Datong and Xi’an

Terracotta WarriorArrived in Datong, 7 hours on a train west of Beijing near the Great Wall. Went on a day trip to the Yungang Caves and Hanging Temple. The Yungang caves are a set of Buddhist grottoes caved into the side of a sandstone cliff built around 400 AD. The Hanging Monastery (or named in Chinese “Temple Suspended in the Void”) is anchored to the cliff walls with wooden beams set into the rock.

The tour group got fed a selection of local dishes at lunch time, which were really good. Of course it was only AFTER we had finished that they informed us that one of the dishes, which tasted like really tender lamb, was really dog! Ah well, it was bound to happen sooner or later…

Datong is quite a small town in China (only 3 million people!) and the stares we got from the locals was great craic. People nudging their friends and pointing at us. Felt like P Diddy walking down the street.

Most memorable sight in Datong was the fella getting his plaster of paris cast on his leg taken off by his friend, sitting outside the train station, with a stone. Oh, and Hanging templesaw another traffic accident, this time a motorbike and a tuc-tuc. Hilarious seeing the tuc tuc on its side, with the driver still stuck in it, scrabbling at the windscreen trying to get out (he wasn’t hurt, I swear!)

Train to Xi’an was fine.. until the fella on the bunk below me took off his shoes for the night, and the smell wafting was criminal! Even the local Chinese on the train rushed to open all the windows, and slept with a towel over their mouths and noses to block the smell. Horrendous!

Xi’an itself is fairly compact city, with imposing walls surrounding the city. Organised our trip to the Terracotta Warriors ourselves by braving the local buses at 7am, got there at opening at 8am and had the park all to ourselves until the tour groups started to arrive around 10.30. Tour groups in China are unlike anything I’ve ever seen – mobs of Chinese with coloured caps herding after their group leader who waves a similarly coloured flag. These mobs will just engulf each site, elbow their way everywhere and insist on standing in front of any photogenic site for about 10minutes each!

The Terracotta hanging temple IIArmy were very impressive, although there is little else to do in Xi’an. We commandeered a tandem and cycled the city walls (12km in one hour flat, with stops along the way for driver change like Le Mans – Dad, even on your space-age bicycle you’d have to be impressed!).

Another feature in Xi’an (and in most Chinese cities) are the twinned Bell and Drum towers, whereby the Bell would be gonged at dawn, and the Drum sounded at dusk at every day.

Met up with Evelyn again – it’s amazing how you meet the same people over and over again, pretty much on the same route – who was heading off into the far north western provinces to brave some remote Tibetan villages.

A lot of beggars here in Xi’an.. including a little boy contortionist of about 4years of age, and only 2foot in height, bending his legs around his head and such like. The crazy guy who kept banging his head against the footpath was even more disturbing. It’s very sad.

Best find – MAKY BAKERY – full of sweet breads and cakes that must’ve been laced with some kind of addictive sugar because Yungang Caveswe ate there twice a day. Must investigate an Irish Franchise.

Train to Chengdu was again plagued by odour.. this time, woke to the smell of a baby’s nappy permeating the carriage. No better way to start the day.. and your breakfast.

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