A Bus Ride Away: Datong & The Yungang Grottoes (UNESCO World Heritage Site)


Location: Datong, Shanxi province

In the West, it’s often said that “Nothing can beat an original”, however, in China, It might be said that “Nothing can beat a well constructed copy of the original.”

While this concept of copy or original is usually discussed in regards to retail products, often it also applies to the world of tourism and travel. In many parts of China, there are a number of scenic spots which are comprised of traditional architecture, replicas of traditional architecture as well as a combination of the two.

Located in the Northern region of Shanxi province, the city of Datong boasts to be one of the pivotal players in the Belt Road journey with its many replicas of traditional architecture reminiscent of northern china. Bordering areas such as Inner Mongolia, Datong while fundamentally a Chinese city, also promotes and showcases its history as well as influences of other cultures. Furthermore, because it was located near the Great Wall Pass to Inner Mongolia, it blossomed during the Han Dynasty and became a stop-off point for camel caravans moving from China into Mongolia and beyond (Wikipedia).

Its current city centre, while not as expansive as that of first tiered cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, maintains a simple yet contemporary form of beauty. With bikes and buses everywhere, the city is very accessible.

However, its main features are that of the historical replicas in the nearby vicinity. Looking to see an amazing temple (the upper Huayan temple), bike along the entire city wall or shop in an area reminiscent of the city’s old township, all of this can be done in a few hours within the city of Datong because of the way in which the local government reconstructed the city to make it more convenient for their visitors. The city also has a mosque to cater to its Muslim population as well as an artistic construction of a wall with nine Chinese dragons.

If you don’t mind a bit of a drive, only about 1 hour outside of the city centre is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the ‘piece de resistance’ for the Datong area. This spot, called the Yungang Grottoes is most definitely not a replica. 252 caves and 51,000 statues, represent the outstanding achievement of Buddhist cave art in China in the 5th and 6th centuries. The Five Caves created by Tan Yao, with their strict unity of layout and design, constitute a classical masterpiece of the first peak of Chinese Buddhist art (UNESCO). Otherwise, you can also opt to visit The Hanging temple, a temple built onto the cliff of Mount Heng, another place of historic significance for this area of China.

Like many places in the north, I believe a nice time to travel would be the beginning of September when the cold air has not yet set in. Only 4 hours away by bus, if you are looking for a weekend getaway from the city of Beijing, I believe the city of Datong would be a great stop to get a glimpse into China’s past.

How to get there by bus: From Beijing get a long distance bus to Datong at the Liuliqiao Long Distance Bus Station 六里桥长途客运站.

To get to Long Distance Bus Station take the subway line 10 or 9 to Liuliqiao Station and exit from exit C or D to access the bus station.

Travel Tips: Datong possess their own bike system as opposed to the traditional Mobike, Offo etc. However, taking a bus or walking around the city area is very convenient.