Toilet Star Rating - 3 stars
A hard sleeper berth has six bunks to a cabin and no doors. It's a pretty cramped affair and we didn't really expect to get much sleep on the 6 hour journey, especially as Shelly has never enjoyed sleeping on trains. But it wasn't as bad as we thought and we both managed to doze off for a couple of hours.
At 7am we stumbled out of the train station and straight into the arms of Mr Gao of CITS, China International Travel Service. Mr Gao speaks excellent English and meets all the trains as they arrive and pretty much as the foreigner tourist market sewn up. He led us to his office in a street around the corner. A German couple were already there, waiting for their tour and another German couple arrived while we were there. There are four important sights around Datong - the Yungang Grottoes, which contain the oldest Buddhist carvings in China, the spectacular sited Hanging Monastery, the wooden pagoda, the oldest pagoda in China, and some crumbling sections of the Great Wall. The caves and the Hanging Monastery are the most visited. Datong itself isn't particularly exciting, covered in dust and grime from nearby coal mines, so we decided we wouldn't stay but would tour the sights and then take the overnight train to Xian. Mr Gao arranged the train tickets, booked our hostel in Xian and organised a taxi to take us to the caves and Hanging Monastery.
We went first to the Hanging Monastery, some 75 kilometres south of the city. We were amazed by the astonishing amount of development going on in Datong. Everywhere massive apartment buildings were being thrown up in their hundreds - no joke! It was incredible.
The Hanging Monastery is situated high up on a cliffside overlooking a narrow valley. We had an hour here to look around and walk up to the Monastery. It's all build of wood, some of it very old and shakey. Shelly was very nervous as the railings were very very low and flimsy, and Chinese tourists are very very pushy. Any slight slip and you'd plunge hundreds of metres to your death.
The Yungang Caves are only 30 kilometres north of Datong so we had to retrace our steps and drive back through the city. It was now about lunch time so the driver recommended we stop for noodles. He took us to a tiny little cafe in an alleyway in the backblocks of Datong; we wouldn't have even known it was a cafe from the outside. There were startled looks from the locals when we entered. They don't see many foreigners in there. They only had one dish - noodles with an egg and some unidentifiable things in it. Oh my, we thought. This might not be good. But the noodles were lovely but we both passed on the black looking egg.
The Yungang caves has experienced some major investment recently. A huge new complex, convention centre, temple and restaurant has been built there. Fortunately these were set back from the actual caves so we could enjoy them without the theme park atmosphere. The caves were occupied by Buddhist monks from the 7th century and the Buddha carvings here are the oldest in China. Caves 5 & 6 are lavishly painted and were truly breath taking. We took a quick couple of photos even though we weren't supposed to. There are almost 300 caves but only 50 are open.
We slept much of the way back to Datong and made it just in time for the train. This time we had a soft sleeper - a proper 4 berth cabin with a door. We slept really well that night.