Inside the walls of Pingyao

When we first thought about visiting China last summer we started gathering information about what to see and do in the two weeks of holidays that we had. We first focused on the Beijing area and found out that in the south, in the way to Xi’an, we could visit one of the most impressive medieval towns in China.

View of Pingyao from the wall that surrounds the ancient city

Pingyao is located in the Shanxi region and is a very popular destination among tourists. It is easy to reach Pingyao by train either from Beijing or from Datong. During our trip we met other travellers that were following the same itinerary than us: taking a train from Beijing to Datong and then another one from Datong to Pingyao. We have already written about the amazing experience that we had in Datong where we visited its hanging temple and the Yungang Grottoes.

In the afternoon, after those two visits in Datong, we went back to the train station and took a train to Pingyao. Most travellers use to take that train late at night so that they can sleep there and wake up in Pingyao the following day. However, when planning our trip we found that such train was complete so we had to take a train earlier and we arrived at Pingyao the same day at midnight after a train journey of almost 8 hours.

Traditional “Kang” bed in Pingyao

Fortunately, an employee of our hotel in Pingyao picked us up in the train station. Hotels are themselves a tourist attraction in Pingyao. Why? Because of the traditional “Kang” beds, which are stove beds to keep residents warm during the winter. Most boutique hotels offer those rooms with “Kang” beds and other traditional Chinese furniture. The rooms are usually placed around a courtyard.

The courtyard of our boutique hotel

Thus, there are many options for accommodation in Pingyao. We chose the Xingchengjiu Hotel and we are happy with our election. Prepare for a true Chinese breakfast (few options if you want a Western one) but they offered for free transfers from and to the Pingyao train stations. Indeed, apart from the Pingyao “central” station, which is close to the ancient city, there is another bullet train station from which we took a high speed train to Xi’an. This second train station is located 10km to the southwest of Pingyao ancient city. We still remember the car trip from the hotel to that high speed train station under an unexpected heavy storm.

Ok, now you know how to reach Pingyao and where to sleep there. It’s time to write about Pingyao’s hotspots.

Pingyao City Tower, found in the middle of a crowded street

The ancient city of Pingyao is a World Heritage Site since 1997, so the best way to discover Pingyao is just walking around its streets. The city was founded in the 14th century and keeps the original architecture from the Ming and Qing periods. The ancient city is surrounded by a 6 km wall which is 12 metres high. You can visit the city for free, but if you want to enter the main tourist attractions you should buy a comprehensive ticket. Thus, the first stop in your tour in Pingyao should be the Pingyao Ancient City Ticket Office.

Once you have purchased your ticket, it’s time to cross the Pingyao City Tower, which is an old wooden structure that dominates the city. You should also climb the walls from which you will have great views over the city roofs.

Finally in Pingyao 🙂

Another hotspot is the Confucian Temple, which was first built in the 7th century but then restored and enlarged to its present format in the 12th century. In the Confuncian Temple we unexpectedly atended to a theatre exhibition and a Chinese opera show. It was a great experience!

In Pingyao visitors will find a nine-dragon screen. Those walls have reliefs of nine different Chinese dragons and use to be found in imperial Chinese palaces and gardens. In our trip we could see one in the Forbidden City (Beijing) and another one there in Pingyao. Pingyao’s nine-dragon screen is located in the old Pingyao Theatre which is now a hotel’s banquet hall.

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Nine-dragon screen in Pingyao

In addition, visitors can’t miss the Rishengchang Piaohao which was the first draft bank in China. In the 19th century it controlled almost half of the Chinese economy and had branches in China and abroad (Japan, Russia, Mongolia, etc.). Now the building is a museum which explains the financial history of Pingyao and China. Another bank that can be visited in Pingyao is the Xietongqing Ancient Bank. In its underground you will see how gold molds were usually stored.

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Inside the Xietongqing Ancient Bank

Apart from those places that we consider must-see sites, Pingyao has something to visit or photograph in almost every corner. We could only stay in Pingyao one day but if you can stay there a bit more you won’t get bored. For example, outside the walled city, you can also visit the Zhenguo and Shuanglin temples, which are both included in the declaration of World Heritage Site. Finally, don’t forget to get lost among Pingyao’s gift shops and buy a souvenir. I am writting this post next to some beautiful tea cups that we bought there. 🙂

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A brief walk around the external side of the city wall

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