Catching the hard sleeper train from Beijing (West) to Datong for the princely sum of 68 Yuan (about five pounds), was a little more eventful than intended. We left it a little late and ended up dashing across town in a taxi and running across four lanes of traffic, before joining the queue for our train. It seemed as if the entire 1.3 billion population of China had chosen to go to Datong with us. Chinese railways stations are a lot like an airport departure lounge, you wait in a designated waiting area until your train is ready for boarding and then you do the easy jet rush to board.
We eventually settled into our allocated bunks and arrived safely in Datong five and a half hours later. We had pre-booked our accommodation and were happily leaving the station when we were herded (along with all the other Europeans) into a CITS (Chinese International Tourist Services) office. Where we weren’t allowed to leave until we agreed to go on a tour the following day, fortunately the tour was to the two locations that we had come to Datong to visit, The Yuangang Caves and the Hanging Monastery. Once released from the CITS we went on to our hotel, we had a room on the 10th floor, all mod cons and breakfast was included although strange, rice soup, hard boiled eggs, cucumber salad and dumplings (we liked the dumplings).
In the morning at 9am, we went to meet with the other “packers” to start our tour.
First to the hanging monastery, (a 3 hour drive out of the city and into the mountains) just as you reach the highest peak, you dive off the road down into the old riverbed which is now the coach park and you get your first glimse of the temple perched 50 meters up the cliff face (it used to be 100 meters from the river bed when it was first built but over the years the riverbed has risen). After an hour or so of wandering through the temple, we went back down to the riverbed, where a convenient restaurant is waiting to serve you lunch (having planned ahead Emma had packed a lunch for us).
After lunch, back into the minibus and back towards Datong to head out the other side of town to visit the Yungang caves, a series of about 40 caves of varying size, cut into the side of a gorge. The caves are in different states of repair, some damage having been done by weather, some by tourists of times gone by and some by water seeping through the walls of the caves. So saying, some of the cave were in surprisingly good condition and you could still see the colours that had been painted on the walls.
After our wanderings, we went back to the minibus and back to Datong again. We had already booked our hard sleeper out of town and it left at 10pm, so we had enough time to go and find something to eat and still make the station in plenty of time. Next stop the ancient sleepy walled city of Pingyao (well almost).