In the central area of Shanxi Province lies an ancient county typical of rural counties in North China--simple and steeped in ancient tradition. What's different is that this county is linked firmly to a certain prosperous time in Chinese history. It played quite an important role in the economic development of Shanxi during the Ming and Qing Dynasties.Pingyao is a tiny ancient town located in central Shanxi Province, 100 kilometers away from Taiyuan-capital of the province. Originally built in the West Zhou Dynasty, it boasts a long history of over 2,700 years. As its sound preservation of urban landscape in China's Ming and Qing Dynasty, Pingyao was added to the UNESCO's World Heritage List in Dec. 31st 1997.
Pingyao has now become quite a hot tourist attraction even though it is no longer economically prosperous. It boasts the famous Pingyao Old City which was included in the United Nations World Cultural Heritage in 1997. From the top of the grand City Wall, you have a bird's-eye view of the Old City, a complete city built almost a thousand years ago. In the Ancient Ming and Qing Street, you can experience the town's former glory while exploring the rows of residences and shops all constructed in the original architectural style.
As a popular tourist city, Pingyao has a great number of hotels in its not very large old city area. Many of the hotels are delicately constructed and decorated in a Ming and Qing style, comfortable and easy for tourists to appreciate the authentic flavor of old Pingyao. Yide Hotel is highly recommended when staying in Pingyao. It is situated in a quiet little alley just a few minutes' walk from Nan Dajie, the main street of Pingyao Ancient City. It is a beautifully renovated courtyard house built in 1736 by a wealthy merchant during the reign of Emperor Qianlong. All rooms in Yide Hotel are well equipped with air conditioners, bathrooms and large kang-style beds. Besides Yide, Yunjincheng Hotel and Yuantiankui Hotel are also good choices.
The City Wall itself, Streets, buildings and shops are all well preserved from the Ming and Qing Dynasties. In 1997, when the UNESCO decided to include the town on the World Heritage List, the comments read "the Ancient City of Ping Yao is an outstanding example of a Han Chinese city of the Ming and Qing Dynasties (14th-20th centuries) that has retained all its features to an exceptional degree and in doing so provides a remarkably complete picture of cultural, social, economic, and religious development during one of the most seminal periods of Chinese history".
"Ping Yao ancient city is the outstanding example of Chinese Han nationality cities during Ming and Qing Dynasties, remaining all features of such periods, Ping yao ancient city reveals a picture of unexpected cultural, social, economic and religious development in Chinese history." ---World Relics Committee of UNESCO
The most brilliant spot of this ancient town is its city wall which was originally built during 827-782 B.C. Designed as a military strong-hold, it is 3-6m wide across the top, 9-12m wide at the bottom, 10m in height and 6.4km in length. The body of the wall was first built of rammed clay, and then was enhanced by bricks and stones in the early Ming Dynasty. During the Ming and Qing dynasties, the city wall was renovated 25 times to make the inner and outer city walls strongly fortified. The pattern of the whole town resembled Eight Diagrams (a combination of eight of the 64 Trigrams of the Book of Changes¡ traditionally used in divination), which is similar to the pattern on a tortoise shell. It thus called tortoise city, symbolizing its longevity and solidity.
As an outstanding example of Chinese Han Nationality cities in the Ming and the Qing dynasties, Pingyao's ancient architecture fully reflects the historical flavor of those periods. The ancient town has 4 major streets, 8 lesser streets and 72 lanes form a cross shape. The shops, firms and residences were built symmetrically along a 750-meter-long street runs from north to south as the axis, and the Market Tower located in the center.
Along the central street there were over 220 banks, inns, pawn shops, Chinese herb shops, silk shops, tea stores, antique stores and restaurants at that glorious time. The most famous one was Rishengchang, the first private banking unit in China. The folk residences display the noted feature in Pingyao which are a combination of artistry and practicability.
There are many stunning temples inside and around Pingyao. Shuangling T
emple (Double Tree Temple), 6km southwest from Pingyao is famous for its colorful sculpture. The Zhengguo Temple, 12km to the northeast features unique wooden structural architecture.
Pingyao does not have an airport. The closest one to Pingyao is the Taiyuan airport, which is located in the southern suburbs of Taiyuan, about 18 kilometers away from the city center.
It takes about 2 hours to get to Pingyao from Taiyuan by long-distance bus. The bus ticket is 25 RMB.
Pingyao railway station is at the north-west side of the city. The North-South running Tongpu Railway passes through Pingyao. From here, the railway goes north up to Taiyuan, Shijiazhuang and other places, and goes south to Linfen, Yuncheng, etc. Pingyao can be directly accessed by train from Beijing, Taiyuan, and Xi'an.
From Pingyao train station, you can take a rickshaw ride to the ancient city area. The journey takes about 5-10 minutes, and costs only about 2-3 yuan.
Regular Minibuses leave Taiyuan for Pingyao for around 10 yuan up to 6 pm. and the bus ride is approximately 2 hours.
Tip: if you plan to go to Xian, you are advised to buy your sleeper ticket in Taiyuan before heading for Pingyao for it is not possible to buy a sleeper there. Another option would be to upgrade your ticket in the train but this would be a more stressful and hard to come by.
There is no taxi or public transportation within the tiny town. You can use the following available means of transportation for getting around:
Rickshaw: This man-driven vehicle is the main means of transportation here. It is very easy to find one that can take you for a stroll around the old streets.
Electro mobile: it's a kind of sight-view storage battery car which can accommodate 1-20 people.
Bicycle: it is maybe the easily way to tour around. Bicycles are available for rental just In front of your hotels. This is a popular means of transportation for many tourists to explore the ancient city wall when visiting there.
Watching the city folk play card games and hangout at the Temple of the City God gates.
Sampling the street snacks: sugarcane, nuts, candied and dried fruit.
Enjoying tea with the locals, who spend lazy afternoons in the
Listening to the sounds of the city below while perched atop the Town Tower.
Observing the how millet wine is made at a wine shop called
Changsheng yuan, next to the Town Tower.