Datong is a small city with less experience with foreigners. People here are friendly and curious, and will definitely stare at foreigners. For simple entertainment, stop at a chuanr (meat on a stick) stand near Red Flag square, or Red Flag square itself and chat up the locals.
As of spring 2013, the city is overwhelmingly under construction, and shows no sign of completion anytime soon. Many streets are being torn up while buildings are being torn down; rubble and debris is littered all over the city. Expect taxi rides to take strange, roundabout routes because of the poor roads. Other than the city walls, there is not much to see in the city itself.
Hohhot - Buses depart from Hohhot's bus station (next to the train station) regularly all day. Just turning up and buying a ticket should usually get you on a bus within an hour, two at most. The journey takes about 5 hours with average traffic conditions, costing c57. The buses terminate at Datong main bus station (a 6 yuan taxi ride from the train station).
Wutai Shan - Three buses a day in summer from Wutai Mountain from 8am to 1pm. ¥75.
Booking tickets at the Datong train station can be difficult as for popular directions a large part of the tickets are hatched by black market sellers when they become available four days before the train runs. Book tickets from Datong as early as possible.
Beijing - 6 hr. Daily overnight trains run from Beijing to Datong and back. A hardsleeper ticket costs around ¥108. Night trains are available from both Beijing West Station (Beijing Xi Zhan) and Beijing Station (Beijing Zhan). In addition to the night train, there is a daily morning train, starting at 8:50AM and ¥54 for a hardseater.
Bus 4 - runs from the train station into town (6th stop (四牌楼）for 9 Dragon wall, 7th stop (清远街, bus sign “青年宫”) for Huāyuàn Monastery and Youth Hostel , 8th stop (红旗广场）for Red Flag square. The final stop on bus line 4 is the start of bus line 3.
Bus 3 - runs from the Xinkaili bus station (final stop of bus 4) to the Yungang Caves (end of the line).
Bus 15 - runs from train station to near the main bus station (the fifth stop from train station 市供排水集团 shìgōng páishuǐ jítuán, from that bus stop walk ahead to crossroads, turn left and main bus station 大同汽车站 is just ahead on left. )
Bus 30 - runs from the train station all the way to the south bus station (新南客运站), the last stop (45+ mins).
Buses within Datong are ¥1. Trips to the Yungang Caves are ¥1.5.
Short trips in town cost at least 6 yuan. From the train station to Huayan Monastery in the centre of town is about 8 yuan.
It may be convenient and less stressful to hire a taxi to visit the main sites out of town. A trip to the Hanging Monastery and Wooden Pagoda (both out of town - this is about 5 hours travel time) for 2 people was negotiated for ¥260 in August 2011 - but agreeing to pick up other tourists on the way if available to fill the empty seats. You might not manage this cheaply. You can try to find a taxi yourself (eg in front of the train station in the morning there may be taxi drivers seeking this business) or ask at China International Travel Service (CITS, +86 0352 5101816, +86 13008088454). If asking via CITS, do not forget to ask for a new taxi or you may end up in an old car which is not safe for a trip out of town. Local hostels and tours may have shuttle services starting at ¥300 for the Hanging Monastery and Yungang Grottoes, and others for higher prices.
Yúngāng Grottoes (云冈石窟 Yúngāng Shíkū), (Take bus #4 to the end of the line and change to #3 and take that to the end of the line). By far the greatest attraction of the area is the 1,500-year-old Yúngāng Grottoes, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. These mountain-side caves and recesses are filled with 51,000 Buddhist statues - the largest being a 56-foot Seated Buddha while the smallest is only a few centimetres tall. In addition to the carvings of the Buddha, there are also scenes depicting Buddhist teachings and famous monks. Unlike Dunhuang grottoes, most caves here permit photography, (notably excepting caves 5&6). The entrances to caves 5 and 6 are fronted by wooden temple structures. The cave walls at these entrances were damaged by graffiti during the cultural revolution although the majority of the site is well-preserved. At least you get the impression that the caves are mostly ancient/original and not reconstructed. Cave 20 may have people praying in front.¥150. Full-time students and 60-69 yrs half price. Serving military, disabled, 70+, children under 1.4m free. Discounts require documentary proof.. edit
The Hanging Monastery (悬空寺 Xuánkōngsì), (Located 65 km to the southeast of Datong. From Datong train station, fifth stop on bus line 15 takes you to 市供排水集团 Shìgōng Páishuǐ Jítuán. From there, walk ahead to crossroads, turn left and main bus station 大同汽车站 Dàtóng Qìchēzhàn is just ahead on left. [Mai 2013 : bus station moved because of works, still take bus 15 but ask the driver for the main bus station 大同汽车站 Dàtóng Qìchēzhàn which is now around 10 stops from the train station] Window 2 sells 26 yuan tickets to 悬空寺 Xuánkōngsì. Buses leave frequently. After nearly a 2 hour journey you will be transferred to a free taxi for the final few miles.). Lodged precariously on a cliff-face, this monastery is one of the more remarkable sights in China: a complex of 40 rooms linked by mid-air walkways. It appears to be stuck into the side of the cliff, but is actually supported by stilts. There is a '3 Religions Hall' with all of Buddha, Confucius and Laozi (founder of Daoism). Built in 490, renovated several times, most recently in 1900, much of the current structure dates from the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Less than an hour to visit. If waiting in the car park for a suitable taxi, tasty vegetarian food available at stall.Entry full ¥130 summer, ¥125 winter. Students, 60-69 half price. Disabled (残疾人), military, (doesn’t specify just Chinese military ;-), 70+, less than 1.2m tall children free. Discounts require documents.. edit
Yīngxiàn Wooden Pagoda (应县木塔 Yīngxiàn Mùtǎ), 应县市, Yīngxiàn Town (About 75 km south of Datong and 70 km northeast of Shuozhou. The bus from Datong (¥20) takes about 2 hr, or from the Hanging Monastery (taxi to Hunyuan ¥10 after bargaining) it's about one hour (¥12) by bus, or you might find taxi drivers willing to take you directly from the Hanging Monastery car park to the Wooden pagoda for 40 yuan per person.). Summer 7:30am-7pm. Winter 8am-5:30pm.. This impressive pagoda is the oldest and tallest wooden structure in China, built in 1056 in the Liao Dynasty. It is located within a Buddhist temple, some of which was rebuilt in the Qing Dynasty. There is an active temple in the back built in 2001. Only the ground floor and the first floor of the pagoda are open to visitors. Maybe half an hour needed to visit. For an additional ¥40 you can visit a small exhibition on the premises.Tickets ¥60. Full-time students, 60-69yo & disabled half-price. Current serving military 四、现役军人 (they don’t specify just Chinese military ;-), 70+, less-than-1.2m-tall children free. Discounts require documents.. edit
Daoist Monastery, (On bus line 4 it is somewhere near stops 6 and 7, between the drum tower and Huáyán Monastery). A small collection of Daoist temples and a peaceful courtyard. A more human scale than the nearby Huáyán Monastery - half an hour at most - unless you are intercepted by a Daoist monk and have a chat / are given an explanation. Completely rebuilt in 2010.30 yuan full price. 15 yuan students etc. edit
Huáyán Monastery (华严寺), (On bus line 4 it is near the seventh stop from the train station). Closes 7pm. A large collection of Buddhist temples of the Huayan sect that can be seen in an hour or two. Unusually this monastery faces east, not south. Nice to hear chanting at the back (no photos). Completely rebuilt in 2010. At ¥80 a bit expensive, really. If you like Buddhism (and mountain scenery, and have the time), save your money/time and head to Wutai Shan for slightly longer instead.80 yuan full price. 40 yuan students. Disabled, military, 70yo+ free. edit
Nine Dragon Screen (九龙壁 Jiŭlóngbì), Dàdōng Street 大东街 (Located right at the geographic center of town, on the southern side of Dàdōng Street 大东街 (East Street) east of the main intersection a block north of the Drum Tower. Can be reached by Bus 4 from the Datong Railway Station， 6th stop 四牌楼 sìpáilóu，get off the bus and continue walking in same direction of bus and turn left at crossroads. 九龙壁 Jiŭlóngbì is on the right after 200m.). 7:30am-7pm. A 600-year-old screen made of glazed tiles and depicting nine dragons, this is the oldest glazed screen in China. Most people will visit this for less than 5 minutes. It is a pity that the pond in front of the screen is no longer filled with water. ¥10, students and 60-69 yrs ¥5 Children under 1.3m, current-serving military, disabled, 70+ free. Discounts require documents.. edit
Drum Tower (鼓楼). Like many cities in China, Datong has its own Drum Tower. This is in the centre of town, but not open to the public.edit
Heng Mountain (恒山 Héng Shān), (The entrance gate is 2 km past the Hanging Monastery, then it's another 12 km to the scenic area. A cable car can take you directly to the temples or you can take the half hour walk). This is the least religiously important of the 5 Sacred Mountains of Taoism. Due to its northerly location, it has been impossible for pilgrimages by the Chinese to take place for much of its history. ¥55. edit
Datong Museum (大同博物馆). The museum covers an area of 5600 square meters, of which 1,800 square meters exhibition area, has now become the second largest museum in Shanxi Province, 1.3 million pieces of cultural relics, a product 132. Most of the local archaeological finds. Meet the public more than pieces of precious relics in 1000, half of the initial display of rare collections. edit
Red Flag Square 红旗广场 Hóngqí guǎngchǎng, (8th stop on bus line 4 from train station). Evenings around the Red Flag Square are entertaining and full of locals. Although most locals are unable to speak much English they will show some interest in foreigners and be willing to play ball/'kick the shuttlecock' or similar. As always, although most Chinese who show an interest in foreigners are just curious, or genuinely want to practise English, remember that young female/male con artists may target you in Datong just as in Beijing, Shanghai and elsewhere.edit
Outdoor street stalls and tables, (Near Red Flag square on way to Huayan Monastery). Mostly evening. Eat and drink well outside for under ¥10. Many skewers (串）at stalls are ¥0.5 each - ask first and pay when finished eating at stall. 3 types of tofu, including a 5-spice tofu and two variations on stinky tofu (臭豆腐）for ¥5. Not all vendors offer same quality - try them and report here. One particular stall selling stinky tofu and Korean spicy rice cakes (韩国炒年糕 / 떡볶이) is quite delicious. Húntun noodle soup for ¥4. Many options.. edit
East Wheat (东方削面), (Walk west a couple shops from the intersection of Yúnzhōng Lù (云中路) and Yíngzé Jiē (迎泽街)). 6:50am - Late. A cafeteria-line place that offers cheap and tasty soup noodle variations on the Shanxi specialty of 刀削面 (dāoxiāomiàn - knife-cut noodles). Vegetarian noodle option available, as well as plenty of side dishes."¥6-8 for a bowl of soup noodles; ¥6-8 for side dishes; ¥14-18 for set menus. edit
Best Pizza, (Near Huāyuàn Monastery on way to Daoist temple.). Consider for the experience, not the food. Chinese-style western restaurant, designed for Chinese people, not Westerners (ie luxurious sofas as seats, ice in champagne bucket to put in your beer to make it cold, asking for salt&pepper not thought strange but not already at every table, only has squat toilet). You will probably think the thick-base pizza is a reasonable imitation, but you may also realise why some Chinese people say that Western food basically isn’t as tasty as Chinese food. ¥50 up. Other passable Western food.edit
Mǎdàhā Hotpot (马大哈火锅), Cāochǎngchéng Jiē (操场城街) (Walk or take bus #4 from the train station down Cāochǎngchéng Street, watch for the large vertical yellow sign on a building on the right side). A well-known place among locals serving Shanxi hotpot. A picture menu is available to help choosing ingredients. As opposed to hotpot in other places where everyone shares one pot, each person gets their own in the Shanxi version.edit
裕盛祥茶馆 Yùshèngxiáng Cháguǎn Tea house., (Near Huāyuàn Monastery on the way towards the Youth Hostel.). 12:00-00:00. Don't believe the sign - this is not open in the morning. Cups of tea start at ¥10 but you may prefer to try a pot ~¥30. Xīhú Lóngjǐng green tea is worth a try. Best just before sunset if they open the shutters - see sun fall over Huāyuàn Monastery, look out of 2nd floor window onto street below or just relax - actually part of a chain with origins more than 100 years ago that has not spread out of Shanxi yet - but you might not realise it. Don’t step in the indoor stream. There are extra charges if you use a private room at the side (¥28/hr) or want a tea master to stay at your table (after a free quick lesson) topping up your tea pot. (¥60/hr). The prices in the English menu may be out of date - and the Chinese menus may also not be accurate for seasonal teas (eg they may be lower than printed). Spoken English not good - but you should be able to come to an understanding what is available at what price. Free hot water top-ups on request. Freshly-ground coffee (现摩咖啡) , beer (啤酒), popcorn (爆米花), sweets/candies (糖），raisins (‘香妃’／葡萄干），roasted watermelon seeds (烤西瓜字), peanuts (花生）cashew nuts (腰果) and almonds (大杏仁）are available but not on the English menu. Busy at weekends. (2011)¥10+. edit
青年旅社 Qīngnián Lǚshè Youth Hostel, 华严街 Huáyán Jiē, Huáyán Street (Before 8:30pm take no. 4 bus (¥1) from train station 7 stops to 清远街 Qīngyuǎn Jiē for Huáyán monastery. [After 8:30pm take taxi (¥8) to 华严寺 Huáyán sì.] Get off bus and walk forwards 200m, cross road and enter ancient area under arch (Huáyán Street) first passing Huáyán monastery on your right and then carrying straight on. In less than 5 minutes you come to a sign on the right 青年旅社, go in through children's clothing shop), . edit(Note: Check Google maps or similar before arriving or take a taxi. As of Spring 2013, expect to pay 2-3 times more than the normal ~¥10 price, due to construction. The listed bus route was slightly incorrect as of Fall 2012.)) This is a small, clean, busy youth hostel opened in May 2011 in a central location. Views from bedrooms over the crumbling old town. Booking by email is advisable. firstname.lastname@example.org. Not all staff speak English although more can read it. Tel 0352 2427766. Dorms ¥50 per night (Spring 2013), members ¥45. Standard ensuite rooms (comfortable, flat screen TV, kettle, western toilet) ¥158. Free wifi+internet terminals. Laundry ¥10 per load. As at Aug 2011 there was a message on a board from a local offering a free meal and free guide around Datong in return for the chance to practise English listening to your travel stories (Contact: email@example.com).
通明快捷酒店 Tōngmíng Kuàijié Jiŭdiàn, No.36 站前街 Zhànqián Street (Turn left out of the train station and walk straight ahead for 5 minutes past a couple of expensive hotels and then a string of cheap Chinese hotels that are not allowed to accept foreigners. On the right is a taller red hotel with a name in red letters 通明快捷酒店 客房). Don't believe rack rates. A basement double room with ensuite can be secured for ¥100 (Feb 2011). Single ensuite ¥80 (Aug 2011).. edit This hotel offers a range of rooms, many with wifi access. Hot water 8pm-midnight? TV, kettle, Western toilet. The beds are hard, the rooms in the basement are cold and smell of cigarettes but the location may be convenient. Further down this street on the right, some other hotels might also be willing to accept foreigners at lower prices than Tōngmíng.
Hongqi Grand Hotel, NO.11, S Zhanqian, ☎ +86 0352 5366888 (fax: +86 0352 5366222). It is a 3 star hotel just across the train station which is very convenient. A price for a night in a room with two beds is ¥265 (as of Dec 2009). Rooms are very comfortable. On the negative side the staff barely speaks English but one or two of the girls at the counter can help you. The hotel has an excellent restaurant frequented by visiting Chinese. You do not have to be a guest to eat here. Meals vary in price from ¥15 to ¥268 plus for duck.The menu has pictures. Around the block are a number of places to eat, bakeries and a supermarket. edit