To begin with I have to apologise for how long its been. Work has been getting hectic as the summer draws ever closer and therefore the dreaded summer academy (heaven forbid children have a holiday).
Before the intense six week summer course begins I decided to take a weekend away and visit Ping Yao. I’d heard a few friends had been a while ago and said it was beautiful but I didn’t know much about it. Queue my trusty China lonely Planet guide book. There it was an ancient, walled city described as a somewhere time forgot. Naturally peaking my interest as always, I bought my payday train tickets and planned my journey.
A friend from work decided to join, so we were off for a four and a half hour journey, a two day adventure across in Shanxi province. We booked a cheap two bed room in a hostel through booking.com. It was pleasant enough, set around a traditional courtyard with a bar and some outdoor seating. Our room was nice and clean with an enormous mural painted along one wall showing a perspective of the city. English was very basic. We tried asking about a nearby mountain, which was greeted with great confusion and shrugs. If only we had spoken better Chinese. The service was friendly enough, they booked us a taxi back to the train station after our stay and walked with us at 7:30 am to where the car was waiting.
We arrived midday on Tuesday by high speed train. It’s important to note the high speed and the local train go to different stations. We planned our journey to the hostel from the local station only to be a little confused when the city wasn’t in sight. After reorienting ourselves we hopped in one of the abundant taxis and headed for the city walls. Within the wall it is pedestrianised so this was as far as the taxi could take us. Taxis from the station to the city offer a flat fee of 15¥ per person, however when we turned up they were asking for 20¥ each so beware of scams.
Once arriving at the city walls everything is within an easy reach. We walked through the narrow alleyways and arrived at our hostel. After a quick shower and change we were out to see the sites. The city itself is very small and quaint. Much of it appears to be crumbling and needing repair with many derelict buildings. You will see local people making up a mixture of mud and straw to lay over the sides of their walls in an effort to keep everything standing.
The streets are a circus of sellers, tourists, locals alike, buying souvenirs, fruit or just having a wonder. There’s constant hustle and bustle round the narrow cobbled streets, offering a plethora of souvenirs, fruit, ice cream anything you could need on holiday. Much of the main streets appear commercialised for the large number of tourists the city attracts. The essence remains in the quiet side roads, where you can sneak a look through some of the open doors leading to beautifully decorated courtyards or utilised porch space for bikes and haphazard mops, brooms, plant pots, etc.
The ideal time to wonder the street is dusk when it is cooler and still bright enough to take some great photos. Sit at one of the local restaurants for dinner and watch the world go by, although they’re probably more interested in watching you. Don’t be shocked when locals ask for photos even when you’re in the middle of your meal.
Try the local food, especially the beef cooked in vinegar, which is incredible. You imagine it to taste very strong and to be quiet leathery, however it is the exact opposite. The vinegar is light far from overpowering and the meat just break away, very tenderly. Also try the local noodles, which come in soup. They taste like they’re half pasta.
I loved Ping Yao. It offered a great insight into the history and culture of China. If you’re planning to catch a train from Beijing to Xi’an then try to fit Ping Yao in between. It’s the ideal city to just meander through the street markets so doesn’t need more than a day or two at the most.
Let me know what you think or thought of Ping Yao. ♥