Our introduction to China
‘Isto para mim é chinês’ (PT) or ‘To dla mnie chińszczyzna’ (PL): The equivalent of this phrase in quite a few languages compares incomprehensible things to an unknown language, particularly Chinese.
That pretty much describes our stay in China, especially the first few hours. It is incredible how different the neighboring countries can be and that in a short moment you enter a completely different reality.
From Mongolia to China
After passing through the Passport Control, we jumped onto the bus that took us to the border city called Erenhot (commonly shortened to Erlian) in Inner Mongolia, an autonomous region of China. And so we landed up at the bus station and tried to find somebody speaking English. Suddenly the Cyrillic alphabet was a piece of cake.
From the lady at the counter speaking broken English, we understood the bus to Datong had already left and there was no other connection anytime soon. Meanwhile we got approached by many people making us ‘the best’ offers that we naturally kept refusing. It became quite chaotic. As a result we couldn’t understand anything but as the price was similar to the one from the counter, we agreed to go. The fact that we didn’t have any yuans was not a problem. The bus stopped next to the ATM from where we got our first Chinese notes while everybody was waiting for us on the bus.
On the way to Datong
The bus was moving smoothly on a brand new two – lane highway. It was only the landscape behind the window that reminded us of Mongolia. The area around the town is known for the discovery of the different dinosaur fossils. The semi desert is marked with dozens of dinosaur statues and a big strange arch built right above the highway in form of two Brontosauruses stretching their long necks (according to some people) like in a kiss.
As we reached the final destination, we realized Datong was still hours away… When we finally arrived at our dream destination, it was already evening. Amazed with the street barbecues in front of our hostel, we jumped straight towards the food and later with the newly met French couple, planned what to see in Datong in one day .
Datong in one day
Sharing a car might not be the cheapest but definitely the easiest way to see 2 famous sites near Datong: the Hanging Monastery (around 64 km away) and the Yungang Grottoes (around 16 km away) in one day.
The Hanging Monastery also called The Hanging Temple
The monastery is built into a cliff, 75 meters above a canyon. This rare piece of architecture is more than 1500 years old. It stands propped up by the hidden rock corridor and the wooden beams inserted into the mountain (the wooden pillars that are supporting the buildings were added later for the security measures). The temple was built this way to avoid the floods and use the mountain peak as a protection from the rain, snow and sunlight.
It has over 40 halls and pavilions connected by the series of corridors, bridges and walkways. Inside there are more than 80 bronze, iron and clay statues and stone carvings coming from different dynasties.
Apparently it is the only existing temple with the combination of three traditional Chinese religions: Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism.
In 2010, the ‘Time’ magazine listed it as one of ‘Top 10 Precarious Buildings in the world’ together with The Leaning Tower of Pisa. Obviously this time the popular in Asia saying: “If you have been to one temple you’ve seen them all’ does not apply. Without doubt, this temple is definitely one of a kind.
The Yungang Grottoes
The grottoes are the largest and one of the most famous ancient Buddhist grotto sites in China. Buddhism came to China along the Silk Road from India in the early 400s. It’s said that the project to build the complex started in 460 and took probably another 60 years to complete.
The site is simply huge; spanning over one kilometer along the side of the mountain. There are 252 grottoes with more than 51,000 Buddha statues and statuettes mostly featuring Sakyamuni, a young Buddha in a seated position. The size of the sculptures ranges from barely two centimeters to over 17 meters.
All main caves in Yungang are named with numbers from 1 to 20, with numbers: 16, 17, 18, 19 and 20 being the most impressive ones and number 5 having the biggest Buddha statue.
Past the last set of caves, there is a modern museum for those who are hungry for more information.
Both sites are impressive but also super crowded (even on a weekday). The Hanging Monastery can be a bit claustrophobic while the Yungang Grottoes is more relaxing place because people spread across a huge area. There is enough time to see both sites of Datong in one day.
We have spent a fun day with our companions sharing the travel stories and tips that we used further during our trip. Cheers to Lidia and Jean Luc 🙂 (unfortunately we didn’t take any picture together)