Family Travels: Datong

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Travelers: Americans Aaron and Donna Taylor, and their kids Toby (8) and Garrett (6).

The Plan: A two-day mini break to Datong, complete with picnics in the car.

The Route: With Datong only a four-hour drive away, the Taylor family were keen to see a bit more of China by road. They took their own mini-van and experienced driver, which Donna says is vital due to the regular trucks spills and mule-drawn carts plugging up the highway. She suggests leaving early, packing lots of snacks, and driving during the day. The freeway extends from Beijing until the Datong exit.

City Sights: The 600-year-old Nine Dragon Screen is the largest glazed screen in China, and is three times larger than the one in Beijing’s Beihai Park (10RMB, 9am-4.50pm daily). Inside Datong’s south gate, Shanhua Temple is a wonderfully preserved example from the Liao and Jin Dynasties, from 916-1234AD (20RMB).

Where to Hang Out: The Hanging Monastery on Mt Hengshan, 5km from Datong, has survived more than 1,400 years. This architectural wonder is made from wood clinging to a cliff-face, and includes 40 halls highlighting a unique mixture of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. The family were a little unnerved to be touring this monastery whilst hanging off the side of a cliff, but the kids thought it was pretty awesome. There are significant stairways involved (60RMB, 9am-5pm daily).

Buddha’s Cave: Yungang Grottoes,16km to the west of Datong, contains a series of 252 grottoes and 51,000 carved statues from 1-inch to the size of a 2-storey building. Carved between 450 and 525AD, these splendid structures are some of the most famous in China. Some are weathered away to practically nothing, while others are in great shape or have been restored. The kids enjoyed exploring the grottoes because each one contained a new treasure (60RMB, 8am-5pm daily).

Ancient Pagoda: Around 70km south of Datong lies the magnificent Wooden Pagoda, the oldest and highest wooden structure in China, regarded as the “First Pagoda in the World”. The pagoda stands 67 meters high and has withstood over 900 years of earthquakes and exposure to the elements. Decorated with beautiful murals, its eaves are dotted with bells that tinkle in the breeze (61RMB, 7am-7pm daily).

Where to kip: The family found Datong Hotel friendly and the breakfast was good, however, Donna feels the price outweighed the overall conditions (from 390RMB twin-share, 37 Yingbin Xi Road, 0352 586 8666, http://www.datonghotel.com/).

First published, in part, in beijingkids magazine and on the beijingkids website.

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