Although travelling solo to China was a grand adventure and I absolutely loved the experience of being alone in a foreign country, there were certainly some bumpy moments. After quite successfully getting myself around in Beijing, I was feeling pretty confident in my abilities! Then I went to Datong and my faith went out the window.
I arrived in the city early in the morning tired out of my mind after getting around two hours of sleep the two nights previous. The trouble started almost instantly. Without further ado, here is everything I did wrong in Datong and my thoughts on how to avoid getting lost and crying in a cab.
Knowing where to get off a bus is the most important part!
Make sure you know where to get off the bus. You can know the bus route and where to get on, and that’s great, but then partway through, you will quickly realize the problem. However, if you panic partway through and get off randomly (which I did), just flag a cab.
If you only have a limited amount of time, go to the place you’re most excited to see first.
Datong has two main attractions: the Hanging Monastery and the Yungang Grottoes. I desperately wanted to see the Hanging Monastery, and figured I’d go to the Yungang Grottoes but I wasn’t really that excited. The grottoes were much easier to get to, so I went on my first day because I was exhausted. Turned out they were beautiful, so as a bright spot in this part of my trip I had an awesome time reveling in the joy of blue sky. However, mishaps the next day meant I didn’t get to go to the Hanging Monastery….leaving me wishing I had done it the day before!
Have key phrases written down in the local language.
My Lonely Planet had a ton of phrases, but it did NOT have “main bus station”, which turned out to be a problem. I dropped my luggage off at the train station and caught a bus that was supposed to take me to the bus station within 10 minutes. 45 minutes later I had seen no sign of a bus station and I panicked and got off the bus. My parents kindly sent me the translation for bus station, but apparently it was wrong because the cab I flagged down took me to the TRAIN STATION. 2 hours later, I was exactly where I had started: the train station.
Look for the silver lining.
By the time all this had happened, I couldn’t risk trying the Hanging Monastery again; I was too worried about missing my train. I had to cut my losses and figure out what to do all day. I know, I know, poor me….nothing to do in China. Sadly, I found Datong just as uninteresting as I had heard it was, so I ended up sitting in my hotel all day. However, I was able to look for the silver lining. Staying in meant I had time to try the #1 ranked restaurant on TripAdvisor, ‘Feelings Restaurant’. The moment it opened I headed over and had some of the best food I had on my trip.
This meal came to a total of under $10, which was amazing. Definitely a silver lining. The other good thing about Datong was the cost of cabs: I never paid more than 15RMB ($3), so my mistakes certainly didn’t break the bank.
It’ll all work out eventually.
Ridiculously, getting to my hotel so I could hang out there for the day was one of the hardest parts of my time in Datong. You guessed it – this is when I cried in the cab! I had a lovely female cab driver who seemed deeply concerned for my sanity, and as we repeated ‘GARDEN HOTEL’ and ‘INCOMPREHENSIBLE MANDARIN’ at each other I became increasingly worried that I was never going to get out of here. Then she said the word ‘jiudian’, and something clicked! I knew that word!!! It meant hotel!! Then all it took was a call to my parents to find the address, some confusing phone-tapping and a few more tears, and I was back in the luxurious lobby of the Garden Hotel.