Monday, September 30, 2013

A step back in time into the ancient city of Pingyao

My initial plan on my 12-day trip was to go to Beijing, Xian and Chengdu’s Jiuzhaigou, but I figured Jiuzhaigou would be too crowded during summer and so I remade my itinerary and went to Datong and Pingyao instead. After browsing some travel blogs, I was really looking forward to seeing the place. Too excited maybe that I even decided to endure traveling by 8-hours on a standing train from Datong to Pingyao. I have arrived at my destination same day afternoon and was really exhausted and just wanted to reach my hostel and rest for a while. Without no itinerary for the day, I wandered off by dusk around the city walls of this old town.

Ancient city of Pingyao

The old town of Pingyao (平遥古城 Píngyáo gǔchéng) that lies within 715 kilometers of Beijing, is one of Shanxi province’s famous cities known for its well-preserved six-kilometer ancient wall that encircles the old quarter of the city. The area is said to be founded during Ming Dynasty and was also the financial center of China hundreds of years ago. The rich and historical city showcases perfectly maintained traditional Chinese architecture and is presently home to around 30,000 residents.

pingyao wall
pingyao city wall
city walls of Pingyao

These ancient cobblestone streets have been home to the country’s first ever bank and has been the heart of commercial banking business of imperial China until 1910s when big banks sprung up to the race and the city was dealt with poverty that led to its economic decline. Up to now, these quaint establishments and courtyards have remained to their grand state for more than 600 years, making it a no-brainer to have it added in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in China. The unchanged walled city provides a great outlook of old-fashioned China, it’s like stepping inside a historic period film set that came to life, which is probably one of the big factors that locals come to frequent this place.

traditional houses transformed into hostels and restaurants

On my first day, I was drained but also felt like it would be a waste if I wouldn’t do any sightseeing, so without any particular plans, I headed out with my camera and explored the streets of this ancient town.

Seeing the impressive layout of preserved hutongs and residential houses was really impressive. I felt like I stepped inside a time machine and was transported thousands of years ago! The high-rise condos are nowhere in sight which was a breath of fresh air!

pingyao street

a couple doing having a photoshoot. how cute!
a dragon screen that also looks similar from what I saw at Datong
street pingyao day

Wandering around the street of Nandajie, that is more commonly known as Ming and Qing Street which depicts the architecture styles that was dominant during that dynasty, is more than feast for the eye. With various shops and restaurants, I was more than fulfilled just to look around and people-watch. The city walls that stand 12-meter high reminded me of Suwon Fortress that I saw in my previous trip to Korea as it was not that big compared to the walls of Datong and Xi’an, but was extraordinary nonetheless.

By night, the whole area looks different surrounded by warm glow from red lanterns, the atmosphere changed into a more romantic and dreamy environment. Walking around during weekends could be a hassle as most tourists have probably the same plans of taking the day-off here, so it’s usually flocked with busy locals and foreigners.

pingyao street night

cute kid posing too seriously
night pingyao
romantic view of Pingyao's Market Tower during the night

The food in Pingyao has been raved about by some bloggers, though for someone with minimal knowledge of the language, it might be hard to look for cheap and good authentic eateries in the city, most especially inside the city walls. One that is always mentioned is the Pingyao Beef, with a taste that is comparable to corned beef but more flavorsome and also tasted more natural for me. The eateries nearby the attractions can go quite pricey so what I did was go outside the city walls or choose the hole-in-the-wall places for cheaper grubs.

spicy chinese noodles
spicy vegetable noodles
chinese dish
eggs and tomatoes!
pingyao beef
Pingyao Beef
humongous watermelons!

Visitor tips to Pingyao
The sites inside the city don’t have tickets being sold separately so it is advised to buy the three-day pass for 150 CNY that gives one access to almost all the attractions. Student discount can also be applied.

The best way to go around Pingyao is by walking, but bicycle rentals are very cheap and would cost only 5 CNY a day. There are also motorcycle rides or tuk-tuks and the fares can be negotiated as cars cannot go deep inside the ancient city.

visitors pass that cost 75 CNY for students and 150 for adults
very cute panda toys!

Accommodation (Zhengjia International Youth Hostel Review) :
Out of the four cities I have visited in China, Pingyao has the cheapest accommodation I have ever booked. I chose to stay within the walls as I wanted to be near the sights as possible and there are lots of traditional courtyard that have been converted to hotels that would make the experience more authentic. One perfect example is Zhengjia International Youth Hostel, a two-storey courtyard managed by the Zheng Family. They actually own two compounds, one of which is the hotel that only offers private rooms and both of them are located at Yamen Street. The location is good as it is close to Yamen Or the Couty Government Office and the only grocery store in town. The restaurants near the area are quite expensive though.

Zhengjia International Youth Hostel
reception to Zhengjia International Youth Hostel

The reception of the place needs to be improved because when I stayed there last August 2013, the morning staff didn't have a good understanding of English because most of the requests or questions are misunderstood so I was always in a situation where I had to repeat questions or requests, though I had no problems talking with the staff during nighttime so if I need anything, I’d always ask during this time. I stayed at the five-bedroom hostel, the beds were pretty basic, the lockers are big but bring your padlocks and the lighting inside needs to be changed because it’s quite dim. Wi-Fi is the strongest I have had in China but their laundry service is quite pricey for me. Another complain that I also have are the bathrooms. For dorms, there are only two shared toilets, one traditional and the other one is modern style. The traditional one stinks all the time and is not properly cleaned, but anyway, I think this is a big problem with all the toilets in China but the one in Zhengjia is probably the worst because the toilet was on the first floor and I could still smell the stink even when I am already upstairs. -_- The shower room is also one of a kind, it’s a public shower but is only divided by plastic covers.

pingyao hostel

Even with lots of weak points mentioned above, this hostel was the most memorable for me. Aside from the 27 CNY fee per night, which was the cheapest I have ever had on my travels so far by the way, and only 3 CNY deposit which was also the cheapest in China, the majestic and grand architecture of the place will make me want to come back.

pingyao traditional hostel
view of the hostel during night

One of the pleasing ways to pass time at Pingyao is to have no plans at all. Walking along its old city streets and engrossing yourself with its architectural heritage is enough to take a whole afternoon. For my fellow Filipinos, the vibe is similar to the old streets of Vigan, Ilocos Sur which I also love. Note, prepare your camera and memory cards as you will have tons of picture around the city :)

Day 1: Datong
City Tour

Day 2: Datong
Yungang Grottoes

Hanging Monastery

Day 3: Pingyao
City Tour

Day 4: Pingyao
City Tour and Attractions

Day 5: Pingyao

Day 6: Xi'An
City Tour

Day 7: Xi'An
Yangling Mausoleum

Day 8: Xi'An
Terracotta Army

Day 9: Beijing
Qianmen Street/798 Art District

Day 10: Beijing

Forbidden City

Day 11: Beijing
Summer Palace

Day 12: Beijing
Great Wall

Railway Train Experience
Standing, Hard Seats, Sleepers

12 Day Trip
Itinerary & Budget

More of China here


  1. Golly! Your snapshots made me miss China. Is it just me or is that veggie noodles dish look really uhm, creepy?

    1. Hi Gaye! Ako din, namiss ko na kahit 1 month before pa lang ang trip ko. And now that you've mentioned it, the noodles indeed look odd.

  2. Awesome blog! Just came across it - I love all the detail and your Facebook downloads!

    1. Welcome to the blog! Thanks for the visit and hope the itinerary files were useful :D


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