Pingyao

August 3, 2015

PS Brick

Pingyao is in Shānxī province which is not such a popular destination for foreign tourists in China. It came highly recommended so we thought we’d check it out and we loved it.

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We stayed in one of the rooms at the end of this courtyard, the family that runs this cheap hotel are really sweet.

Pingyao is famous for its walled city which was instructed to be built in 1370. It’s really cool to see an ancient wall although, as you can imagine, a lot of it is falling down now so they are having to renovate it. This is a view from the north side of the wall which you can climb up onto.

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As you can see Shānxī province suffers from a lot of smog due to it’s predominant coal industry.

The views are pretty spectacular from here, the big tower in the middle of the city is amazing and you used to be able to climb it but I think it’s too dangerous now so it’s closed. The tower dates from the 14th century, here is a view of it from the middle of the city.

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It is incredible to see the ancient bricks in the wall which have almost been weathered down to mud.

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There are 6 gates to the city, one each on the north and the south sides, and two each on the east and the west. Because this makes the city look like a turtle from above, it’s often referred to as ‘Turtle City’. There are what is known as an ‘urn town’ between the gates and the outside of the city.

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These were used as as a defence mechanism in case anyone breached the outer gate. The defending soldiers had a huge advantage from the top of the wall.

The urn town at the southern gate there’s this,

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And we just found it absolutely fascinating that these grooves were made by people coming to Pingyao for market with their horses and carts from as early as the 14th century.

In addition to this, there are so many original Ming And Qing Dynasty buildings with their sloped tiled roofs and crumbling brick sides. During the Qing dynasty it was one of the financial centres for the whole of China, this is the front to the old bank building.

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There are so many examples of amazing craftsmanship inside the walls with stone and wood carvings galore. There are a number of temples which you can enter with a ¥150 ticket that lasts over three days. This is quite expensive but you wouldn’t want to miss out on the ticketed buildings.

As I mentioned earlier one of them is a bank, but not just any bank, it was China’s first official bank! It’s a place that started off as a dye factory but became so wealthy that they started lending money to other businessmen and so became a bank. It’s really well preserved and you get a real feel for how the place must have operated.

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Money and people, that’s how it worked! The old ledger sheets were really cool.

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The best temple for us was the Chenghuang temple, it is absolutely stunning and serene. You can also climb to the top of the building to get a great panorama over the surrounding roof tops and the glazed tiled roof of the temple with its multiple dragon facades.

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The rest of the time we spent just meandering through the little alleyways, observing the slow paced lives of the locals. There’s a courtyard with original communist party slogans painted on a brick wall next to a children’s playground. The red has almost faded but the white outlines are still there.

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It is fascinating to see this preserved here as the cultural revolution and the Mao era and not something that people tend to talk about, and you don’t see many types of memorabilia in many places in the country, but in Pingyao there was pictures of Mao everywhere with references to his sayings and instructions for the Chinese tourists.

We also found a really nice place on the main south street where we had two really incredible massages for the backpacker’s back, neck, and shoulders. That is invaluable.

At night the city is lit with lanterns and low lighting.

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Combined with everyone out on the streets, the food sellers cooking fresh barbecues, the smell and the atmosphere is magical.

One of the best things we did was venture outside of the city walls to buy a train ticket, where we found some breakfast at the local market. We saw quite a lot of people wearing this top..

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We found found this guy to mend Pete’s shoe and Sophie’s bag. Gotta love the street menders, they’re always so cheap and smiley.

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And saw people just going about their day.

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Pingyao is a gem amongst a busy, relatively new tourist industry in China. New in the sense that most buildings that were destroyed in the sixties have been rebuilt from the eighties onwards. It’s still geared towards tourists but it manages to keep its old world charm. We managed to find a cheap little stall next to our Fulin yuan hostel to have delicious dinners at a reasonable price. Navigating the traffic on the outskirts of the town was a little tough but once we got around that we had a great time here.