Pingyao

One of the main streets of Pingyao after a rain shower.

Pingyao (平遥; Píngyáo) is a small city whose old town is on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Understand

Pingyao's old town is typically considered the best ancient walled city in China, and is on many lists of the best walled cities in the world.

The old walled city is 2.6 sq. kilometers (1 sq. mile), inhabited, mostly off-limits to cars, and constructed of cobbled streets and buildings almost entirely from the Ming and Qing dynasties. Picture a period film showing ancient China - and you won't be far off. Perfect for atmospheric wandering, this city is still off the radar of most foreigners. As such, the tourist hordes tend to be over 99% mainland Chinese on any given day.

Get in

By plane

Pingyao has no airport. The closest major city and airport is Taiyuan, 90km (55 miles) away. However, frequent bus, train and even, many willing taxis or hotel pickups, can complete the last leg of your journey.

By bus

From Taiyuan: As the nearest major city, frequent buses run back and forth between the two. Theoretically the last bus to Pingyao leaves at 6:30pm. Though if you plan on leaving late, booking ahead, or simply showing up early, may be smart to avoid a sold-out bus. Approximately 90 minutes.

From Xi'an: Approximately 6 hours.

By train

Most of the trains stopping at Pingyao depart for other parts of Shanxi. A few goes to other provinces overnight. The new train "Pingyao Gucheng" station is west of the city and requires a bug (3 yuan) or taxi to get to the city center. Hotels might provide a pick-up from the station. Careful of scams to overcharge you for "taxis" at the stairs outside the station. Even normal taxis don't like to use the meter.

From Beijing: Approximately 4 to 4.5 hours by D-train via Taiyuan, or taking the G-train to Taiyuan and exchanging to the D-train from there (stop-over might be short and it takes at least 5 minutes to get out and back into the next gate and they close 3-5 minutes before the departure time!)

From Taiyuan: Approximately 45 minutes. As all trains to and from Pingyao stop at Taiyuan, one can make for Taiyuan first before arriving at Pingyao if tickets are scarce--common during travel seasons.

From Xi'an: With a D-train.

By taxi

Given China's low taxi rates, some opt for this from Taiyuan. For instance, if you find yourself at the bus or train station with no other option that day- seek out other travelers until you have a total of ~4. Nearby taxis will be glad to negotiate. Try not to pay above ¥400, regardless of the # of passengers. Many have paid less (prices circa 2011).

Additionally, if booking Pingyao accommodation in advance - check if your hotel/hostel offers airport pickup (surprisingly many do, given this is the nearest airport), and at what price.

Get around

As the old walled city is only about 1 mile by 1 mile (or 1.6km by 1.6km), walking is the by far #1 way around. Most of the old walled city is also off-limits to taxis/cars. However if you are feeling lazy, you can hire golf carts that wander the streets. Pay around ¥5 for a ride if a single person, around ¥15 for four people. It is also possible to rent bikes for ¥10 per day, though the streets crowded with Chinese tourists may make this not much faster than walking.

If navigating by map - know that there are several interior towers/wall sections that look very much like part of the city wall proper. The first day, many map-wielding tourist become confused in placing themselves, thinking they are seeing the nearby city wall, when they in fact are not.

See

Scuplture at Shuanglin Si Temple
Pinyao, China: Outer wall (west side)

The main attraction in Pingyao's walled city is - well, the city itself. i.e. - simply wandering the streets. Nearly every building dates from the Ming (1368-1644) or Qing (1644-1911) Dynasties. The car-free status and ancient street plan adds to the strong atmosphere.

Entry to the walled city is free. Admission to around 20 specially-designated attractions inside the city requires a common ticket that lasts for 3 days. Price is ¥150 per person, BUT, 20% discount from March 1 to October 31st (¥120 normal, ¥60 student) and 40% discount from November 1st to end of February (¥90normal, ¥45 student). These discounted rates are valid at least until March 2014. Map guides and pamphlets are sold separately at the ticket office and around town. Maps cost from ¥5 to ¥8 (as for September 2013).

These specially-designated attractions include, among others:

Pingyao Ancient City shares its UNESCO World Heritage Site listing together with Shuanglin Temple and Zhenguo Temple, both located just a few miles away. In addition, Pingyao can also serve as a good base for visiting the nearby Shanxi merchant family compounds.

Do

Buy

Most of the Ancient City, at least the areas near the major attractions and along the busiest streets, is lined with shops that cater toward tourists. Standard Chinese bric-a-brac is for sale, at relatively high prices. This includes antiques although an alert shopper should beware of the preponderance of forgeries. Bargain hard and keep an eye out for stalls that sell handmade crafts right in the places where they make them. The city makes excellent cloth shoes, which you will see the locals wear as they march up and down the dusty streets. Pingyao also has a large lacquerware manufacturing industry.

If one is looking for nearby modern shops, then outside of west gate is one's best bet.

Money

ICBC (Industrial and Commercial Bank of China) has a branch just outside the West Gate--they have an ATM that accepts foreign cards. When you go through the gate, it's to the right and across the street. (checked Feb 2016)

There's an ATM of the Agricultural Bank of China a few meters out of the south-western gate of the Ancient City. Foreign Maestro cards accepted (checked Aug 2006).

Inside the walled city, ATMs can be found on Yamen Street and Ming-Qing Street (a.k.a Nan Dajie 'Southern Street'). One is located near the police station on Yamen Street. (checked Mar 2013)

For other options, the nearest modern shops and presumably ATMs will be located outside of West Gate.

Eat

Pingyao's speciality is Pingyao Beef. It has an acquired, strong taste, somewhat similar to corned beef. Be careful in some of the more touristy restaurants: outrageous bills of ¥100 or more are not uncommon for a meal that appeared to be quite cheap. Be sure to ask about the price of any chef's specialties, and take a look at the prices as you are ordering your food.

Food within the city walls mostly caters to tourists and is overpriced and underwhelming. Going outside of the city walls usually results in better prices and quality. Outside the West Gate in particular are many nearby dining options.

Drink

There aren't too many clubs or bars, but you can sip a brew until midnight at many guesthouse restaurants. Domestic & foreign beers, Chinese hard liquor (typically 50% or stronger), and Chinese whiskey (~ 35%) are additionally available at most shops.

However, one place of particular interest to Westerners is Sakura, situated in the centre of the East/West street. Western food, music and drinks are available at a reasonable price. Another one, Lily's pub, located midway of Ming-Qing street, is a popular dating place for single travellers.

Sleep

Courtyard of traditional accommodation in Pingyao, China

The ancient city is full of Ming/Qing-era compounds converted into hotels and hostels. Staying in one is often thought of as part of the experience. The small size and distributed sights of the old city mean location is not particularly important. On the main street a bed can go for as much as ¥400. Poke around backstreets and this price can easily quarter. Accommodation in modern buildings is mostly located outside the old city wall.

Cope

Post Office

There is a small post office near Hui Wu Lin and Wei Tai Hou, crossing west/east/south streets.

Go next


This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Sunday, February 14, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.