The main reason for going to Datong in northern China is to visit its most famous sight – the Yungang Grottoes. The 53 main caves there contain over 51,000 intricate, ancient Buddhist statues. It takes six and a half hours to get to Datong from Beijing by train.
Datong is the former western capital of the Jin Dynasty (266 – 420 AD) in Shanxi Province of China, separated from Inner Mongolia by The Great Wall Pass. During the Ming Dynasty ((1368-1644), nine frontier towns were established to manage a 6000 km section of the Great Wall from Shanhaiguan Pass to Jiayuguan Pass. Ancient Datong was one of the Nine Frontier Towns, maintaining a 335 km section of the Wall and defending China against the Mongol raiders.
There are about twenty non-bullet trains from Beijing to Datong everyday taking over six hours to cover the 370 kilometres between the two cities at a top speed of 160 km/hour. Major stations along the way are Xuanhua, Zhangjiakou, Chaigoubu and Yanggao. Simple Chinese food is available on the train. The ticket costs $8 per person.
We took the morning “normal” train to Datong. Beijing railway station was crowded and security was tight. Passports were checked, baggage scanned and bodies searched. The train was packed.
The “normal” train to Datong is no joy ride. The Bullet Train or flying would be much better options. You could also take the sleeper train in the late evening and arrive in Datong in the morning in good time to visit the Grottoes and the Hanging Temple before proceeding to Wutaishan for the night. In any case, you should bring your own food and drink for the train. Travel light or you will have grief with heavy luggage at Datong station!
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