China travel- Datong and the Hanging Temple

As Datong used to be a capital of a regional dynasty in the 3rd to 5th centuries, it features several historical attractions in addition to the Yungang Grottoes. Foremost among these is the 1,500-year-old Hanging Temple. It doesn’t exactly hang, but it is an elegant wooden temple complex that is built onto a cliff wall. It already looks unbelievable in photos but it is more impressive in real. Sixty-five km from Datong, the Hanging Temple is located within Hengshan, which is also a major attraction in its own right as one of China’s most sacred mountains. As the temple, which was built during the 4th century AD, is precariously mounted on the cliff wall, it is narrow and visitors enter in a one-way direction from top to bottom.
Another historic sight is the Sakyamuni Pagoda, built in 1056, the oldest wooden pagoda in the country. The attractive, large, multi-layered tower stands 67m. While it is impressive that such a tall wooden pagoda could survive for so long, visitors cannot ascend it. I visited this pagoda as part of a day-trip arranged by my hostel to the Hanging Temple and while they are one hour apart, the pagoda is worth seeing as a secondary attraction. That said, the public toilet in the temple grounds was the nastiest I’ve ever seen, which forced me to almost run out without using it, and that is saying something (the only detail I’ll provide is no running water) given how many bad washrooms I’ve been to in China.

Aside from the Yungang Grottoes, Datong is a relatively nondescript and not-so-prosperous city. There are a couple of temples, Huayuan Monastery, a huge compound with several halls and a pagoda, and the Shanhua Temple, which features some attractive wooden buildings. The temples are more sleek than most traditional temples in China, with less animal and deity statues on the curved roofs. The Huayuan Monastery looked impressive, but there is a distinct lack of authenticity as only three of its buildings are original, as an employee told me. Meanwhile, another difference is that Huayuan Monastery’s entrance faces east unlike many Chinese temples, due to the Khitans being sun worshippers.

Datong had a mayor who had huge ambitions to build it up into a tourist mecca, which culminated in creating a new “ancient city centre” and putting up towering, brand-new city walls to replicate ancient walls that had been torn down decades earlier. However, this mayor got transferred to the provincial capital Taiyuan, so the city wall was not completed. In addition, the plan saw thousands of residents relocated and homes destroyed. While the wall looks impressive, it is completely fake so I didn’t bother to visit it.



This might look impressive but the wall and towers are all fake.


6 thoughts on “China travel- Datong and the Hanging Temple

  1. I don’t remember seeing the city wall when I went. It looks like the one in Suzhou. Let’s not say fake, let’s say rebuilt xD

    The nastiest toilet I’ve seen was in Inner Mongolia. Spoiler alert: it was a hole in a cement floor from which you could see a lake made of… you know what xD


    1. The walls were built by this mayor who spent a lot and enforced the removal of thousands (maybe tens of) of Datong residents to build the wall as part of a grand plan. I’d heard of this so it kind of put me off visiting the wall. That’s true saying the walls are rebuilt is valid, but another thing is the vast time of many decades between when they were torn down and then rebuilt. I didn’t know Suzhou had a giant city wall too!

      I’ve heard the toilets in Inner Mongolia are nasty and now I know why. I wonder if that is a cultural thing to have open uncovered latrines or just that they’d prefer not to despoil the environment.


        1. Yes, many Chinese cities had walls that were torn down by the Communists in the 1950s. What I meant is I didn’t know Suzhou had preserved or rebuilt its city wall as Nanjing and X’ian are the only two big Chinese cities with preserved walls I know of. How is Suzhou’s city wall? Beijing just has a few parts of its wall like Deshengmen and Zhengyangmen (Qianmen).


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