Beijing Getaways: Pingyao 平遥
Wonder Wall: Take a Trip to Pingyao and Travel Back in Time
Only an overnight train journey from Beijing, Pingyao is a great place to kick back and escape the hustle and bustle of the big city for a few days.
The city wall, charmingly rustic inhabitants and traditional Shanxi food are making this remarkably well-preserved former merchant town an increasingly popular travel destination.
Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, Pingyao dates back to the Western Zhou Dynasty (1054 - 771 BC).
The temples, courtyards and thoroughfares of Pingyao offer a unique view of the architectural styles and town planning of imperial China, and walking through the myriad alleyways it's not difficult to conjure up images of life in days of old.
The current city wall, 6km in circumference, is over 600 years old, and is the only undamaged Ming Dynasty city wall that remains in China.
Strategically situated on the old trade route between Beijing and Xi'an, Pingyao saw its heyday during the Ming (1368-1644) and subsequent Qing (1644-1912) dynasties. It was in Pingyao that Shanxi's (and China's) first banks or exchange shops (piaohao) were established.
With the demise of the Qing dynasty Shanxi's financial power crumbled, and with it went the banks, although the multitude of exchange shops scattered around Pingyao are testament to the city's auspicious past.
It is the wall for which Pingyao is most famous. Completely enclosing the city, it is shaped like a rectangle, with a moat, six gates, and a watchtower at each corner.
Together with the crisscross nature of the orderly streets, the wall is said to give Pingyao the appearance of a tortoise, symbolising immortality. Access to the wall is provided by several stairways at different locations - it's possible to do a complete circuit on foot in a couple of hours.
Admission to most of Pingyao's best cultural attractions can be gained by buying one multi-site ticket (and map) for 120RMB (60RMB for students).
This gives the holder access to the wall, as well as a range of museums (including the recommended Rishengchang Exchange Shop).
The best way to explore Pingyao is on foot, although the more adventurous can easily hire bikes on Xi Dajie.
Pingyao's most famous sight are its historic and impressive Ming period walls
Traditional courtyard style residence in Pingyao, Shanxi Province
Pingyao's best hotels are all situated on or around Nan Da Jie, the city's main street, which is about 10 minutes by motorcycle taxi from the train station.
For a comfortable double room in a traditional courtyard hotel you can expect to pay about 100-150RMB, depending on the season.
Pingyao's tallest building, the Town Building, is also on Nan Da Jie, and provides a great landmark for those with navigation difficulties, although getting lost in Pingyao is never usually a bad thing.
Temple charms, Pingyao, Shanxi Province, China
Pingyao in Shanxi Province is a UNESCO World Heritage listed site
- Overnight trains from Beijing save you a night's hotel stay and arrive in Pingyao in the morning (Train 1163 best). The Taiyuan-Yuncheng train, the K25/K27, stops in Pingyao; so does the Xi'an-Tianjin train, the 2562; and the Taiyuan-Xi'an train, the 2535. For sleepers, you may have to leave from Taiyuan. Luxury buses from Beijing's Lize Qiao Long-Distance Bus Station leave every 20 minutes (6hrs/120RMB/$15). Transfer to a direct Iveco bus to Pingyao (2hrs/25RMB/$3). The new expressway from Beijing to Pingyao has reduced the total drive to 6 hours. There are three to six buses daily connecting with Xi'an (8hrs/115RMB/$14).
- Qiao Jia Dayuan - one of Shanxi's best-preserved family-mansions (40RMB)
- Shuanglin Si - Shuanglin Temple (25RMB)
- Wang Jia Dayuan - Wang Family Courtyard (60RMB)
- City Walls
- Risengchang Exchange Shop
- Temple of the Ciy God
Accommodation in Pingyao
- Deju Yuan (0354 568 5266/www.pydjy.com) and Tian Yuan Kui (0354/568-5266/www.pytyk.com) are both good options. Restaurants in these guesthouses are also excellent.
- Hotels in Shanxi Province
Roof gargoyle, Pingyao, China