Rustic China: Cobblestone Alleys and Red Laterns


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Asia » China » Shanxi » Pingyao
July 3rd 2015
Published: September 4th 2015
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One of the most preserved ancient cities and walled areas in all of China. When you try to imagine traditional China you may conjure up images of small cobblestone alleyways, quaint brick buildings with curved tiled roofs and dangling red lanterns bringing colour and vibrancy to these streets. This is exactly what you can expect to find in Pingyao. Well known as the place to go if you want to see the real China. Howevera throw in a load of tourism to what China may have been like and you have Pingyao.

From Langmusi we caught an overnight hard sleeper train to Pingyao taking around 19hrs.

We always appear to be the only western people on these trains and it's like we are some sort of star attraction with people coming from different carriages to look at us in our beds just to make sure we are real. People bringing there kids or their parents in to take a look or some to stand there laughing. People will sit opposite you for this reason just to stare at you. Even when you are changing you get no space. We can't deny that this does get annoying but on a whole it does not put us off travelling here.

We were hoping for some relief from the staring though when we arrived in Pingyao given we hear that it is quite touristy. And touristy it was indeed. Not as much as Yangshuo but still thousands of Chinese tourists here and the odd western tourist here and there.

We were wrong about the break in the stares though, maybe because many Chinese tourists come far and wide to experience the real China as it once was, they are really not used to seeing anyone with a different complexion. People nudged each other, laughed, pointed, stared, came over to touch us and took blatant pictures everywhere we went. This made exploration here less enjoyable. At one point we tried to take pictures of them (or pretend to) when they took ones of us. Many people thought this was an invitation to take group pictures. Nooo. We tried looking back at them making them aware we caught them staring, still no change. The fixed stares continued. No smiles or expression unless they laughed at us. It is good that we don't have a complex about ourselves, if we did this place would have ruined us. We spoke to a couple from Switzerland who had exactly the same experience. Nowhere have we experienced the staring like in China.

It was a surprise coming from the cold high altitudes of Langmusi to Pingyao, as Pingyao had blue skies and the sun felt always at its hottest. Resultantly, over the 2 days we spent here we opted to explore the walled city in small time blocks with many breaks taken at our hostel in between.

Instead of taking a particular tour we just wanted to explore Pingyao for what it was. As close to traditional China as you can get we imagined but now a huge tourism hub so not the real traditional China afterall. Having rode bikes around Xi'ans walls we opted to give the upper walls here a miss.

Instead we got lost in the alleyways of Pingyao. In order to do this, we mainly explored the outer areas within the ancient city as the main streets were full of tourists no matter what time of day. We even tried to get up early at 7am to get some good photographs but the tour groups complete with someone shouting down a megaphone were still evident at these times.

As we walked around we tried to take in the characteristics that make up such a city. The grey bricked walls, the curved roofs, the arched doorways and wooden locked doors. We peeked in a few open doorways and spotted the common courtyards and square designs of these buildings. Red lanterns littered the streets and became illuminated at night
It felt magical.

The only thing apart from mass tourism here that ruined the ambience of the place was the golf style buggies ferrying people around. They would go as fast as they could and as some streets were very narrow you had to be careful not to get knocked over. A shame really it would be far better if they implemented a no vehicle policy here.

The entrances to the walled city were divided into North, South, East and West gates. We often ventured out of these gates to get food. Outside the West gate were street style food stalls selling tasty eats. P went for a safe no meat option; egg & fried vermicelli noodles whilst Chris opted for an egg pancake style wrap with a
filling of sausage, noodles and vegetables. A strange combination but Chris liked it.

We went outside the east gate on one morning and purchased the most delicious vegetable dumplings, along with some flaky roti style flatbread flavoured with eggs, herbs and spices. This was really nice. Food options were more affordable outside the city, but we did have one meal in the city. 15 fried dumplings for Chris and P's favourite and regular dish of fried scrambled egg with tomatoes. Simple but still very tasty.

Life inside the city centred around tourism. The same old shops selling the same tourist trinkets you can buy across all of China. Overpriced food/drinks and guesthouses littered throughout. You even found the dress up areas where you could try on exaggerated royalty style attire and sit in some huge throne style cart outside the gates. Yes embarrassingly many people did this. Even one western guy. Shame on him. Although it did provide some amusement. We should have took a picture of him. It was extremely over the top.

One morning we did venture out of the south gate and came across a pleasant area whereby people were carrying out their early morning routines. There were girls exercising (not in the right clothing though - 2/3 wore jeans), lots of pairs playing badmington, someone practicing Tai Chi and the regular groups of women you find in most city squares dancing in sync. This was lovely to see and created a lovely atmosphere. Who needs a gym when you have lovely outdoor social areas like this.

Back home we both love to exercise indoors and out i.e. running on the park, but we both just loved the ambience herw. If only we had good weather like this and not rainy cloudy days we were used to. We would certainly like to take this bit of China home with us.

Stay tuned for our next adventure in China. One of our most terrifying experiences so far.. yes they keep coming.



Transportation: Overnight hard sleeper train - 19hrs costing around 250Y each

Accomodation: Yamen guest house, well located/ popular. Ask for a room away from the noisy street.


Additional photos below
Photos: 35, Displayed: 26


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PingyaoPingyao
Pingyao

You can pose for a picture in this carriage complete with full chinese style outfit



4th September 2015

Memories of Pingyao
Gotta say I'm impressed your research is taking you to some wonderful highlights of China. We were in Pingyao one icy winter and the differences of our experience to yours are stark. Streets and courtyards, curved roofs, steamed breads, locals staring, walking on the wall were there, but we had ice everywhere and only a handful of tourists. Your pics show the glow of warm weather and red lanterns aplenty while ours show the gaunt of winter. The man with the golf buggy taking us to our hotel, that slid on the ice and slammed into a wall with us on it, took us to Yamen Hotel insisting Yamen was our hotel when I knew it wasn't. Your blog & great pics bring back fabulous memories. What a trip you are having! Please tell me...did you sleep on a kang bed in Pingyao?
5th September 2015

Memories of Pingyao
Wow, it does sound like a dreamy place to go in the winter. Truth be told we actually saw an image of pingyao in the winter and knew we had to go. Arriving in the middle of summer however was a little disappointing. Golf buggies and ice sounds like a terrible combination, glad you survived to tell the tale!!
5th September 2015

Memories of Pingyao
Kang beds are completely new to us. Guess the warm weather didn't warrant one. Sounds like an experience though!
4th September 2015
Rustic doorfront

Rustic Doorway
Every country has doorways...but none do rustic doorways like China. Great pic.
5th September 2015
Rustic doorfront

Rustic doorway.
Its true. P especially loves a good rustic door picture. We took far to many in the end. But looking back at these pictures is a nice reminder of the quaint alleys!
6th September 2015
Typical archways

Lighting
I love the light in this photo! Just wondering how you are going to sort all your fabulous photos when you get home ;)
9th September 2015
Typical archways

Lighting
Thank you. Early morning light can be really nice to capture. Too mamy photos. One of the pitfalls of long term travelling. Hopefully it won't be too difficult as we sort them out as we go along for the blog (another great reason to write a blog) so we have a bunch of 20-40 pictures for most places already. Rather than a bunch of 200-400 good and bad pictures we start off with. Would not ever get round to sorting our pictures out otherwise. Will however need to choose the ones to be framed....That'l be a task. Maybe we'll create a funky framed wall?? 😅
6th September 2015

Amazing!
What an amazing trip you guys are having! You continue to take us to places that not only have we not been to, we have not even heard of! It is so fascinating reading of your adventures. We enjoy it so much when we actually feel we are blending in to a local community and not being noticed anymore, that it made us cringe to think of being stared at and even photographed continuously. Perhaps they are just curious (like we are as travelers, too) but I think I would have my limits for sure. I didn't envy your 19 hours on a train. I felt worn out just imagining it. Great pictures and blog, as always! Thanks for taking us along on your amazing trip!
9th September 2015

Amazing.
Thank you for your lovely comment. Its great to hear that they take you on our travels with us. Some blogs read well others don't so we ask ourselves whether we are boring people. We're not bored at all. Trains in China are really not that bad. In sleeper class in India however..very different. Yes they're only curious. There cultural norms are very different from ours. Guess for them its not really rude. For us, that is a big no no. Lol.
6th September 2015

Staring
It seems that while we consider staring rude, perhaps it just isn't for the Chinese, just as some cultures spit and belch while others don't. You two are handling this annoying behavior remarkably well! The city sounds charming--a bit of Chinese Disneyland. Can't wait to hear of your next wild adventure!
9th September 2015

Staring
Haha. I agree its completely the opposite to rude for them. Some cultural norms we encountered were very different from ours. Still made the experience exciting. We were some sort of celebrities for a month. China was a great place. Think one of my favourites so far. (I know I say that about everywhere, just love travelling). 😁

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