Datong is an interesting city! Yes, I know… the word “interesting” is very ambiguous. It could mean a number of different things… but Datong, also has a number of different facets, which truly makes it: interesting.
Now that we’ve got that covered, let’s focus on what’s real and not.
FACT: Datong is located in Shaanxi province aka the coal mining capital of China. It is even nicknamed “City of Coal”
FACT: Datong used to be the true Capital city of 3 Chinese dynasties – Northern Wei Dynasty; Liao Dynasty; Jin Dynasty
FICTION: The “old town” of Datong is actually brand-spanking-new.
***Yes, the city has been an important center of commerce and politics over a long period of time. However, it was also sacked and destroyed many times. Meaning most of its historic buildings, palaces, gardens and temples have been leveled with the ground. Very few original ones still remain but the ambitious rebuilding plans of an ex-mayor brought to you the… New Old Town of Datong!
FACT: The incredibly impressive Yungang Grottoes, built during the Northern Wei Dynasty, are an archeological, historical and religious gem, recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site – meaning they are truly authentic treasure!
FICTION: Datong is not really a major tourist destination, especially for international tourism.
***Unfortunately, the plans of the ex-mayor to rebuild the «old city» and bring the tourism industry have not bared fruits, which is no wonder considering the plans haven’t been fully executed yet… even thou it has been close to a decade since the plan was launched. Anyway, that means, now is the time to go! Before the tourism wave hits it hard… Especially if you live in Beijing, you have no excuse. The city may be new-ish but its UNESCO sights are something you’ll see once-in-a-lifetime!
FACT: People are extremely nice! You will be asked to take photos with them, since most haven’t seen many foreigners… But if you need help, they will be more than happy to assist you.
***For example, most restaurants don’t have English menus, luckily there are pictures… but that’s not the case with all of them. During our visit, we sat at a restaurant that had a menu only in Chinese with no pictures. A young guy, who spoke English, immediately came to our table and said: “I don’t work here but I assume you don’t read Chinese so I’d be happy to translate and help you order.” Amazing!!!
FACT: If you do GO to Datong, you would be HAPPY you took that trip!
***Truth be told, there are many amazing places to visit such as the incredible Hanging Monastery in the sacred Hengshan Mountain… To make it easier, here are guided TOURS to Datong to pick from.
Learning more about Chinese culture can help you grasp more fully the sites you visit while exploring China. Check out what you can do in Beijing: Chinese Culture Classes