The lonely planet describes Pingyao as what you would imagine when thinking of China. What it’s referring to is the old city which avoided heavy redevelopment that has happened across China. This means the centre so has many of its traditional buildings, most of which are now part of the heritage and can be visited on the combined city wide ticket. The flip side of the town still having its old charm, being recommended by everyone and fairly accessible from many hubs is that it is a massive tourist town with the streets lined with shops selling the same rubbish and many a tourist.
I didn’t mind the touristy feel really after about a week of seeing only a handful of travellers, it was still easy to escape by slipping down a side street into the tiny weaving roads through the residential section. I hit many dead ends exploring and probably wandered into a few back yards, it can be difficult to tell.
The hostel was as good as I expected, with super comfy beds, a great courtyard to relax in and very helpful staff. I spent a full day smashing through all the sites recommended, the walls and countless old buildings; my personal favourite being the marshal arts building that had loads of pictures, weapons and even a training square with replicas you play about with!
Pingyao scored highly for its food. Within the city walls the majority is apparently rubbish and highly overpriced, but my hostel recommended the market outside the West gate of the city. The market lined a narrow road and seemed always full, (I ate all my meals there), bikes even the odd car would try to squeeze through the throng of people, reduced to less than a snails pace trying to get through. The stalls sold all sorts: noodles, rice, pasta styled noodles, burgers, ice cream, kebabs and more. Even better was that any tourists who ventured out that far were rewarded with not having to barter and getting the locals price, 10-50 pence a meal.
It was whilst searching through the stalls to choose a lunch that I bumped into Paulino and Olivia, a couple from Brazil. We had lunch together, and I mentioned I was planning on doing day trip around the outer Pingyao sites the following day and if their hostel couldn’t figure out how to sort it to pop round and mine could.
So the next day after their Chinese speaking hostel had looked at them blankly we set off in a taxi, (worked out cheaper between us than the buses), first to the Wang Family Courtyard then on to the Zhangbi castle and its underground tunnels.
The family courtyard was pretty cool, absolutely massive, and the countless sections became a bit repetitive, we also got very lost in it a few times trying to figure out how to get to a new section. This lostness meant we went into the large hotel section which part of the old courtyards have been very expensively converted into. Got given a tour round several of the suites by the assistant director who had confused us as potential clientele, not poor backpackers! The £80 a night suites with private spas were very tempting though and pretty amazing where you can stay if you were travelling on a Western budget.
Onto the castle and we drove past a village perched precariously on the side of a cliff face. It was very cool and I was surprised I haven’t read about it anywhere, it had signs saying it was an AAAAA level tourist attraction. The site we were headed to was cool, once I’d semi gotten over the claustrophobic feeling in the tunnels. There are 10km of crisscrossing tunnels beneath this castle complex, 1.5km which are open to the public and loosely sign posted. The above ground ‘castle’ isn’t what you’d think of as a castle and not majorly impressive, but the tunnels were good fun.
Arriving back at our hostel we all relaxed in the courtyard and sipped our way through a case of beers, meaning my first overnight train ride in China was a bit of a tipsy one, I slept very well.
The trains are similar to India with the three bunk layout, but the cheapest class is sealed and air conditioned with bedding, no super cheap class. The security at the stations is almost airport level, a stark constrast to India, with no one allowed onto the platform until five minutes before the train arrives. Everyone must also have a seat reservation, so there’s no crazy overcrowding like in India.
I’ve just left the city of Xi’an and flown South to Kunming to start the Southern section of my trip, a little behind on my blogging as I’ve been crazy busy and when on down time just haven’t really felt like writing. Currently reading an old Daziel and Pascoe novel, which is highly entertaining and takes me back to watching the TV adaptation when I was younger.
Until next time.