May traditionally is one of the nicest seasons in most of China – the air is relatively good, it’s not too hot yet, chances of rain are low and it’s pleasant to travel and explore.
This year the last weekend of May was intended for a trip to the Yellow Mountains, however, rain was forecasted for nearly everywhere, except for Pingyao – which thus graduated to be the prime destination choice for said weekend.
Pingyao is well known for its well-preserved city walls, which are some of the best you can find in China and thus are a Unesco World Heritage site. I looove all things Unesco and was super excited to go to Pingyao.
I chose for us to stay in a traditional courtyard hotel and we picked the Pingyao Guangxu Boutique Hotel – a wonderful little place that offered (sadly a sad attempt at English) breakfast in the courtyard every morning, had free bicycles to borrow and a super central location inside the city walls. The staff is all young and eager to practice their English and it all made for a very pleasant stay.
Getting to Pingyao we caught a flight from Shanghai to Taiyuan in Shanxi province and from there a gaotie to Pingyao. Fast trains go every half an hour and take around 25 minutes. I highly recommend to book your train up front as we ended up getting super lucky getting standing tickets for the last train to Pingyao – they seem to book up fast. Booking a train is easy on the go with the Ctrip APP.
The local streets are lined with red lanterns, the inner city area is car free and yet crowded with Chinese tourists. It all feels like you’re being taken back in time.
For the first day we set out to hike around the city wall: you can walk on it and it runs for 6km around the city. Make sure to bring water and snacks, as it’s not shaded and is around a two hour walk. You can stop for fantastic views and
The wall is impressive also at sunrise and sunset, however, it’s closed between 8pm and 8am, therefore you won’t be able to see either from the top of it.
The narrow streets are jam packed with history. Around 50.000 people still live inside the wall, which is a lot considering the tight space. There are literally hundreds of sights inside the city walls and your tourist ticket that you can purchase at each of the watch towers for 150RMB per person gets you into all of the sights inside the city.
This includes all temples, old trade buildings, Shaolin Monastery, trade posts, banks etc.
It’s a great deal and valid for 48 hours, thus no need to rush.
From a food stand point Pingyao is famous for its beef, which comes in many shapes and forms and there even is a dedicated museum on the topic. We focused on eating it.
Pingyao used to be the first financial center of China during the Qing Dynasty. Being located between the grasslands and the coast many trading routes ran through it and it therefore saw the development of the first banks.
Many of these old buildings still stand and are beautifully preserved. In total there were more than 20 financial institutions at the time that made up more than half of the quantity you could find in all of China – pretty impressive.
On the second day in town we borrowed bikes and rode out the Shuanglin temple – the ride takes you through construction sites, fields and onto a brand new highway: everything properly Chinese. Once you reach the temple it’s a bot of an oasis, located at the far end of town, with lots of trees and tranquility. A great excursion to get out of the crowded city.
On our last evening we watched the sun set at the southern gate, at it was just beautiful. Kids riding their bikes, moms chatting away, grand fathers flying kites – the epitome of China came to life against the setting sun and its bold and fiery colors.
I very much recommend a trip to Pingyao – take an extra day off as travel time in China is always unpredictable and we got there with a four hour delay. In general plan a good half day to get from Shanghai to Pingyao. The recommended guest house can also arrange for a car pick up either directly from the airport or from the Pingyao train station, depending on how you intend to get there. A fabulous weekend.
See the full album of my Pingyao trip.