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trip to Datong: advice sought

trip to Datong: advice sought

Old Sep 25, 11, 12:48 pm
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trip to Datong: advice sought

So we are also planning to go to Datong

Three questions for which advice would be most appreciated

(1) should we book our tickets to Datong and our hotels and then book a tour there or should we book a all in tour from beijing? We are happy independent travellers Any tips on guides/tours most appreciated also

(2) Any recommendations on hotels in Datong?

(3) Would doing the trip at least one way by day train be interesting??
And the other way would overnight sleeper or flight be the most sensible?
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Old Sep 25, 11, 1:48 pm
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Are you round-tripping from Beijing or onward to a 3rd location? I'll assume the former and that your trip is within the next few months.

Flights--Datong is not blessed with many, so scratch that option on grounds of inconvenience.
Trains--About a 6+ hour journey. Eats up a chunk of a day if you choose a day train, and not all that scenic. However, "overnight" train is almost too short, so you'd need to choose between a wee-hour departure/morning arrival or an early evening departure/wee-hour arrival on the "better" K trains. There are two trains leaving at the "reasonable hour" of about 11 pm that get to Datong about 5-6 am--but they are older rolling stock and one is hard seat only; the other has sleepers but may not be easy to get. Your best train option may be the K615 that leaves 15:40, arrives 21:48 so that you still get a good chunk of useable daytime in BJ and a full night's sleep in a comfortable bed in Datong. Soft sleeper about RMB 160, hard sleeper RMB 110 and for this time period, you might have a chance of procuring yourself if you do it as soon as you get to Beijing. Get at least one bottom bunk so you two can sit if you don't want to stretch out and nap.

Coach--From Liuliqiao long distance station, usually at least once per hour from 07:00-18:00, RMB 120 approx. Normally shorter than train, 4-5 hours by expressway. This would be my own first choice going westbound, except if heavy fog month such as November.

Eastbound if returning back to Beijing, I'd take a train as the highway in this direction is often full of coal trucks from late summer through winter, and traffic backups can be serious if you are unlucky. If you can't get a sleeper even on a day train, then hard seat is surviveable for this distance--just try to get on a K train since they are faster. However, if in the unlikely event you can't get a train ticket, coach is best, and there are also minibuses leaving from front of Datong train station for Beijing, but might need a little negotiation and the ride could get hairy if you have a wild driver.

If you are a little flexible on time and tighter in budget, you can make it up on the fly. Usually there's a CITS office (or tout) hanging out at the bus and train stations looking for business. You can negotiate for a day of transport to a list of places you choose, and you pay entries and the rest. They also have standard tours for the Caves, Hanging Monastery, sometimes Wooden Pagoda (in Yingxian, and I highly recommend), Datong city sights. If you are on a really tight time frame, you might want to contact a Datong-based agency and just have them set up a pickup at train or bus station, take you around to where you want, maybe deal with the entry tickets and hotel if you want, and return transportation tickets. You do the food as you go. You can also do this through a Beijing agency, but it might be a little bit more.

Note that due to distances, you can't do all three major sights (Yungang Caves, Hanging Monastery, Wooden Pagoda complex) all in one day. You can do 2 out of 3 plus some minor in-Datong sights. The Hanging Monastery is farthest away. Then the third major for one-half day. Wutaishan is even farther, would require at least an additional day, and is best done as an overnight staying there, not daytripping from Datong city.

Hotels: I stayed at a pretty good Chinese hotel, I think it was the Datong Hotel and was about RMB 200-250/night, but this was several years ago. There are newer hotels now, but Datong is not flush with international brands. I often use www.sinohotel.com for domestic China bookings when I do it myself.

You did not mention the possibility of visiting Pingyao which would be a very good add while you are over that way and higher priority than Wutaishan, but it depends on how much total time you have for the excursion out of Beijng. For this, I'd recommend Beijing-Datong by bus or train as per above, Datong-Pingyao either by road (bus/station change in Taiyuan) or flight Datong-Taiyuan then bus to Pingyao, return Pingyao to Taiyuan by bus then bullet train Taiyuan back to Beijing (3.75 hours).

Last edited by jiejie; Sep 26, 11 at 2:33 am
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Old Oct 7, 11, 4:04 pm
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I stayed in the Holiday Inn in June, which I thought was pretty good. Spent a long time getting to the Hanging Monastery, and thought it was a waste of time. I'd advise flying in, doing the Yungang, spending the night, then flying back the next morning. I took the train back (2300-0500) which was comfortable, but awkward when arriving. Luckily, I was staying at another HI in BJ, so was able to get the Datong hotel to call ahead and I could check in when I arrived at 0530.
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Old Oct 7, 11, 5:16 pm
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Originally Posted by shefgab View Post
I stayed in the Holiday Inn in June, which I thought was pretty good. Spent a long time getting to the Hanging Monastery, and thought it was a waste of time. I'd advise flying in, doing the Yungang, spending the night, then flying back the next morning. I took the train back (2300-0500) which was comfortable, but awkward when arriving. Luckily, I was staying at another HI in BJ, so was able to get the Datong hotel to call ahead and I could check in when I arrived at 0530.
Let's do the math assuming a do-it-yourself, no-guide visit to minimize costs.
R-T airfare per person all-in = RMB 520 x 2 = 1040 x 2 ppl = RMB 2080. Caves entry = RMB 150 x 2 ppl = RMB 300.
Exclude accommodation, food and local transport since one would pay for that wherever one was.
Total RMB 2380 or USD $370 for about 30 hours to see a bunch of caves.

Hmm, most experienced independent travelers wouldn't look upon this as a very cost-effective method to see one major sight. It's a nice sight, but by itself probably not reason enough to take the trouble to go to Datong. Better to stay in Beijing municipality and do some more cost-effective exploring there.

FWIW, I'm in the camp that likes the Hanging Monastery and can appreciate the engineering of the thing, but it is a sight that polarizes visitors who seem to either love it or think it's a waste of time, given that it takes about 1.75 hours from Datong city each way to access it. However, the ticket price has been raised to RMB 130 pp, typical of the price-gouging for entry fees that is becoming epidemic in China, so you may want to research it before deciding whether to bother or not. I think the Wooden Pagoda (Muta) complex at Yingxian is better value for RMB 60 (I think that's current) and for cultural, historical, and architectural significance, and can also be done on the way to Pingyao or Wutaishan, which makes the excursion proposition from Beijing a better value for the time/cost/effort spent going to this province.

Last edited by jiejie; Oct 7, 11 at 5:29 pm
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