Pingyao is a small town about 600km southwest of Beijing. It’s great asset are it’s mostly untouched historical buildings – foremost the complete ancient city wall.
China’s best preserved city wall, spanning 6km around ancient Pingyao
Hundreds of old Chinese courtyard homes and business buildings that give you a feeling of old China
Empty cobbled streets when walking through during the night
Outstanding accommodation in two courtyard ho(s)tels
Being overwhelmed by huge Beijing I wished for something more mellow for my second stop in China. After some research in the guide-book, I discovered the small but ancient city of Pingyao and decided to stop there on my way to Xi’an.
As Chinese trains are known to be quite good, I decided for that option to head there. Only hard sleeper was left when I booked but it turned out to be sufficient (it differs mainly from Russian Platskart by having an additional level of berths on top of each other, making it three berths on top of each other, lower, middle and upper. The amount of space was minimal and I ended up hanging my front backpack beside my berth using a carabiner in order to have some storage room.
Concerning the booking of a sleeper train in China: Later I found out that there seems to be a certain contingent of sleeper seats available per city. This means a ticket from Beijing to Pingyao in the soft sleeper class (2nd class) may not be available any more resulting in the office clerk offering hard sleeper to you (which is basically Russian Platskart, 3rd class open bench car). A trick to still get a soft sleeper berth is simply choosing the berth from the city prior to your point of departure. Their seat contingent may still be sufficient. The price will be a little higher – but comfort will be, too.
When I arrived at Pingyao early next morning I walked towards the city center and was happy when I beheld the famous city wall for the first time in early morning mist. It was huge! Way higher than the Great Wall (alright, but with a length of mere 6km also a little shorter…).
After I found a Chinese style accommodation (with miniature table to sit at cross-legged) I quickly made into town. Having met Lucia and Mark yet another time on the journey we had common lunch and visited the Confucius Temple before I headed on myself, first climbing up the city walls. It was very interesting to see the difference of the enclosed old town and the outer new town of Pingyao. The old remained quite intact, partly with buildings hundreds of years old. Especially the many courtyard houses were very distinctive, as well as several temples and government buildings. The outer town was… New! Walking through it one day I did not find anything worth mentioning.
As in Beijing, smog was a serious problem in Pingyao. Seeing from one side of the wall to the other was still possible (I was told in winter it can get difficult), but it appeared in mist. Also the sun had some problems breaking through at times…
Being back down from the wall, I started discovering courtyard houses. Quite interesting were those of early bodyguard services (basically mercenaries). Those were special businesses offering the protection of persons or goods while being on the road. All members/employees received special training on weapons and in hand-to-hand combat. Their headquarters consisted of several buildings (for administrative purposes as well as to receive customers and house the warriors) and always a training ground (often with a yin-yang sign on the floor). It was quite interesting to see how that kind of business had flourished in old China and especially in Pingyao.
There are quite many buildings of “historic significance” in Pingyao. Visitors have to buy a three-day pass in order to pass all the installed automatic turnstiles in front of buildings – including the city wall.
Especially at night Pingyao had a nice atmosphere about it: Many red lanterns were lit everywhere, be it in main streets or narrow side streets. Still one could find also small and quiet alleys and feel set back a couple of hundred years, hearing nothing but his own footsteps on the stones (unless a scooter just happens to race by).
Three days were more than enough to discover Pingyao however. Thus I was happy when I finally continued my travel to Xi’an.