Camping Beside the Great Wall & Buddhist Caves

Living in China comes with both challenges and rewards. One of those great rewards is being able to explore the deep culture of China and the surrounding countries. Asia is full of new and exciting places and I normally set off a few times a year to explore this great continent. The target of this particular journey was a medium-sized city called DaTong located in Shanxi province in the heart of China. Eight years ago DaTong was known as one of the most polluted cities in the world due to air pollution from coal mines. However, when me and my group arrived in DaTong we were pleasantly surprised to see clean blue skies and streets. It seems as though the municipal government has done a lot to dispel their tainted reputation and I would now say it is one of the cleanest cities in Shanxi province.


 

 

Camping Beside the Great Wall

 

Image of part of our group just trekking along, I am third with the blue shirt

Our group first started on our trip to this wall from a city in the southern parts of Shaxi called “Yuncheng”. We decided to try on the newly constructed speed train to our destination “Taiyuan” which is the capital of Shanxi province. Personally, I much prefer the speed train to flying or the slower, older trains. Once we reached Taiyuan, we made our way to the bus depot and grabbed a four hour bus to DaTong (the city mentioned earlier). We took a taxi to an apartment we booked (for all nine of us, haha!) and then took a taxi the next day to yet another train station to a much smaller city called “TianZhen”. This is where we would start our hike up a much older and more authentic part of The Great Wall, looking for a suitable camping spot.

Unlink the sections of the wall you may see in Beijing or Tianjian (which is mostly renovated due to tourism), this part of the wall was made from mud bricks and had crumbled in many areas. There was a sheep farmer crossing some of the mountains to the left side of the wall as we made our hike up but that was the only person around for quite some distance. After hiking up the wall for a few hours, we decided on a nice flat area. We all agreed to start collecting fire wood and pitch up our tents as the evening sun was making way for the cold night wind.

The wind was picking up as it was a very hilly area and increasingly difficult to start a fire. With our combined efforts, we managed to collect a lot of dried and dead wood. We also built up a good sized rock pit to block the wind. However, the wind was pushing hard but we finally got a nice sized flame going and everyone gathered around.

Actual image of the fire we managed to build up, very warm and inviting.

The night was pretty cold and it started to rain early morning but it could have been a lot worse. Actually, the rain didn’t last too long and a beautiful midst rolled off the mountains and then the sun came out. We decided to break camp and head down the wall towards a small village where we caught a ride with the only young couple back to TianZhen. We were going to stay and camp around TianZhen for one more night before making our way back to DaTong for the caves but the locals were a little bit too strange for our linking. I guess they weren’t really strange but more like they have never seen foreigners before and constantly gathered around us. Some children will following us for hours while we tried to find a good place to camp. I guess none of us liked the idea of being surrounding constantly while we camped, (kind of defeats the purpose of camping) so we decided to head back to DaTong.


 

 

The Buddhist Caves & Grottos

When we got back to DaTong, one of our group members found a Chinese friend that offered to let us stay in her apartment (it was more like a training center) for a couple of days. As we all wanted to budget for this trip and stay with the sort of “backpacker” feel of it, we agreed. The next morning, most of us decided to make our way to one of the main attractions in DaTong which is the Buddhist Caves.

These caves are comprised of about 200 small and large caves that had thousands of statues of various form of Buddha. Because it was during the National Day holiday here in China, the place was pretty packed but not as bad as we expected. We were still able to move around freely. We took a local public bus to get there but we were stopped in a huge traffic jam. So we decided to get off the bus and do some bushwacking through a nearby forest, it didn’t really speed things up but it was a lot more fun than just sitting on a bus waiting to move a few inches.

 

Our group at one of the larger Buddha statues. 

Unfortunately, many of the Buddhas were partially destroyed due to the Cultural Revolution. This was a time in China when many ancient items were destroyed at the suggestion of Mao ZeDong (the founder of modern China). It was a pity to see some of these ancient wonders destroyed but there were still a lot to look at. The area included many temples, a museum, a large park and other activities to keep adventures excited and interested.

While both of these areas are not on the most more popular areas to view during a trip in China, they were both spectacular experiences with smaller crowds. I would highly recommend both to anyone looking to get a deeper view on China in some of the non-top tier cities or areas.

 

If you have any good suggestions or experiences you would like to share about trips around Asia, please do!

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