Trip to Pingyao (Part 1)
Over the weekend, I went with 6 friends to a small town called Pingyao, South-West of Beijing in Shanxi Province. Pingyao is known for its Ming Dynasty buildings and fully-intact 6km-round city wall. The plan was to leave by train Friday night, arriving in Pingyao on Saturday morning and spend 1 night before boarding a train back to Beijing on Sunday night. While the trip (overall) went well, there were a few surprises. We secured tickets for the Hancheng-bound train (originating in Beijing) for Friday, August 27, 7:43 PM on the Tuesday before. We were able to get 7 soft-sleeper tickets together (4 in one compartment, 3 in the other) in the only soft-sleeper coach in the whole train. There were a couple of hard-sleeper coaches, the rest were hard and soft seats (with the usual standing passengers). Tickets were 204RMB for the ~11-hour journey. The train was set to depart from Beijing West Train Station, which was, of course, on the other side of town from my office, so I ended up having to leave work a bit early, take a cab to the nearest subway station, take the subway to the nearest station to the train station, then walk to the station. A picture of the train platform. When we first boarded the train and settled in, most of us ate some food (some ate from KFC purchased before boarding the train, others ate Chinese). A few (Kostas, namely) decided to be a bit anti-social and read, while some of us attempted to learn how to play a card game taught to us by Lilian and Melanie (both Singaporeans). (Holden and I both had issues - not sure if we are just dumb, or can’t understand Singaporeans - hmm, I should be careful here…) . After a while (around 11 PM or so), Kostas, Holden, and I decided to venture over to the dining car and see what kind of beverages we could consume. While they didn’t have cold beer, we settled with warm. We returned to our respective berths at around 1:30 for a good night’s rest. The train stopped at Pingyao at around 6:30 or 7am. We first attempted to buy our return tickets to Beijing at the station….
ASIDE: This is China. You can’t buy return train tickets from the originating city. Adds to the excitement of ground-based travel.
…but were unsuccessful. We were greeted at the train station by a rep from the hotel we would be staying at. We proceeded to board these interesting looking 3-wheel taxis and went to the hotel. Along the way, I noticed this was a particularly small city/town. Pingyao (including Old and Modern) make up just over 40,000 people. There aren’t many traffic lights in the city (none in Old Pingyao), and most weren’t functioning. I suppose the city didn’t really need traffic lights as there weren’t many cars… (It seemed Motorcycles and bicycles were the transportation method of choice for most Pingyao residents). We entered the Old city through the impressive city walls and proceeded down the narrow streets, finally arriving at our hotel. There, we checked in and had a pseudo-Western breakfast. Following breakfast, we did the usual sights, including the city wall (another one) . One of the kind-of neat things about the city are there are these towers scattered around. I am not quite sure what they were for, but they look almost like gates… The architecture is said to be common from the Ming dynasty days. (repairs, preservation) Much of the “down-town” area of the Old city is quite commercialized - shop after shop after shop selling either gong fu shoes (of which I bought a pair), Pingyao beef, traditional paper cuts, painted wood souvenirs, and other nicknacks. Outside of the main city center (still within the city walls), it looked like a typical deteriorating old city with boring narrow streets… We had lunch, and wait for part 2…..