Datong is located in the Shanxi Province of China, a few hundred kilometers west of Beijing. It is a coal mining town and one of China’s most polluted cities. It is of interest to tourists mainly because of the Yungang Grottoes and the Hanging Temple, but it also offers a look at the real China, away from the standard tourist trail.
Best Time to Go
Datong lies 1000 meters above sea level, making the summers less hot than lower lying areas. It also means that temperatures drop quite a bit at night. Winters are long, cold and dry. The best season to visit is early autumn; spring is also comfortable, but dust storms often blow through in March and April.
Getting to Datong
The best way to get to Datong is by train from Beijing, Pingyao or Xi’an. You could also take a long distance bus from Hothot, in addition to those cities. Bus #15 will get you from the main bus station to the railway station, where most of the hotels are. You could also take a taxi for 6 RMB.
You can get around Datong by bus or by taxi. The taxis will cost 6 Yuan for short distances, while the buses are 1 Yuan inside town. Renting a taxi to take you around the outlying sites for a day will cost you at least 300 RMB.
Datong has one hostel, the Datong Youth Hostel. Other than that, you’re stuck with hotels. I stayed in a hotel near the railway station, but I don’t remember the name. You’ll find a bunch around there, including some really cheap ones, but most of those are not allowed to accept foreigners. You’ll just have to ask around in person, since none of them have a online presence.
If you don’t mind paying a bit more (around $25 for a room), things get much easier. Check out Agoda’s Datong page for 20-30 options, as well as an excellent accommodation map you can use to get oriented, even if you don’t want to book ahead.
Eating & Drinking
You won’t find any nightlife or restaurants geared toward tourists in Datong. Any western food you do find will be aimed squarely at the Chinese, meaning it will taste nothing like the original. Just eat Chinese food while you’re here. Near the Red Flag Square (see below), on the way to Huayan Monastery, you’ll find a whole bunch of outdoor street stalls in the evening, where you can eat and drink very cheaply (under 10 Yuan).
Things to Do
- Yungang Grottoes: UNESCO World Heritage Site of caves filled with 51,000 Buddhist statues; take bus #4 to the end of the line, change to #3 and take that to the end of the line; entrance is ¥150; students and over 60 half price; military, disabled, 70+, children under 1.4m are free
- The Hanging Monastery: monastery built into the face of a cliff; you can get there by bus from the Datong Bus Station (bus #15 will get you there from the train station), which takes around 2 hours; tickets to the monastery (Xuankongsi in Chinese) are sold from window 2 and cost 26 Yuan; entrance is 130 RMB in the summer, 125 in the winter; students and over 60 are half price; disabled, military, 70+, children under 1.2m are free
- Yingxian Wooden Pagoda: oldest and tallest wooden structure in China; ¥20 and 2 hours by bus from Datong and ¥12, 1 hour from the Hanging Monastery; 7:30am-7pm in the summer, 8am-5:30pm in the winter; tickets are ¥60; students, over 60 & disabled are half-price; military, 70+, children under 1.2m are free
- Red Flag Square: full of locals playing games and hanging out in the evenings; great place to people-watch; take bus #4 from the train station and get off at the 8th stop