The ancient city of Pingyao is a well conserved, centuries old city surrounded by an equally old wall. This ancient city is within the city of Pingyao, Shanxi Province, China. Pingyao Ancient City is so well preserved that it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site!
Although Pingyao doesn’t have an airport (the closest one is Taiyuan Airport), it does have 2 train stations. One is the regular train and the other is the high speed train. Taiyuan is the capital of the Shanxi province so once you reach there, you can catch either trains to Pingyao, a bus or catch a taxi. It’s about a 45 min. taxi drive. If travelling by train, here are a few things to keep in mind other than they were under renovations so I couldn’t get a decent shot 😃:
1) When you board the train, a train conductor exchanges your ticket with a plastic card and before your stop he/she will take your card.
2) If possible research how many stops away your stop is and keep count because I didn’t see any English signage at all, anywhere.
3) I highly suggest booking your tickets in the cars with a bunk beds or private cabin, because the regular cabins with the seats, well those seats look really uncomfortable and the people who buy standing tickets are standing around you. The cars with bunks have 6 bunks (3 on each side) per section with a small fold out table and two fold down seats in the aisle above which is the luggage rack. I booked a top bunk and a bottom bunk just in case one of us needed to sleep or if it got too crowded, which it didn’t.
4) If possible get the hotel to pick you up, the fee they charge isn’t much more than what you’d pay taking the street taxis or motorized trishaws and probably less of a hassle too.
Although the train stations are relatively close to the Ancient City, I don’t suggest you walk because the pavement isn’t all that smooth (from the high speed train station) and it seems that every 10 steps you take, there’s a curb. It was so frustrating for us, with our wheeled luggage, that we stopped and contemplated flagging a taxi, no sooner had we decide to, a motorized trishaw came sputtering up the street, in oncoming traffic, with an elderly driver waving an arm at us!
When he came up, we showed him the picture of our hotel he nodded, we agreed on a price and off we went. In the wrong direction! We kept trying to tell him he was going the wrong way and he just kept nodding, pointing and smiling. A few blocks later we turned into an alley but before any negative thoughts could pop into my head, I recognized the hotel, it just wasn’t the one I booked our stay in. So the driver goes inside and comes out with a lady who spoke a bit of English and she welcomed us. Even though I told her this isn’t the hotel I booked, she said it was ok she has room and we can check in now…sigh, gotta admire their persistence, tho! Anyways, without being too stern I managed to get her to tell the driver to drop us at the main entrance of the Ancient City and we were on our way.
The reason why we needed to be dropped at the main entrance is that motorized vehicles are not allowed inside the ancient city walls. Within the walls they use electric cars (glorified golf carts) and scooters. When you get closer to the city center, however, even those are banned. So it’s either bicycle or walking. As soon as we stepped off the trishaw, it felt so surreal. The architecture was historic, there was street food a plenty, craftsmen and women making/selling their goods along side more modern retail shops. Modern dressed people, older styled fashion, inclusive of children who’s pants had not bottoms. Yup you guessed it, when they need to go they just did it right then and there. Nobody reacts to it so I’m guessing that’s normal.
Other than being famous for it’s extremely well preserved structures, Pingyao is famed for being the financial hub of China back in 16th century and reputed to have had the very first bank in China which is now a museum. This museum is one of at least 16 historic venues you can enter and check out when you buy the “Town Pass” ticket. You’ll know if it’s an attraction needing the ticket because there’s a turn style gate you need to scan the ticket on (sometimes there’s someone there to scan the ticket for you). Keep in mind there are a handful of temples that are free to enter as well and a museum or two that’s not included with the “Town Pass” ticket. Budget two days just to see everything listed on the Town Pass.
As you move further away from the city center, I would advise you not to walk into any open doorways as it may be the entrance to someone’s home. Yup found that out the “hard way”, lol. It’s actually pretty cool, you enter the doorway which leads to a courtyard type area functioning as the common area with all the other room’s doors facing the courtyard.
If you’re not a big fan historical stuff and centuries old architecture then maybe you can find joy in the street food. There’s food all over the place! Some establishments have a steamer right on the sidewalk! You can either eat it right there or sit down inside the shop or maybe the seating area in the alleys. Checking out what was inside the steamers was kinda fun too. Sometimes it’s dumpling type things other times it was some type of bun (with or without filling). The best, in my opinion, was the “Pingyao Beef” which only came out after dusk. They set up fold up tables/shelf things in front of a shop that’s closed for the day or in front of a wall/empty space and proceed to sell chunks of cooked meat, “Famous Pingyao Beef” and other stuff. So you go up and tell the vendor how much (either in weight or $) you want and he/she cuts off pieces to weigh and puts the piece(s) in a bag. I had 3 or 4 servings just walking down one street, it was so good! My daughter, on the other hand, preferred these satay stick looking things that were some kind of meat, she went back for thirds then went for some gourmet popsicles!
If you’re short on time, the one thing that, in my opinion you shouldn’t miss, is walking the wall. Keep in mind that they close around 6pm and you can get some really nice sunset shots off the wall don’t be like me though I got rushed off the wall just after finishing setting up my gear. The “security” guys are on bikes so if you don’t pack up and go (or walk too slow) they’ll come back and rush you, lol. Keep in mind that you can’t get off the wall anytime you like, there’s only so many places to get on/off the wall and some are closed. The ancient city of Pingyao is definitely a must visit if you’re in the area and have a few days to spare. Better yet, time your trip to coincide with one of the arts related festivals!
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