Pingyao is that rare Chinese gem: A city / town that has not been touched by the obsessive drive towards modernity. We came here not really knowing what to expect. It was not originally on our ‘places to visit’ list but like all good travellers we soon heard about this “amazing town” by fellow travellers in some random hostel and decided to come along. It is a UNESCO world heritage site and as we start to walk around town and see some of the 14th century buildings you will see why.
The first thing we noticed when we got picked up at the train station (which most guesthouses offer free of charge) was that upon entering the city there were no cars! We got picked up in a kind of tuk tuk / rickshaw hybrid. Almost everybody else was riding bicycles. Our kind of place! Our guesthouse was in a 300 year old building that cost around £8 a night. We slept in a traditional bed that was so large it could have easily slept another 3 people in it and the breakfasts were fantastic. (The place is called Harmony Guesthouse) So it was a bit more special than your average travelodge.
Pingyao is often featured in Chinese films that are set in the past as the city is considered to be the best ancient walled city in China. Yet not many travellers know about it. 90% of the tourists are Chinese. So what did we do in Pingyao? Not much actually. It’s a perfect place just for atmospheric wanderings or in our case, bike rides. You will get stopped by many of the locals to have your photo taken with them which is lovely but slightly surreal.
The food was fantastic so we did spend an unhealthy amount of time sampling the local delights. The most famous dish from the area is braised beef. It has a strong taste that is similar to corned beef. A lot of the restaurants serve it but we would advise you avoid the touristy ones and ask where the locals eat.
It was so refreshing to be in a place that was not overcrowded with people, cars and chaos. 40,000 people live within the walls in an area four miles around which is hardly anything by Chinese standards. What we recommend doing is taking a walk along the city walls and making a circuit on top of the ancient walls, go up the city tower to get a view of the rooftops of the ancient buildings and finally have a massage on the many massage places in town.
Don’t come to Pingyao if you are looking for raucous nightlife. You will be able to drink in your guesthouses until about midnight but that will entail swapping travellers tales as opposed to Ibiza style head banging. Do come here for a few days to see Old China. It’s a perfect stopover on the way to Xian. You will enjoy the slower pace, the tranquil roads and the friendly locals.
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