Pingyao – China

After 2 weeks waiting I finally have my Russian visa and I can continue my journey. I have booked all my tickets online for the trans-Mongolian trains. The only problem is that the trains from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar only leave on Tuesday and Wednesday. Off course I got my ticket on Wednesday so I have to enjoy myself in Beijing for another week. I checked out what places I could go to escape the big city and Ping Yao looked like a great place. I booked a 3rd class sleeper train ticket (called a hard sleeper) and got the metro to the West train station. After a long wait I got to my bunk which hold six people in total. I got the highest (3rd) and cheapest bed which was perfect. My feet stick out into the isle so people will walk into them at night if you have the lowest bed.

Pingyao is a Chinese city and county in central Shanxi province, China. It lies about 715 km from Beijing and 80 km from the provincial capital, Taiyuan. During the Qing Dynasty, Pingyao was a financial centre of China. It is now renowned for its well-preserved ancient city wall, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

In Pingyao there was someone from the hostel waiting at the train station and we headed into the walled city with a ritsja. The atmosphere is awesome straight away. There are no cars within the walled city and it looks like you just walked into 16th century china. I had booked an single room in an old traditional house that was transformed into an hostel.

Pingyao still retains its city layout from the Ming and Qing dynasties. More than 300 sites in or near the city have ancient ruins. Preserved Ming- and Qing-style residences number close to 4,000. The streets and storefronts still largely retain their historical appearance. Although Ping Yao is quite a touristy place I really loved it for my entire stay. You buy one ticket that will let you visit every museum in the city and there are a lot of them. You usually don’t have to walk more than a 100 meters for the next (small) museum.

 

It also was the financial centre of China in the late Qing Dynasty. During those times, there were as many as 20 financial institutions within the city, comprising more than half of total in the whole country. Among these is “Rishengchang,” considered the first bank in China. Rishengchang controlled almost 50% silver trade when its scale reached the top in the whole Qing Dynasty. Every museum here has something to do with the “banking age”.

It was really interesting to see how it all evolved and how money was transported. It’s also a photographers dream at night with all the stalls and lights.

The only downside to Pingyao is the pollution. I was told that this part of China is known for using up 1/3 of the coal supply in China. I was walking up on the wall one day and it was around 5 o’clock when suddenly I saw fires being lit everywhere. “Ha, dinnertime” I thought.  After 5 minutes I was almost being gassed by all the smoke. I found it amusing at the time but then I noticed that everything is being done with coal. My warm water, my food and the heating in my room…. It was all done with coal…. Talk about pollution..

So Pingyao is definitely one of the highlights in China. Go visit it if you have the chance!

I’m headed back to Beijing in a sleeper train to prepare myself for Mongolia!

René