Datong On a BudgetIf you're looking for an old world city, with a renovated feel, you might want to spend some time in Datong, China. This city was once walled-in and the newest initiative is to rebuild their great wall to maintain their old world charm. Datong is definitely done a lot to make itself a contender in the world of vacation destinations.
SightsThe very first thing you'll want to put on your site seeing list is the Yungang Caves. These 1,500 year old mountain caves are an UNESCO World Heritage Site given that altogether the caves and recesses hold approximately 51,000 Buddha statues. They have Buddhas of every shape and size from a 56-foot Seated Buddha to mini Buddha that stands a few centimeters tall. You will also see rare and precious scenes depicting the Buddhist teachings and famous monks who spread those messages. It's easy to take a walk through and know that unlike the wall surrounding this city, these caves are authentically ancient. There has been little to no reconstruction here.
For a short day trip of out of Datong, don't miss the Hanging Monastery. Tucked away on the edge of a cliff, this monastery is one of the most visited sights in all of China. Forty rooms are linked together by mid-air walkways. While it was built in 490, much of today's structure dates back to the Ming and Qing dynasties.
The Yingxian Wooden Pagoda is the tallest and oldest wooden structure in the whole of China. Dating back to 1056 in the Liao Dynasty, only the first floor and ground floor are open to visitors. You won't spend as much time here as at the Hanging Monastery, but it's definitely worth a stop.
If you want to see a bit of the Great Wall, head to the Ba Taizi ruins. Here you'll see the dilapidated sections of the Great Wall along with the interesting ruins of an ancient gothic church.
It's hard go anywhere in this region without hitting temple or two. Add the Huayan Temple to your list. Built in the Liao dynasty, this temple faces east, not south. This leads many to believe the Khitan who built it were sun worshippers. This temple is divided into two parts the active monastery and the museum below. The main hall of the Upper Temple is quite stunning and stands as one of the largest Buddhist halls in all of China complete with Ming murals and Qing statues.
Another incredible sight to see is the amazing Nine Dragon Screen. The nine multicolored coiling dragons create quite an atmosphere around this Ming-dynasty spirit wall. It once protected a palace belonging to the 13th son of a Ming Emperor, and it burnt down in 1644 whoops. This palace, the Dai Wangfu, fell during the final stages of the Ming dynasty. This giant palace once spanned 191,000 square meters spanning from the Da Dgonjie street in the north all the way down to a street just shy of the new city wall.
If you're more into art a little closer to this century, visit the China Sculpture Museum. Built within the restored city walls, these hallways are home to some of the day's best contemporary sculptures by Chinese and foreign artists. While you stroll these corridors, be on the look out for some uncovered sections of the original city walls. They date back to the Ming, Jin, Liao and Northern Wei dynasties. Be sure you have your passport for readmission after your tour.
Food and DiningThis is not the Chinese food you call up and order on a Friday night. In Datong you'll want to seek out the traditional food in the modern settings. This region of China is especially known for its noodles. They come in different shapes, sizes and covered in a variety of sauces. You'll also want to look for the shaomai (steamed dim-sum dumpling) with every combination of meats and fillings. Luckily, Datong knows their audience and many restaurants will offer menus with pictures.
TransportationDatong has a fairly extensive public bus system with lines running from the train station to most major attractions throughout the region. However, it may relieve a lot of stress to simply hire a car for the main sites outside of town like the Hanging Monastery.
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