This is a purely practical blog post for those people who are actually traveling to Datong. I don’t often do these, but there was a lot of confusion, and unclear information on the web (And it took a long time to clear it up) so I wanted to write down everything in one place to help other people who might be going. If you are not going to datong, well, feel free to skip this post. This information is correct as of August 2011.Â
Feitian Hotel in Datong
The only decent sounding hotel in Lonely Planet is Feitian Hotel. Only problem: It no longer exists. (That’s why the phone number in LP doesn’t work.) Instead there is a new hotel that has replaced the Feitian called JiaHe International Hotel. This is a newly built hotel, and right next to the train station. (As you exit from the train station, look immediately to your left. It is the tall black glass building right there.) Don’t be put off by the ratings on tripadvisor (where it is ranked 37th out of 79 hotels). It is clean, safe, and totally souless. ReceptionÂ can speak enough English to check you in, but that’s about it.
I would recommend booking the hotel through elong (unless you can speak Chinese, or have a Chinese friend who can call.) Elong is a chinese website (with an english version) where you can see the price (under 200 rmb a night) and book it online without having to give a deposit.
The biggest pain (aside from the late night prostitute calls) is the touts standing right out front of the hotel that will harass you for taxi service every single time you go in and out of the hotel. It’s annoying, but whatever. Also, like most Chinese hotels the walls are okay, but the doors are super thin and you can hear everything that goes out in the hallway. As tour groups roll in and roll out, both late and night and early the next morning, it can be annoying.
CITS and Seeing the Sites
I’ve traveled in a lot of cities and have never used the services of CITS (China International Travel Services). For the most part I hear they rip of foreigners and it’s just as easy to do things on your own. In Datong however, I have only heard good things about CITS and we even had the pleasure to meet the very friendly Mr. Gao. (HeÂ approachedÂ us as we were buying tickets in the train station.)
The only problem is the CITS office has changed locations many times, and again, it is hard to find. Really hard. What you do is this: If you are exiting the train station go right. There is a side street and right on the corner you will see closed and boarded up shops with a giant CITS sign and cryptic directions. That is their old office, and the new office is near, but hard to find.
What you need to do is look behind you and a little to the left there is a small alley. It looks super sketchy, but walk down it. You should come across a few CITS signs painted on the wall. Â Follow them deeper and deeper into the alley. The signs peter out just as it gets really confusing. The alley kind of dead-ends in a courtyard place. The big entrance there is a hotel. The CITS office is inside the hotel. (It’s not even really an office, more like a conference room that they do business in.) Go in the entrance and turn left. The office is at the end of the hallway.
CITS offers tours to the main sites for a reasonable price (100 rmb which includes an english speaking guide, but does not include admission. They have another price for that, but I forget what it is.)
We decided to actually hire one of the (annoying) taxi drivers to bring us to both the Yungang Grottoes and the Hanging Monastery. (The grottoes is close, but the monastery is over an hour away.) Our price for the day (and not due until he brought us back to the hotel) was 280 yuan for three people. We left at 9 and got back at 5. I will admit his annoying persistence actually got us to go with him. We were debating the CITS tour, or a taxi and every time we circled around our hotel (we were really lost looking for the CITS office) he kept approaching us and asking “How about tomorrow?” (In Chinese. I don’t think many of the drivers spoke much english, but they all had brochures with pictures of the different attractions you can point at to make your destination clear.)
I tired bargaining, but to no avail. Xiao ma (our future driver) and his boss wouldn’t budge from his price of 280 for the day.
“You’re rich foreigners,” said his boss. “You can afford it.”
“No we’re not,” I said. “We are teachers in China. We’re not real foreigners!”
Anyway, it worked out great, he was always right where he told us he would be, and he was a good driver and cute to boot. He was also very quiet while he was driving us around which let my dad and Ryan sleep in the long ride out to the hangingÂ monastery. We saw him the day we were leaving and he came over and took off his hat, shook our hands and wished us well on our travels.
So there you have it. All the info about Datong. Â I hope someone will find it helpful because Lonely Planet, and the internet make traveling in Datong a little confusing. Seeing as it is so close to Beijing, and has some many famous sites I’m a little surprised at the lack of info. But like I said before, the grottoes and hanging monastery make a visit to Datong totally worthwhile, and lack of information shouldn’t stop you.