Just 16km west of Datong, the monumental Yungang Caves, a set of Buddhist grottoes carved into the side of a sandstone cliff, are a must. Built around 400 AD at a time of religious revival, the caves were the first and grandest of the three major Buddhist grottoes, the other two being the Longmen Caves in Luoyang and the Mogao Caves in Gansu. These are the best preserved, but prepare to be disappointed by their surroundings – the atmosphere has for years been blighted by nearby coal mines, and the benefits afforded by the recent addition of parkland have been eroded by a huge and even more recently built shopping mall. However, it’s still well worth the trip.

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