When you look at most established guide books (Lonely planet, rough guide etc), you will find this place listed as one of the highlights of Datong and we agree.
Like every other attraction we have visisted so far, we decided to fly solo or at least get there on our own and not with a tour guide. I’ve nothing against tour guides but when doing a long term trip, it’s often cheaper to do the trip on your own.
If you’re not doing this with a guide, make sure you research the way there and also the way back.
Local taxi drivers will happily take you all the way there and bring you back but that is, as expected, more expensive than going by bus.
Our hotel is a wee bit away from the bus station and the bus station has also moved to a new address, which some people didn’t seem to know about – including the taxi driver we got in the morning to take us there.
After being unable to find where the bus departed from, we chanced our luck and walked into a lovely big 5 star hotel (The grand palace hotel) and asked at the reception if they knew where to go and they did.
One of the reception staff wrote down the name and address of the bus station in Mandarin so that we can give that to the taxi driver. She then asked when we were going, when we said ‘now’, she came out of the hotel with us, spoke to a taxi driver and sent us to the bus station.
We weren’t staying in this hotel so we don’t know if we’d have got the level of service if they knew we were not guests but never mind, it got us to where we had to be.
From there, the bus to Hunyuan takes you in the general direction of the monastry. And then it stops in the middle of the road and another waiting taxi picks you up and takes you the rest of the journey.
On to the monstery now, it was originally built about 1,500 years ago and one of the trip advisor reviews that I read suggested that whoever built it must have been a bit crazy. It’s part way up a mountain and on the side of it.
I have no ideas what possessed them to do such a thing but I’m quite glad that they did as it’s a fantastic thing to visit.
Apparently, it’s unique in the sense that it was built for 3 different religions – Buddishm, Confucianism and Taoism. I’m not going to pretend that I know the differences between the three but I’m sure you can find this out on the t’internet.
To enter the monastery, you have to pay an entrance fee to the grounds followed by another fee to get in to the building itself. When you get in, there’s a very narrow and steep flight of stairs to take you into the first part of it.
I’ve never been into a hobbits house but if I had, I imagine it would be something similar to this. Health and safety was clearly never taken into account when this place was built. Oh yeah, it’s made from wood as well. There are one or two parts which you can hear the wood creaking below your feet.
There are some railings that you are not much bigger than waist height. The structure itself is pretty narrow and if you have any hint of vertigo, you will hate it.
When you get as high up as you can get, you are rewarded by some brilliant views. Like a lot of tourist attractions, a photograph doesn’t do it justice.
Regarding transport, I’ve mentioned that we took the bus to get there but on the way back, we were told that there were no buses. Either that means that you have to buy a return ticket, get a taxi back (which we did), go on a tour or it could be that the local drivers were saying that to force you into paying for a taxi back.
As it turned out, we shared a taxi with a nice couple from Liverpool who had been travelling for close to 2 years. They had already been to a lot of the places that we are planning to go to so chatting to them about their trip was good as it’s always nice to hear the thoughts of people who have been to places that you are planning to go to.
To avoid the toll roads, the driver went the scenic route which meant that we got to see some parts of the country that we would have missed if we went on a tour so that was a nice wee bonus.