It is another beautiful day here if a bit cool at 14 this morning. We have 344 km to Datong and then a further 19 km west to the Yungang Grottoes.
We are leaving this early as we need to get to the 5 th ring road and then across Beijing and out before the traffic mayhem. We did not too badly actually and we were out and 120 km away by 9 am, Leaving the city we again had some stunning views of the Badaling section of the Great Wall.
It is also strange in a country we think of as crowded with 1.4 billion that there is so little urbanization. Between the high density cities there is nothing. The highway exits can be 50 km apart. We stopped for some breakfast at 9, gassed up as we are in the same county and can use the pumps, and then hit the road again.
They are such concrete rule followers here and it can be very frustration. For example you can ride you bike to the pump, but once you have the gas you must push it past all the pumps and out of the gas up area. So that could be 5 or 20 meters…. we backed up 3 and rode away.
We had to run the gauntlet of 4 toll stations as well today, which to be honest is quite stressful. In Beijing Big bikes are allowed on the highway and it it 1 RNB per 2 km (6 RNB/USD) and so very expensive. The driver paid 1700 RNB to get to us at the border and this is one reason why booking a tour here is so expensive. As our guide says everything in China costs. It is the best when there are a few big trucks waiting on the far right as we can sneak up beside them and get by easily. There is a wide lane and they pull over far left to reach the toll taker and thus we have lots of room to get by. Occasionally if they see us coming the run out or wave us to stop, but we must keep going. Dan and I don’t feel that great about this, but this is the way it is here. The law says no motorcycles (scooters, 3 wheel jobs with large….. by the millions here that can only go 50 km/h) and they can not just their thinking to the big bike that can keep pace with the traffic or more.
What is amazing in a country with this population is the vast tracts of nothing outside the cities. Here there is little urbanization. There is also little farming because of the short season. The landscape gets more and more industrial closer to Datong and the air is a dense fog of pollution.
It was another 150 km to have a break on the side of the road and then 80 more to the Grottoes. The approach to Datong is a sight from Mad Max. Our eyes were burning and the massive cloud of solution over the city is insane. They burn coal to make electricity to sell to the south of China. It seems a high price to pay if you love here. Driving around the outskirts of the city it looks post apocalyptic. On the west side of the city the sky is clear and the air quality much better.
The Yungang Grottoes are rock-cut architecture and one of the three most famous ancient Buddhist sculpture sites in China. The stone carvings are from the 5 th and 6 th century. The grottoes are excavated in a sandstone cliff 2600 ft long and 30-60 feet high.
They are such sticklers about the parking every where here too. Motorcycles must park in motorcycle spots. It does not matter that we have 4 huge bikes and the spot is for 4 mopeds. There is no way they will let you put any number of bikes in one car spot even if the lot is empty. “They are for cars”.
The first section is where you visit the buddhist temple that is modern and about 30 years old. It is on an island in a man made lake.
The grottoes are on the cliff side. The most ancient and most elaborate are spectacular. There is an ancient wooden facade and the excavated cave is inside. The carving are very detailed and the size of the Buddhas inside are huge. Some of the painting has been restored up to 12 times.
There is quite a gauntlet of vendors on the way out and samples a few local treats.
We had on the itinerary to back track 60 km and then ride 30 are to visit the hanging temple, but we decided against this as we were leaving the grottoes at 330. We also decided to change hotel locations to a Huairen 55 km south of Datong.It is much smaller and not industrial. The access is easy off the G35 and is on a 6 lane road with almost no cars! Are we in China???
The hotel restaurant staff having a pep talk.
For dinner we headed down the street and had the best meal yet. The staff was so pleased we liked it and they all wanted a photo with us.
Today we have an easy day of only 359 km to Pingyao ancient city.
We set out at 730 and made an easy entry to the highway. It is easier to get gas on the highway and they always let you use the gun at the pump. Check out the shoes of the woman sweeping the station.
Check out the shoes!
More “Toll trauma”
We stopped after 125 km to take a break and make a coffee in the parking lot. This drew quite a crowd. The scenery today more green with some terracing of the hill sides. We had a few set backs today as it rained on and off and even before it rained on us the road was wet and filthy and we were covered in dirt. Almost too late we put on the over suits. About 30 min later the sun’s out, but we were trapped in a massive 10 km long traffic jam. We pulled over to un-suit as is was now 27 degrees and then we had to drive backwards on the highway thru the trucks to get over 2 lanes to lane split thru the “parked” 3 lanes of cars and trucks. The cause was a semitrailer on its side and they had all lanes merging into 1.
It was smooth sailing after this and we arrived to Pingyao at 2 pm. We has some lunch at the hotel and then Mr Tang dropped us at the old city gates about 2 km away. We spent the rest of the day and into the evening wandering the old city.
Bird fortune teller!
In the dark you can loose your bearing here and we were glad to have an iPhone compass to fine the north city gate in the dark.