We arrived to Datong on a night train from Beijing. Our first of many to come. 3 tier bunks with us in the middle and bottom ones. The locals get on the train as if they are running with the bulls.
It took us some time to get settled into our 7′ by 2′ cubicle and the men above and across me were rehearsing for their future symphony (ve-hamavin yavin).
Arriving in Datong we were greeted by “Mr Lu” from CITS (china travel) and we booked a tour.
First to the Yungang caves…buddhas in caves all carved out of the mountain. The ginormous buddhas and the little ones all over the place. so many buddhas. Also, policeman everywhere. The olympic torch was set to go through the area and arrive at the caves on the 27th and the preparations were well underway ie: weeding, planting, cleaning, marching, chanting, standing policeman on the side of the road for miles and miles (Daph adds: think of rehearsal for a misdar siyum kurs in the army).
After the caves we went to the Hanging Monastery, a monastery built on the side of a mountain that’s held up by bamboo stilts above the river. The views were magnificent and we were finally able to get some “fresh” air, along with a blue sky.
We went back to Datong and had another night train awaiting us. We found a hotel and sat in the lobby, I slept while Daphna pretended to do research about our upcoming travels…
On this second night train the man occupying the cubby above Daph said something in Portuguese and we started talking with this Chinese man who lived in Sao Paolo for 11 years. He has a tea factory and was on the way to see his friend’s steel factory.
We talked for a while and asked him hundreds of questions. We exchanged numbers and in the morning shared a cup of his tea (in our brand new tea cups!) , although he said the tea we were drinking was better than the one he had on him. And even better, he confirmed that we got a great deal on the tea.
“This is what I imagined China would be like” (Michael at 7:30 am this morning, on the way from the train to our hostel).
We arrived in Pingyao and instantly fell in love. The poverty of the city led to a total lack of modernization and meanwhile the old city, which is still gated, has been preserved as an almost museum, yet still functioning small town.
We walked into the hostel, that has a cute courtyard in the middle and had a well deserved shower before starting to walk around the town.
In all honesty, two days are probably plenty to see the sights here but we were pretty quick to decide that this would be a great place to take it easy and decided to stay a couple of nights.
After a morning tour of the old government complex we headed for lunch and by this point I have the audacity to repel the foreigners’ menu and ask for the local one, even though I can’t really read it. After some more touring, we returned to hostel to try to figure out where we want to go from here.
Soon after we sit down in the lobby/restaurant, a Chinese kid comes to sit at our table to practice his English; he wants to be an English Professor (at the ripe old age of 13). He has some of the best English we’ve heard here; his father works in Pingyao and since he’s on summer vacation he gets dropped off and walks around everyday looking for foreigners to talk to.
He started: “Can I ask you some questions?” and continued for the next hour non-stop (grammer, harry potter, qq- apparently some chinese chat application, his friend’s grades in school, his post graduate aspirations for Harvard and so on and so on).
Luckily I employed a lull in the conversation to start getting some Chinese tips for myself: we reviewed how to order in a restaurant- the thing that I’ve been having the most trouble with, involving lots of awkward pointing and guessing. By this time it was dinner time, and I got to practice with Bob, our extremely friendly hostel manager, all that I had learned and had Wantouzi (local noodle specialty) that was delicious!
Tips to Visit Datong
CITS Tour-CITS has a mini office right at the train station. getting to the yungang caves/hanging monastery requires a driver, so the tour provides just that. 100 rmb, no need to book ahead. the night train from beijing will arrive around 7am and joining that day’s tour is no problem. the attractions can be done as a day tour with two night trains.