Prior to our trip I had never even heard of the city of Datong let alone of the Yungang Caves. A chance encounter with a fellow traveller going the opposite direction to us in Bolshie Koty meant that this was added onto our itinerary.
Datong itself is a pretty soulless and unspectacular city. The local government, for reasons I cannot fathom, tore down the old city only to replace it with a replica old city. Walking around it reminded me of visiting a theme park or an out of town shopping centre.
Anyway, we weren’t here to visit Datong, we were here to visit the Yungang Caves that had been so highly recommended to us all those weeks ago in Russia.
The Yungang Caves were started in 460AD and took around 60 years to complete. There are around 250 caves in all containing statues of Buddha, although there are only 40 of these available to see when you visit. The people who constructed them took inspiration from the cultures that were being discovered through the Silk Road.
The biggest statue was in cave 5, this Buddha was 17m high and still had its gilt paintwork. To preserve the paintwork no photos were allowed in this cave. There were several others which came in just slightly shorter than this.
As well as the statues in the centre of each cave, the cave walls were decorated with hundreds, if not thousands of other Buddha images.
The overall site was very impressive. I was impressed also that the caves themselves had been left alone and not rebuilt despite the Disneyland feel they had managed to give to the rest of the site. Where Buddhas have lost body parts or had been weathered they had left them in the state they have been found in.
To get here had sounded a little complicated when we looked into it. When we had tried to board the number 4 bus across the road from the train station the bus driver was very helpful and gestured us off towards another bus. This was the brightly coloured double decker bus that was parked in front of her bus. It turned out it went right to the front door of the caves and at no extra cost than the alternative which would have involved changing buses at some random point in Datong. I cannot get over how helpful people are here, even when they don’t speak a word of English and we can’t understand them they still persist and help you.
I would recommend a trip to Datong to see the caves, I wouldn’t recommend hanging out there too long though as besides the caves there isn’t an awful lot to see, except perhaps the Hanging Monastery which we skipped as we weren’t sure how to get there easily.