<A>Pingyao emerges fom the mist

Written by Mar 12, 2006 02:03
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Winter may not be the best time of year to travel in northern China. The low temperatures & resulting smog from coal fires would deter many from travelling at this time of year. But for my wife & I escaping Australia's summer heat, it seemed a good idea when we booked our flights.

It was December 2005 & our first trip to China. We heard things were changing fast in China with it's fast moving economy & increased tourist trade so we were keen to see a part of the world that may soon disappear.

Reading our travel guide we looked for somewhere interesting yet with easy travel options from Beijing which was our base. Pingyao is reported to have the last intact ming dynasty defensive wall and is an overnight train trip from Bejing, so it sounded like a good destination to explore.

We purchased our train tickets at Beijing train station for 100 yuan each one way & returned the following evening to catch our overnight train. We were due to arrive in Pingyao around 5am so set our alarm for 4.30am.

Soon after waking we stopped at a station which a friendly English speaking Chinese man told us was the stop before Pingyao. A well dressed man boarded the train & struck up a conversation. At first we thought he was just keen for a chat, perhaps practicing his English. It turned out he was the owner of a hotel in Pingyao & the conversation went something like this:'Did we need somewhere to stay in Pingyao'? No we were only there for the day. 'Did we have a train ticket back to Bejing'? No we would get one at Pingyao train station. 'You can't buy a ticket to Bejing from Pingyao' We had heared this might be the case but we would try anyway. 'He could get a ticket for us if we wanted' No thanks we can work it out for ourselves we are experienced travellers.

Arriving in Pingyao wiith our new friend in tow we disembarked & headed for the ticket window. Now I can't be certain but I'm pretty sure that our friend had a certain understanding with the ticket seller because she would not even look at us let alone sell us a ticket. So our friend says 'I can buy you tickets for Bejing from another station but you can't buy them here'. We ask how much the ticket would be? 120 yuan each plus 10 yuan each for him to collect them. After a quick discussuion we decide that we have little choice but to agree since we speak no Chinese & he appears to be the only person here who can help us. We now accompany him to his hotel as he must phone ahead to secure the tickets. On the short motorcycle rickshaw ride from the station (it's still dark & the fog is pretty heavy) We catch glimpses of a small chinese city (40 000 odd people) & the defensive wall we have come to see. Things were looking promising for an interesting day.

We arrive at the hotel, are ushered into a small resturant & served green tea while the phone calls are made. Finally our friend declares success, there are two tickets available but he must rush off to buy the tickets & we have to pay him now. My wife & I are experienced travellers & have been ripped off more than once on in other countries, perhaps it's our western distrust for stangers but we weren't about to hand over the full price for both tickets. The ensuing discussion with our hotel owner & his wife in limited English, less Chinese, some drawings, hand signals and possibly even some choo choo sounds resulted in 100 yuan being handed over as a deposit.

Our friendly hotel owner leaves & will return in 60 minutes with our tickets. OK so it's beginning to brighten outside but the fog means visibility is around 50m at best so we sit tight & drink more tea. 60 minutes pass, no tickets 90 minutes, still nothing. We manage to get the wife to call & find out where her husband is. A call is made. Soon soon is the answer.

It's now 8am & we are itching to look around the city so we tell our host we are off to look around & will return in 30 minutes to pick up our tickets. We think she understands & armed with a city map head out into the main street to get our bearings. Only a few paces away is the Ming Qing Jie (Town building) the tallest building around marking the city centre. No problem finding our way back we say. 20 minutes & a few side streets later we are hopelessly lost. Visibility is still 50m at best & the map is hard to understand. We keep wandering & stumble accross some interesting sites. A donkey pulling a wooden cart, children taking out the morning rubbish, a wizened old man out for a morning walk.

Finally we find our way back to the hotel & to our surprise our tickets to Bejing have arrived. We leave with many smiles, thank you's & chi chi's. We make our way to the North gate of the city wall where you can climb to the top & walk around the entire city if you wish. Unfortunately today visibility is still less than 100m so we decide it's not woth the admission to climb to the top. We wander beyond the wall but soon decide that the sprawling city outside holds nothing of interest. Back inside the walls we continue to walk, explore & take photos. The city wall is around 6km long and is constructed with rammed earth with stone blocks on the outside. The inside is simply rammed earth & seems to have stoot the test of time.

A young man comes up to us and asks if he can talk to us for awhile to practice his English (a common occurance in China). We end up with our very own English speaking guide for the afternoon. We are astounded by his English speaking & his knowledge of the world yet he has never ventured out of his own provence.

Finally around 2pm the fog clears a little & we climb the Ming Qing Jie for a view of the city & some photos. We still have 7 hours to kill & we have walked the length & breath of the walled city. We sample some of the food on offer from the roadside stalls & purchase some small souvenirs then Justin askes if we would like to meet some of his school friends as he has an afternoon school session to attend. We go with him & meet some wonderful young people & are further astounded by their knowledge of the world. Its not surprising really they go to school for 11 hrs a day 6 days a week!

Finally we bid our new friends farewell & head back to the train station. We board our train at 9pm & head back to Bejing.

It was a long sometimes frustrating day, but certainly a memorable one! We saw some interesting sights, met some interesting people & despite the frustration of trying to buy return tickets it was worth the trip for a day in this city.

My only advice: Try to organise return tickets with a hotel listed on this site & wear plenty of warm clothes if travelling in winter but do go to Pingyao for a day.

 More Pingyao Travel Reviews
1. <A>A travel back in the time, Pingyao... CHIIIINITA from ES Dec 8, 2005 05:12
Comments (2)


May 17, 2006 04:38 Reply


Acturally, Pingyao is very near from my hometown(50KM from my hometown).
Mark seems a little defnesive to local fellows,like the hotel owner,in Pingyao.

From my idea,most of those warm-hearted helpers you met are well-intentioned,just wanna tell you "you are welcome here in Chian,here in Pingyao".... Though Pingyao is really foggy and dusty in winter, they wanna show you at least their simple and honest deserves your stay and travel in this old city carrying profound Northen Chinese culture....

After all, as a Northen Chinese who born in a city near Pingyao,Shan Xi Province, I do hope the local goverment can make the air cleaner, making the old city more atrractive for you all foreign travellers( of course making a more comfortable living condition for my hometown fellows).

Welcom China!


Mar 22, 2006 03:03 Reply


My wife & I were in Pingyao for 4 days and nights in early Jan 2006. We do not think we could have got into the place as well with less time! I agree walking the ancient city wall is a must. I'll write an article of how Pingyao was a highlight of our month in China.
DavidHooper (Australia)

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