorways that had sinks in them. We actually shared these minute places with our backpacks and other people (one guy was actually sitting on the sink!). As we stopped at stations along the route more and more people came on. At one point Karen had a huge sack fall on her and threaten to flatten her out. The same sack carrying guy also had a satellite dish which he tried to balance behind Karen's back! I kid you not. Bless her, she is my little trooper as she did not complain once. Unbelievably with all these people on the train they still had staff coming down the ailes with trolleys full of food, drinks and soft toys?! People were shoved out of the way one by one. Madness. Finally 2 hours later which seemed more like 15 hours later we got to Pingyao. As soon as we got in our free electric car pick up we knew it was worth all the hassle of getting here. We will explain why next time!

 Ta ta for now,

Karen & Paul xxx

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Rosa Robins on

so impressive :)

Miriam on

How I wish I could see all these wonderful things!!

Tukkie on

You guys are having the experience of a lifetime!!! Awesome read and fab photos, I'm enjoying this thoroughly! :)

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