Have you heard much of Pingyao? If you know about its existence, you know far more than I did before I started planning my trip to China. Of course, we always hear a long about the Great Wall and the Terracotta Warriors, but I had no clue, how amazing other places in China could be.
I found out about Pingyao from travel groups, the photos enticed me, so I decided to include it in my trip. That certainly was a great decision.
The city is quite touristy, because it is located in-between Beijing and Xi’An. When I say between, it doesn’t mean, you won’t have to make a little detour, but it definitely is worth it. We went from Beijing West by train. The fast train (D type) took about 4 hours to get here. And it took 3 hours to get from here to Xi’An. Find detailed information on trains in China, how to get tickets and how to travel between the cities.
I had researched about getting to the city from the high speed railway station previously. Keep in mind, there is another train station far closer to the old city. High speed station is a bit farther, although still no more than 15 mins drive. I found out that no cars, except some hotel vehicles can enter the old city. So I decided to ask the hotel we booked to send us the car, it was only 30 yuans, so it was worth it for us, particularly, as we were arriving after 8 pm.
Unfortunately, we didn’t find the car at the car park as hotel promised. Not sure if it was late or they didn’t send it, because I didn’t answer their Wechat calls (we had no internet). So we had to decide whether to take a taxi or a bus. The fact is, taxis won’t get you much closer to your destination, than the bus does, as they can’t enter the old city gates. If you decide on a taxi, don’t give more than 30 yuans, they will ask for 50 or more for sure.
We opted for the bus. Bus 108 stops exactly at the exit of the station, on the right from the taxi stand. You won’t miss it. The bus costs 1 yuan and will get out to the spot about 5 mins walk from the North gate of the old city. This is one stop before last, before the main bus station of Pingyao. You will have to walk from here.
The hotel was very cute and the people who met us were very nice. That somehow made up for the hassle of getting there, due to the transfer car not arriving. Most Pingyao hotels look like old houses, they are decorated beautifully. Just have a look at these photos.
I suggest to book a hotel from trip.com , as they have greater choice in smaller cities than booking.com , so you will book something for cheaper. And the hotel was clean.
In Pingyao hardly anyone speaks even a word of English. So be prepared with the Google translate app 😊
Pingyao is a really lovely city. It is one of the best preserved among the old Chinese cities with an intact city walls and cute houses. They don’t allow modern buildings inside the walls, which lets it preserve its charm. This is a city, where even KFC looks this way:
The city was built a millennium ago and became the Wall street of China in its old days and it was at the center of economic development of the country. That’s why you will find so many banking institutions here. It now is on the UNESCO heritage list.
I do suggest to stay at least one night here to enjoy the evening lights. The two main streets come alive at night. In the beginning, we were apprehensive of the dark side streets, however, we didn’t feel unsafe. Whoever we met only helped with directing us to where we needed to go.
Tourists will be in the city mostly from 10am to 5 pm. Most people do this as a day trip. During this time the main streets can be a bit crowded, but all the side streets and many sights are still quiet and nice. We didn’t see many people either in City God temple or Confucius temple for instance. The banks and the South gate of the wall are more crowded.
The whole city has one ticket, which gives you access to all the sites and museums inside the old city (I believe there are 22 of them). It costs 135 yuans (or 65 for students. Technically, you have to be a Chinese student to get the discount and an undergrad one, but if you meet a nice cashier, you may be lucky to be given a student ticket). It sounds expensive, but it definitely is worth it. The ticket offices are in many places around the town, you can spot them near the entrances of most major attractions.
The city is really small, so you can walk around easily. My mom is not very fit and has joint pains, but she was still able to walk without problems in this city.
It doesn’t matter in what order you will visit the sites. Start wherever is closer to you.
By the way there are performances on the streets, I am not sure, what times, but we caught one at about 10am.
What you shouldn’t miss:
Old City Wall. The old city is surrounded by a very well-preserved wall. This wall is much smaller than that of Xi’An. You can walk around the whole area in 3 hours I believe. We went up at the South gate.
It was very crowded with tour groups. I believe tour groups just visit this part of the wall and leave. If you wander a bit farther from the gate, you will be all by yourself. We walked only from South gate to the West gate. This section was very quiet and we didn’t meet anyone most of the time. We really loved seeing the roofs of the buildings and, in general, observing this cute city. Be careful though, as most part of it has very low battlements towards the old city, so don’t go too close to them.
West gate to North gate section was closed at the time we were there. I do suggest to walk at least some part of the wall.
Ming-Qing Street (South Street) and West Street. Both of these streets are very beautiful with a lot of handicraft shops, places selling local sweets, the lights. Do come here not only during the day, but in the evening too, when the red and yellow lights make them magical.
The Temple of City God. An ancient Taoist temple. This one one of the highlights for me. When we visited there were really few people here.
Here you will find the colorful statues depicting the “hell” and torture. The statues have strange expressions and they are definitely worth exploring.
The Confucius temple. This was totally fascinating. Even before entering, you will find the stone depictions of Confucius teaching his disciples and many other stories.
The temple complex covers a big area. Inside the complex you will also find the old classrooms, that were used to teach the students about the teachings of Confucius.
There are also the training grounds, where they used to teach archery and other fighting skills. You can even try your hand in it.
Here, you will also find a lot of red and yellow signs hanging nearby. From what we understood, the red means luck and yellow is for wealth (they were 50 and 100 yuan to buy and hang there, but we saw exact same in Suzhou on Pingjiang road for 5 yuans. I am sure you will find them in many other places. So you can bring them with you, if you like).
Rishengchang Former Bank. This is the first Chinese bank, so worth visiting for this sole reason. It is very centrally located on the West street. You can learn about the history of banking in China from here.
Xietongqing Bank. I did prefer this one to other banks, because of the vaults with old gold and silver money.
I didn’t see this in any guides and I am really happy we entered here accidentally, thinking it was Rishengchang. Definitely don’t miss it!
China Escort (Security guard) Agency. You can see some of the weapons of the former guards here and find information about martial arts.
Pingyao Ancient Government Office. Not as fascinating, as I expected it to be, but it covers a huge area and has a number of rooms to explore, including the administrative rooms, prison cells, etc.
Do try some of the local sweets. Particularly, the cookies done on stone.
The rest is up to you. I wouldn’t mind staying another day and seeing all the 22 museums and just wondering the streets, marveling at the interesting things you find at every corner.
Although it may get boring, if you stay more than that. You could also get out of town and visit the famous Wang compound, if you have more than one day.