Published: December 24th 2011December 2nd 2011
MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYBODY !!!
We took our first Chinese overnight train to Pingyao – one of the best preserved ancient cities in China. So far we only could see some modern city developments and we really wanted to see some authentic places. Hard sleeper was really good and comfy (150Y/15£ each). Could even say that it was of better standard than the Russian Platzkart that we liked so much. We arranged to stay in Harmony Guesthouse - Courtyard hotel with a lot of charm and great interior. They also provided pick up for free so we did not have to think about that when we got there early in the morning. Upgrade to a double en-suite room was a nice gift as well (100Y/10£ per room). We really got to like this place and we stayed much longer than initially anticipated. Mostly due to the weather conditions but also because we kind of felt like doing nothing but relax.
Pingyao is just of one those places where you feel like hanging out for longer. The walled old town seems like a secluded world from the modern civilisation. The streets are bricked ad narrow, houses
still kept their authentic architecture and there are hardly any cars inside the city walls. You can wander for hours and get lost in some small alleys, watching people doing laundry, cooking on the street or just hanging out with their family or friends. Of course this place must look much more attractive in the summer but also it must be packed with tourists. We liked the idea that there is so few of us visiting at this time of a year.
We met a lot of nice people in our guesthouse whom we keep meeting again in different places and we felt like we became a part of some kind of exclusive travel community. Not everybody decides to go to Pingyao in the end and at least we all had this one thing in common. We did not move anywhere outside of the guesthouse for the first day as we had to do the laundry and all of our clothes were wet. We caught up on some readings, blogs and watched some movies that we never had time to watch. It felt so nice not to be on the move all the time and simply have nothing to
do. In the same time weather changed so drastically that when we woke up in the morning all town was covered by snow. We ordered some breakfast and we got snowballs with chilli on them hahha Just a joke from the owner of the Harmony GH ;-) This is a sort of atmosphere you should expect to find over there ;-) We tried to walk around but wet snow was falling so hard that we could not see anything. Not to mention that temperature moved way below 0 at that point.
Next day we finally managed to see some sights. The system in Pingyao is quite nice actually. One ticket (150Y/15£) allows you to see all of the 18 ancient sights plus climb on the city walls. At least it is all worth the money. We also learnt at that point that you don't really need a student card to get discounts in China. Few people told us that any photo ID/card would work as most of the Chinese cannot read our alphabet even if they speak English. As Tomek only had his driving licence we wanted to check this out next time. Shame we did not know that
before we paid this steep ticket price;-( Pingyao used to be a trading town and financial centre of China during the Qing dynasty. It is a home to first Bank of China that controlled over 50% of silver those days. You can still sightsee the building of where is used to operate.
Beside that it was a home of Confucian School and the museum includes the biggest Confucian Temple, the oldest and the biggest collection of Confucian scripts and some other oldest and best collections. There is many ancient houses you can see including furniture, gardens and porcelain collections. We really liked the old oriental feel of them. One of the most interesting sights for us was old prison and court buildings where there is a vast exhibition on the trials protocol and then torture or killing procedure. As not all of it was in English we could not understand what was the criteria for the death penalty but the methods they used were more than cruel. There are still pictures or photos from some of the executions which just made us realise how cruel the system was back then.
There is also many things to see outside
of the town but again the weather spoiled some of them for us. We wanted to go to the Mian Shan mountain but we would not have been able to see anything there. Last minute decision made us go to the Underground Castle of Zhangbi thanks to Oliver (from Belgium) who convinced us to see it. We managed to convince another guy - Jon (from UK) as well in order to split the cost of a driver and we had a really nice day out of the town. This place wasn't even available to see few years ago. Although, all people in Shanxi knew about its existence they only started to excavate it at the beginning of 2005 or something. Probably they noticed money potential from incoming tourists as that always seems to be the best incentive. At the moment ticket is not that high (50Y/5£, however depends how you look at it as Forbidden City was 40Y) and Tomek even tried the driving licence trick here. It worked hahha It was funny how Oliver did not want to use it because of his consciousness and the very next day he showed his ID when buying the expensive Pingyao ticket
haha He still insisted:'I did not say student card but just card when showing it so technically it was not a lie'. We believe that the price system for tickets is crazy here and had no problems using some extra help when necessary. We probably have spent more on tickets so far than on hotels or transport separately which is just crazy.
The Underground Castle used to be a fortification town that belonged to a few very rich families and was supposed to protect the province from the enemies. There are 3 levels of tunnels and despite the fact that there is nothing in them it was still impressive to be 30m underground. Our guide spoke the kind of English that seemed learnt by heart so any question would put him of guard and he was not able to answer. There were few stories that we never got to understand for example: the 8 year Japanese invasion and some flooding. We don’t really know if they ever happened or they might have happened. In fact we were very interested by the village itself. You can still see people leaving the way they used to leave 100s years ago with
no running water etc. There is a lot of cave dwellings around and somehow they manage to survive leaving like that. The caves make perfect and inexpensive shelter in any weather just the necessity of water and electricity is moving people towards towns and cities.
Out of all the people we met we were the last ones to move on from Pingyao but we loved it. It was authentic and beautiful. And also it is a home to the best noodle soup we ever had. PingYao Rou Mian
made us very happy every day. We can really recommend this down to earth restaurant by the west gate called Big Bowl Noodles which we found and introduced to other travellers. Everybody came out of this place with a massive smile on their faces ;-) Whilst weather is getting worse and worse, the food is getting better and better on our travels!!!
There are more photos below