Pingyao Travel Blog

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I woke up at around 6am. I was on the middle bunk and Fab on the bottom (a luxurious first for us) and on the bunk opposite was a young Chinese woman who said hello and asked me in Chinese where I was alighting. I told her Pingyao and she didn’t really understand so I showed her the Chinese characters written for me before. She then asked me lots of questions in Chinese, which I didn’t understand, and I talked to her in English and she didn’t understand me, which turned into lots of giggles. From the little I could understand, she was a traditional Chinese dance teacher to really young kids, which fitted as she was a slender, woman with that almost ballerina look.

Fab had woken up by this point and we decided we ought to find the train conductor (as the man from the previous night had gone) and ask her if we could still get off at Pingyao.

We found her and showed her my note, to which she shook her head and said something in Chinese about Taiyuan. I asked her to write it down for me, and surprisingly she wrote it in Chinese and Pinyin (which was less helpful than I thought it would be). Upon attempting to translate it, the Lonely Planet phrasebook let me down by not having a Pinyin A-Z dictionary section, so I could only search for words by Chinese character or English word. The words I knew were ‘bu’ meaning ‘not’ and ‘huo zhan’ meaning ‘train station’. The conductor had told me something about 07:30, which I thought meant the arrival time in Taiyuan as I assumed we’d missed Pingyao already.

Anyway, we decided we’d walk though the train to see if we could find Lisa and Marco or the Spanish guy from the hostel still on the train. We soon found the Spanish guy, who said he’d met a Chinese couple from Canada also travelling to Pingyao and could speak fluent Chinese and would be able to help us understand what the note from the conductor said. We found him and he told us that it said ‘It’s not this station, but the next one’, and he reassured us that we had another stop before Pingyao. We thanked him and got chatting.

After a while, we headed back to our beds and got our stuff ready to leave. The train conductor came over to us and ushered us, grumpily, to another section of the train. We followed her and found Marco and Lisa in their compartment (they were staying in the soft sleeper).

We chatted with them again and before long it was time to alight the train.

We found transportation into the town, and negotiated a price. We agreed on 10RMB, not knowing how far away it was, and hopped onboard. The transportation was basically an electic golf buggy and we soon zipped off away from the station and into the city walls.

It was 7:30am and the sun was still rising. Everything was bathed in a soft warm light and it was the perfect way to see the town  for the first time. Pingyao is the best preserved city in China and travelling in (transportation aside) was like stepping back in time. We arrived at our hostel and paid the driver (who actually charged us double the agreed price - 20RMB)

Tip 1: When negotiating a taxi fee with two or more passengers, make sure you make it VERY clear that you mean price in total not per person or vice versa.

If you want to pay 10RMB, say 5RMB and point at one person, then say it again and point at the next, or write 5 on each person’s palm to show the ‘worth’ of each passenger. Otherwise, like us, you’ll end up with a clever driver saying ‘yes, we agreed on 10RMB; 10RMB per person…’

ALWAYS do this before getting into the taxi, so you can choose another taxi if necessary. 

Tip 2: In Pingyao, we later discovered, 5RMB total is a fair price from the station into town.

We were too tired to argue, and figured we’d pay 20RMB (£2) not to have to carry our bags through the maze of streets that was Pingyao, and it was a nice tour around the back streets, so paid the driver and checked in.

The woman at the front desk was busy with another guest, but we entertained ourselves playing with the cute puppy running around.

When she was ready, we checked in. She was a strange woman, who seemed moody, disinterested and rude. Nonetheless, we found our room, which was really nice, in traditional Chinese style.

We took a nap and woke up a little later to go exploring. Pingyao is a UNESCO world heritage site and the best preserved town in China, with the buildings dating back to the Ming and Qing dynasties. Cars or taxi (golf carts) are not allowed in the ‘real’ centre so there are lots of bicycles but otherwise it’s refreshing to walk down a street where you’re not looking out for crazy Chinese driving rules being abused.

The feel of the area was very different near our hostel - there were souvenir shops everywhere and big tour groups led by flag weilding guides ambled around left, right and centre.

Pingyao is a place to explore before 8am, when they ship the tour groups in.

We headed off the beaten track, and found a more traditional area. To further transport us back in time, two donkeys pulling carts came around the corner. It was a very nice area. We left the city walls to find an ATM - a less than nice 21st Century bump back to reality (there are about 2 in Pingyao proper but they don’t like our card.)

On the way back we found a street stall selling what looked like little pancakes. We bought some and they were warm, thin, crispy pastry things with a sweet syrupy substance spread on the hollow inside, with a few sesame seeds. They were amazing and would become our regular snack!

We headed back to the hostel and spent time there, which was a traditional building itself.

The manager grabbed us as we came in and apologised profusely because we had to move rooms. His reason was that we had overpaid by 5RMB per night and that as a sorry he’d upgrade us to the deluxe room.
Not being argumentative people we grabed our stuff and ran to our new deluxe suite! En suite bathroom, cable TV, water cooling dispenser, fridge and HUGE bed - at least 7ft (2.1m) by 9ft (2.7m). It was a very nice room!

It was getting close to the time we had agreed to meet Marco and Lisa so got ready to leave. We met them and wandered through the streets to find a restaurant, which are much of a muchness in Pingyao, with prices ranging from reasonable to extortionate for the same meals. We finally came across one which looked a little different and ordered a variety of dishes: noodles, chicken in tomato juice, bok choi and mushroom and pork strips.

It was delicious and we were left full and happy. It cost us 120RMB for four people including drinks. We wandered through town a little before heading back to Lisa and Marco’s hostel for a beer. We chatted until the wee hours and then headed back to our hostel, fearing that there was a curfew we didn’t know about!

It was a great end to a great day, and curling up in the giant bed was the cherry on the top!

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photo by: halilee