Hanging Temple and Yungang Grottoes in Datong
Trip Start Sep 01, 2010
70Trip End Jul 31, 2011
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The only tickets we were able to purchase were of the overnight hard seat variety for our massive group of 11. David who left a day earlier for Pingyao would join us in Datong. Our group consisted of two Canadians, two Malaysians, two Italians, two Swedish, one Thai, one Chinese, and myself. We left around 11PM from Beijing and was expected to arrive in Datong around shortly before 5AM. The train was much slower than my previous trips to Shanghai or Tianjin, it was a standard train with many local stops in between. We were lucky to purchase hard seats as other passengers purchased standing room only and began to crowd up the aisle and lean onto our seats for support
After several more train stops, we arrived in Datong which was pretty much deserted at the train station. The weather was quite cold, causing us to down our jackets and heavier layers we had brought along. At this point, we found David waiting for us at the main plaza of the train station. We waited a little bit longer for our driver to pick us up. We had arranged a driver from Datong with a van capacity of 12+ to shuttle us around the city for two days for the cost of 120 RMB per person. Since it was early and everyone was exhausted we headed straight for our hotel to check in. We were unable to find a hostel in Datong, so we settled by booking a decent hotel for the 2 days and one night we would be in Datong. We fully utilized the early check-in and arrived to our rooms at 6AM. It was decided, that at 8AM we would awake from our short naps to find some food around the area. The morning's breakfast would be supplied by a restaurant across the street from the hotel, I had the pork noodle soup item. The noodles tasted like they were freshly made but after soaking in my cup of soup for a while, it began to grow bland and tasteless
The Hanging Temple was located about an hour away from the city center, so we enjoyed our rocky, bumpy ride out into the countryside. These roadways were not really designed to be a highway or freeway, but more of a local access road for many trucks and locals. Since the single lanes heading in each direction resulted in a lot of congestion, our driver took full advantage and overtook cars whenever he could, even if it meant coming head on with a semi-truck heading in the opposite direction while turning on a hillside. Our driver had some real guts overtaking on corner with a blind spot, scared most of us but since he was a local, we assumed he knew what he was doing. Along the way, the scenery sort of resembled that of Inner Mongolia with many dusty steppes, short valleys and many flat singular colored areas. There also seemed to be a lot of construction going on as the government had planned to increase traffic capacity in the area for future growth.
After an hour's drive, we had reached the Hanging Temple (Xuankong Si). I was surprised to see how well it blended into the mountain side. The temple itself was supported by wooden pillars and hooks I believe that would solidify and reinforce the structure into the mountainside
Viewing the temple up close provided an unique perspective of life of the monks who lived and worshiped there. The rooms are quite small, the wooden planks and beams seemed dated and the experience seemed unworldly as you floated above the valley floor. The guard fences that prevented people from stepping over the edge was as low as ones knees. Most visitors remained as close to the buildings and away from the low fence whenever possible. I found it to be exhilarating to lean over to view the edge and down into the valley floor. Walking around the temple, the small rooms contained several statues of Buddhas and some storage space. The temple was several levels, from the bottom level up to the tallest and highest point of the temple. We were able to traverse most of the temple and into the mountainside a bit as it was hallowed out to support the structure
After visiting the Hanging Temple, our driver brought us to a local restaurant where we could sample the local cuisine. Since we had no experience in the Shanxi province we had the waitress help us with the ordering of food. The selection of food was not bad, most of it was delicious and very flavorful. I found the most delicious dish to be the spicy crispy red peppers. The taste was more crunch and was not as spicy as it appeared. After the lunch, our driver recommend we visit the Yungang Grottoes as the weather for the day as quite nice
The Yungang Grottoes were located on the opposite end of the city, which required us to ride in the van for the next hour or so. I took full advantage by napping whenever possible throughout the bumpy ride. We arrived at the Yungang Grottoes around 4PM which allowed us about an hour and a half to tour and visit the grottoes
By taking the trams, we were able to shave off about 15 minutes of walking required to reach the grottoes. We immediately entered the main entrance and found it difficult where to start. There were many caves and we wanted to visit all of them, however being short on time, we focused our attention on the main parts. We worked our way from cave 5 all the way to cave 40. Most of the caves contained eroded statues and carvings of Buddhas. Some of the Buddhas were as small as ones thumb while others were the size of a 3 story building. The site was a wonder to browse around and to glance at the historical significance of the area. In the past, Datong was selected to have the grottoes carved out, but then influence slowly moved south over to Luoyang where the other famous grotto, Longmen Grottoes would also be carved into history. Nevertheless, the site of many Buddhas and how it has withstood time and nature is remarkable.
The area began to close down around 5:30PM and we maximized our time at the Yungang Grottoes by slowly making our way back to the main entrance. By doing so, we were able to take in more time and enjoy the cultural importance of the site. Eventually we had to get going and the security officers who manage the site began to herd people away from the grottoes. We headed back into town and settled on a hot pot dinner around the corner from our hotel. The hot pot was delicious and we had more vegetables than meat but other than that, everyone thoroughly enjoyed their meal. It was decided that tomorrow we would sleep in a bit as we had seen the two most popular attractions in Datong. Next on the list of things to do would have been exploring the attractions within the city itself. After returning to the hotel, we discovered the city of Datong really closes down early. We wanted to wander around after 10PM but discovered most of the shops and streets were closed and deserted. The only shops to remain open were the smokes and alcohol shops which never seem to close. We then proceeded to head back to the hotel to call it a night.