Pingyao #2: Exploring the Ancient City

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November 26th 2019
Published: May 31st 2020
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Breakfast was included in my guesthouse, so I made my way to the restaurant. I had a nice, strong cup of coffee and fried egg on toast, which was pretty basic but good and filling. The homemade dumplings were the stand out dish. I really, really enjoyed those and could have eaten another plate or two. Looking out the window, the streets were still quiet, it was still early though. To see all the sights in Pingyao, you have to buy a combined ticket that allows you entrance to them all, so I walked down to the main ticket office to get it. When I got there, I was realised that I was buggered as I needed cash to pay and didn't have any. China is pretty much a cashless society and it always trips me up when places don't accept mobile payment. It is usually tourist sites that force you to use cash, too. I was about to go and get some cash when the lovely staff helped me out. I could sign up and pay for the ticket on my phone through the tourist site's WeChat (a kind of Chinese Whats App, but more comprehensive) page. Everything is in Chinese, so the staff guided me through it using the translate function on their own phones so I could get it filled in and pay for it. I wish all staff at tourist sights the world over were this helpful.

I headed off in the direction of the Confucian Temple. The guesthouse owner had marked on a map for me the best attractions that were included in the combined ticket, and this one was close to where I was staying, but in the opposite direction of most of the other sights. I was still surprised that there weren't any large tour groups swarming the street. It was quiet with only a few locals about. If you love old looking doors and taking photos of them, you would be happy in Pingyao. As I walked along the street, I kept stopping to take pictures of them, they were all a little different. There were also a lot of national flags and lanterns about. The red made a great contrast to the dull stone walls and wooden gates. The temple dates back to the Zhenguan era of the Tang Dynasty and was first built during the reign of Emperor Taizong in the 7th century. Most of the present buildings dated from the 12th century. The temple complex was pretty big and I spent a good while exploring it. There were lots of little courtyards with small statues and buildings to wander in. I had to avoid one building as it sounded like there was quite the argument going on inside. I was able to climb to the top floor of one of the temple's buildings and I got a great view of the rooftops of the Ancient Town. While they are all a rather uniform dark grey, I loved the classical old fashioned look of them and almost made me feel like I'd stepped back in time.

From the temple, I headed to the Catholic Church, which was only a short walk away. I had a look around the yard of the church, but didn't venture inside as the church didn't look open. The churchyard was rather dilapidated looking. I think also that the time of year played a part in it looking dilapidated as winter was coming and the air was getting hazy with pollution from the factories in the area. I walked along the city's wall, which was rather high and the street was quiet apart from the odd e-bike. There were quite a few abandoned looking buildings so I went for a bit of a nose around those. I didn't go into the buildings, just the overgrown gardens. It's funny how quickly things change as the beautifully restored and maintained buildings on the main street were only a couple of hundred metres away. I made my way to Qinhan Gate, and onto East Street to visit Qing Xu Guan Temple. However, when I got to the temple, I found it all boarded up as restoration work was going on. I was a little disappointed but continued along the street as there were quite a few other attractions to see. The first one I came to was the First Armed Escort in Northern China Museum. Before coming to Pingyao, I knew nothing of these armed escort agencies. They were a predecessor to modern security corporations. These escort agencies accompanied payments between places and courts. They also did business such as exchanging silver and, receiving and delivering mail. They first appeared during the Qing Dynasty in the Qianlong period. The first part of the museum had the uniforms that the escorts wore. They looked pretty heavy. The museum was housed in an old house, which was gorgeous.

Across the way, there was the Chinese Chamber of Commerce Museum. As I stepped into the inner courtyard, I was quite surprised at how beautiful the building was. I had a look through the different rooms around the courtyard. There were some English signs, but I don't have a lot of relevant knowledge so I still didn't understand some of the things I was seeing or the context. I did like that in these small traditional house museum, that you can climb to the first/second floor and get a nice view looking down on the courtyards and of the surrounding rooftops. I continued along the street and came to another cluster of museums. I crossed the road, going from East Street to West Street, to the Exhibition Hall of Ancient House Expo Garden. I had a quick look around here, before heading across the street to the Hui Wu Lin Museum. This is dedicated to martial arts and shows the history of them. However, since most of the displays were in Chinese only, I didn't really learn anything. However the buildings were beautiful and I really liked the exercise yard at the back of the complex, which had a big ying and yang symbol painted on the ground. Back across the road, I visited Ri Sheng Chang. This was the first private draft bank that did business in remittances, loans and savings. The bank lasted for 108 years and went out of business during the early years of the Republic of China. The building was rather deceptive as it looked quite small from the outside, but as I walked around it, there were lots of small alleys between the buildings to wander down. I love how all the buildings have been restored and are fairly well maintained. They look so quaint and beautiful. From here, I made my way up to and along North Street as I wanted to visit Erlang Temple, which was a little way away from the rest of the sights. North Street was still touristy but looked quite a bit quieter than South Street, which was where I was staying. This temple is one of the few surviving temples that are used to worship the Erlang God. The legend of the Erlang God has existed for a long, long time. Erlang was the second son of Li Bing, who was the local governor of the Shu State during the Qin Dynasty. Erlang helped his father to build the Dujiangyan Dam, and then after his death, local people began to regard him as a god. I really enjoyed my walk around the temple complex. I loved all the rich red decorations as they made a great contrast to the dull colours of the buildings. There was also a kind of stage/platform, which I presume is where the important people sat. I don't recall seeing anything like that in other temples I've visited in China.

For lunch, I headed to a restaurant that I had passed earlier, on my way to the temple. The restaurant was quiet as it was a little late for lunch. There are a few traditional dishes from Pingyao, so I had to try some of those. The two I went for were the Pingyao beef and the local bald noodles. The beef was nice. It was thin slices of cold meat. It was good, not amazing, but I would have it again. I am not the biggest fan of noodles, so I didn't expect to be impressed by these and I wasn't. They were cold too, and quite difficult for me to pick up with the chopsticks as they were rather slippery. I probably wouldn't have them again. Since my lunch had been a cold one, and it was a cold November day, I headed to the Searocks Cafe that was nearby to get a coffee to warm me up. The cafe was quite warm, so I relaxed in there for a while taking my time with my coffee.

With my feet rested, I was ready to make my way back to my guesthouse. There were still quite a few museums for me to see, most of the places were located on the street I was staying on, so I could visit them as I made my way home. I hoped that I would have time for all of them. I headed down South Street, I stopped at Wei Sheng Chang first. I quite liked this museum as there were some nice Buddha statues and a lot of the small stone lions that were scattered around the place were wearing big red rosettes around their necks. From here, I crossed the street to Tian Ji Xiang. The building is a typical Ming Dynasty style building and the museum contains lots of treasures like pots and vases. I wandered around the rooms looking at the things on display, but I preferred to look at the architecture. The exterior of the buildings were very ornate and there was quite a lot of gold paint in some places, however it looked good, not tacky. From here, I walked down under the Ancient City building, which is a small kind of tower in the middle of the street. I wish that this was open as I would love to climb the tower and get a different view out over Pingyao.

The next place to have a look around was Xie Tong Qing Draft Bank. It was founded during the Qing Dynasty and was one of the top ten remittance banks in Pingyao. The bank was huge and I spent ages wandering around it. There were lots of different buildings to look around and I really liked the small stone shrine houses that had been carved into some of the walls. There was also an underground section to this museum, which was a mock up of the vaults with fake gold bullion bars on display. I enjoyed the walk around underground and seeing the chambers down there. The exit of the museum opened up onto a side street and there were some great little buildings on this street, too. Back on the main street, I headed to the Chinese Armed Escort Agency Museum. This was similar to the other Escort Agency Museum I'd visited but was a lot bigger. Further down the street, there was another similar museum, the Tong Xing Gong Armed Escort Agency. This company was founded by the people of Pingyao with many shops across the city and operations throughout China. I enjoyed looking around here too as the rooms were mocked up to show how they had been sued in the past. Since time was running out before things closed for the evening, I only had time for one more place, Bai Chuan Tong, which was next door. This houses a furniture museum and was okay for a look around.

As I was walking down the main street, I was feeling a little hungry, so decided to stop at one of the small shops/stalls selling foods. I plumped for a sausage bread thing. It was alright but not amazing, I wouldn't be in a rush to have it again, but I think that's because I am not a big fan of Chinese sausages, they are just a little too sweet for my liking. When I was purchasing my snack, I picked up one of the street dogs and he followed me all the way home. He (I have decided that it was a he) just plodded along a pace or two behind me. I kept turning around and checking he was there and he was. I liked that he wasn't too forward, and I wished I'd known that he would follow me as I could have bought him a snack. He left when I went into my guesthouse. I spent some time reading in my room and giving my feet a rest as I'd done quite a lot of walking.

For dinner, I headed back to the guesthouse's restaurant. I was dining at a much more normal dinnertime today, but I was still surprised at how busy it was. I ordered some spinach sautéed in garlic and an egg dish that looked interesting (in a good way) along with some rice and a beer. I was offered a generic Chinese beer or a can of craft beer. I went for the craft beer, which I enjoyed. My spinach soon turned up along with my rice and I happily munched on that. I had to wait ages for my egg dish though, I think they may have forgotten about it. However, it turned up eventually. I really enjoyed the egg dish, it was like a big omelette doused in vinegar, making it sour. Two of my favourite foods, eggs and vinegar, that I would have never have though to combine. After dinner, I thought about going for a walk around, but since it was so cold, I decided to retire to my room and relax.

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7th June 2020

You had me at dumplings!
I can never say no to dumplings and these look especially silky and yum! I love it when dogs in new places adopt us and follow us around, it's always difficult to leave them though :)
9th June 2020

They were really good.
My dumpling addiction is suffering in lockdown. It is hard to leave all the cute animals, if only my backpack were bigger...

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