Datong and Taiyuan
Datong Travel Blog› entry 11 of 20 › view all entries
We continued overland from Beijing to Xian, with a few stops along the way. We took around four days to make the journey.
Our first stop was in Datong. We took an overnight train from Beijing, and arrived early on a cold morning. The hotel we'd picked out of the Lonely Planet didn't appear to be a hotel anymore, and hotels were looking a bit thin on the ground. Eventually we managed to ask at a little noodle shop (not sure how, because we didn't really know the words of Chinese we needed), and they directed us around the back to a small hotel. We tried asking in English whether they had a room, but the lady behind the desk just stared at us. I can't think what else she thought we would be asking. We got the phrasebook out, and all was soon sorted out.
We returned to the noodle shop out on the road, and ordered a bowl of noodles each for breakfast. The noodles were being made and cooked in a large vat of boiling water on the pavement in front of the restaurant. The waiters seemed very keen to talk to us; they wanted coins from our country, but we'd long since got rid of those, so we gave them some Russian coins instead. We bumped into an American couple and chatted to them over breakfast.
After breakfast we got on a bus and headed for the Cloud Ridge Caves. They're a set of caves carved into a cliff face on the outskirts of town.
Back in town we headed to the Nine Dragon Screen. This was decidedly underwhelming, and not worth the entrance fee. It's a wall covered in glazed tiles depicting (wait for it) nine dragons. You walk in, there it is in front of you... and then you walk out again.
Had a great meal in the evening. Managed to phone home from a phonebox in the street, but the money went really quickly so only got a couple of minutes to chat. We tried to find an Internet cafe, but with no luck.
We headed back to the hotel and discovered that the water had been turned off in our room. I went to reception and, learning from my earlier attempt to talk to the receptionist, tried to explain in Chinese what the problem was.
We headed out the following morning to make our way to Pingyao. This involved getting a bus to Taiyuan, where we intended to stay the night, and head on the following day to Pingyao. This all became very complicated because it was Sunday, and the buses were different on Sundays. We only found this out later on!
We asked around outside the station, and eventually got on a bus which we were assured was going to the bus station from which the buses to Taiyuan would leave. It seemed to be going OK for a while, comparing where we were with the map of the town we had. But when we left the expected route, we eventually panicked and got off the bus, which by now was heading rapidly out of town. We were now stuck somewhere random, so got in a taxi and tried to explain where we were going. He got the message, but headed off in what appeared to be the wrong direction. We had to insist very strongly to get him to go where we wanted; we assumed that we were being ripped off by being driven somewhere out of town where we would get overcharged for some private bus journey. In the end it turned out that both the bus and taxi would have taken us to the right place, because Sunday buses left from a different bus station on the outskirts of town. Instead we ended up at the small bus station in town, with no buses going to Taiyuan. We decided to head back to the station (right next to the hotel where we'd stayed) and assess our options. When we got there we found a line of minibuses outside going to various places, including Taiyuan. They hadn't been there when we'd set out early in the morning! We managed to negotiate a good price, and in four hours or so we were in Taiyuan.
On arrival we decided to buy our train ticket out, to make sure that we could get on the train we wanted. It turned out that the trains to Xian were already full, and we'd have to wait three days, so we thought we might as well make an additional detour to Luoyang, which hadn't been on our original itinerary, but to which we could get a train sooner, meaning we'd arrive in Xian no later than going direct. We booked the ticket and also bought a return to Pingyao. It was only later that we worked out that the train from Taiyuan to Luoyang actually went through Pingyao, so we would be wasting our time returning to Taiyuan. However, apparently if you don't turn up for your bed on a sleeper train they can sell your bed to someone else, so we had to pay a guy in Pingyao to phone up the station in Taiyuan and sort it out for us.
We arrived in Pingyao late at night, and found somewhere to stay by following a guy who was there at the station advertising his guest house. It turned out to be quite a nice place, although the room was a little small. The door was only held in place by a nail or two, which I managed to break off, and Zoe knocked over and broke one of their Thermos flasks, so in effect we probably got the room for free.