The Hengshan Hanging Monastery & Yungang Grottoes (Datong)

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The city of Datong is currently a massive building site. This does not make it a desirable tourist destination. Fortunately it is located right in-between two of the best attractions in Northern China.

The Hanging Monastery at Hengshan Mountain is over 1,500 years old and defies belief as it hangs on the edge of a sheer rock face.

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The temple is located some 65km south-east of Datong, you wind through mountain roads on your 2 hour journey, which is quite a feast for the eyes to keep you distracted whilst the taxi does his best to almost crash into oncoming traffic.

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Sadly, the temple was closed the day we visited. Heavy rain the day before had caused rock falls in the area and, uncharacteristically for China, they decided to play it safe and only let tourists view the temple from a safe distance. If you know someone who can speak Chinese, it may be worth calling them in advance to insure it is open.

The regular entry price had been reduced to 24 yuan ($4.50), we are told the full entry fee for adults is somewhere between 80 and 124… We don’t know why the information varies so greatly! We only paid 15 yuan because we used our sneaky “student” card – something we recommend for all budget travellers, regardless of your student status.

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The monastery balances precariously on what looks like just a few thin wooden struts!

It was still great to see the monastery, even from a distance. More details on transport options are coming at the bottom of this article.

After a short stop we headed back to Datong for lunch before heading to the highlight of the day, if not one of the highlights of all our time in China! Rated as one of the best UNESCO sites in the world, the Yungang grottoes did not disappoint!

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Described by our host in Datong as “The Buddha Caves”, that litteral description may sum up the physical reality but aesthetically this astounding network of caves is simply awe inspiring. Consisting of at least 252 caves and including at least 51,000 buddha statues and statuettes, someone had some serious time on their hands when they began this amazing undertaking in the 5th century CE.

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We are dwarfed by this 11 meter high Buddha

Both the quality and quantity of the workmanship lead to this attraction more than living up to the hype. Even better, the restorations have not become reconstructions. A tendency in China to “re-build” old works, like the great wall of China, often ruin the authenticity. At Yungan Grottoes, although there are modern buildings surrounding the site, the vast majority of the works in the caves are as they were when they were built – minus the passage of time of course!

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One of the main caves has a wooden facade, built in the 16th Century.

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Megsy does her buddha impression in one of the many empty caves.

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Some of the statues are open to the outside world, not in caves at all!

Prices and how to get there

Entry to Yungang grottoes is 120 yuan (about $22), We got the student price of 60 yuan! On the actual ticket it says 150 and 75 respectively, so maybe there is a time when the prices are higher!?!

There are two options for transport, bus or taxi. If you intend to see both sites in one day then taxi is by far the best option. For one, if you get 4 people to share the taxi then the price is barely higher per person than taking busses and is far more convenient. We payed 260 yuan (65 yuan per person) for a taxi (bartered down from 400 yuan) to the Hanging Monastery and then to be dropped at the Grottoes.

To put this in perspective, the bus is 52 yuan return from Datong to Hengshan, then you have to pay a further fee for a taxi to and from the bus station to the monastery itself. The bus takes longer and you may not have a seat… So as you can see, find some friends and get a taxi!

The number 3 bus runs between Datong and the Grottoes all day and costs only 1 yuan! So, after the taxi drops you, spend as long as you like at the grottoes (We took 4 hours) and then jump on the bus right outside the entrance gate.

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