Pingyao Travel Blog

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as previously noted pingyao is a restored ancient town. beautiful buildings, a 6km wall surrounding it and tons of tourist shops inside. it is perfectly walkable as it's only a couple of hundred meters long and wide.

there are main streets and small grey alleys and if you look a bit closer you see very run down courtyards - would have been surprising if not.

after strolling around during the morning i headed for lunch in the one recommended restaurant in lonely planet and, fate or coincidence once again, i met the english couple nick & emma there. they should have been arriving in the evening by bus but got moved to the same train/bus combo by a dodgy cits advice again.

anyway, we laughed about the same experiences. as we walked out we met two spanish girls and an older swiss couple walking through the streets and started chatting. 6 foreigners on a main street in ping yao - it didn't take long to have many  interested viewers who found us more interesting than browsing through the never ending buddha souvenir shops. the swiss couple was quite impressive, travelling every year for 8-10 weeks backpacking through different countries (including myanmar, china, south america and other interesting locations) - respect.

i met the english couple again for dinner that evening and we had some beers in the ping yao hotspot bar. of course no one else was there but we had a great time trying a chinese banana split (quite nice) and singing karaoke to chinese songs with support from the bar girls.

today we will part again as i am heading for shanghai and they are going directly to xian. it was great to see how travelling locations like china bring together people with same ideas, thoughts and expectations.

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i arranged with my guesthouse tickets from pingyao to kaifeng - unfortunately no direct trains so i had to backtrack a bit to taiyuan and take the 12h sleeper from there to kaifeng. since you cannot order tickets from another station in china i had to pick them up in taiyuan - of course not from the ticket office but from one member of the 'ticket mafia' as it was nicknamed.

she handed me a sheet with the meeting point information: between 6 and 7 at the entrance of the soft sleeper waiting room in taiyuan station you will meet this guy who will hand you the tickets. feels like a bad spy movie, doesn't it? i was less than happy & confident

so anyway, climbed the city tower of pingyao (sounds higher than it actually is) with nick & emma to get a nice lookout over all the grey roofs of the city. after lunch it was time for goodbyes and i started my dodgy journey down south.

first challenge was to get to taiyuan in time which was further complicated by a local costume event blocking the main road in front of the train/bus station... nevertheless my minibus left quickly after i sat down and this time it wasn't as freezing cold as two days before.

i arrived at 5 and wanted to waste the hour before the meeting in the lonely planet mentioned internet cafe. after walking 10 minutes down to the location i found myself looking at a huge hole & construction site... no more cinema/internet cafe, china is changing fast (and lonely planet is terribly outdated)

i was waiting at the meeting point at 6, excited about personally meeting one of those intermediaries. 2 other tourists found their way there to meet the same guy hehe. when he still wasn't there at 7 (after we being thrown out of the entrance area anyway by a (beautiful) english speaking police lady) we called him and he appeared out of nowhere... spooky! but i got my ticket, right time, right date, and it was hard sleeper!

after preparing some cup noodles i sat in the waiting room and ate while 1000 eyes starred at me as usual.

i shared my sleeper compartment with mostly young business guys in suits. no chinese manners there, no spitting, arguing, screaming, smoking, etc. took care not to step with their socks on the floor, folded their clothes nicely, brushed teeth in the morning. even spoke a bit of english. multiply that by 1 billion and we are closer to what people in the west should be afraid of.

also the landscape was amazing. nothing compared to further up north, finally! i woke up when the train stopped at zhengzhou, the big train hub in that area. from there it was one hour east to kaifeng and it was amazing to look out the window: after grey (beijing) & brown (pingyao) finally soom green color! advanced looking agricultural areas, modern factories non stop. still the occasional shantytown in-between but slowly crushed by the modernization from left and right. this is what i expected to see all the way down from beijing!

kaifeng is pretty nice, too. a walled city as well it is much more modern than what i have seen so far. and my hotel.... wow! i didn't have a reservation and just showed up (after paying a brutal 5 yuan for the 2.5km motorcycle taxi ride), looked at the dorm room (2 beds) and the single room (which was actually a standard room, the more expensive version). decided for the single room, listed price 160, negotiated down to 100 plus a free breakfast hehe. not bad for a proper western standard hotel room with 'sanitized' label on the toilet, body wash, shampoo, tooth brush (!), soap, flowers and all those little nice things in it.

since i am moving much faster than anticipated in china i splurge it a bit with the single rooms, there are no real hostels with common rooms anyway, so i can just as well go single. especially since a single room here costs me less than a 12 people dorm in new zealand, australia and co.

speaking about money, the sleeper trains are a good deal too. a 12 hour hard sleeper train costs you about 100 yuan (plus up to 40 yuan mafia commission), which saves you one accommodation night but doesn't cost much more. so you can move 500km without actually paying much for it (so i think, long time ago since i learned about opportunity costs hehe)

now i have the interesting task of getting train tickets for shanghai. i probably spend another 40 yuan to have cits do it for me because i'm just too lazy (and because 40 yuan is only about the price of a big mac in switzerland)

update while i am in the internet cafe uploading this article: no tickets available, not even cits and the other mafia members have got tickets which means backtracking to zhengzhou tomorrow...

photo by: halilee