Pingyao, Ancient City with kids
When researching China and possible destinations we found it difficult where to go to, mainly due to the vastness of the area, but also due to lack of travel information. Most of the places and itineraries were based around the main tourist areas.
So when we saw Pingyao, an ancient city, described it sounded like an area we would like to investigate. And knowing that Beijing was going to be extremely hectic it felt like we would get a few days to slow down and catch up.
Not far south of Beijing, this is an ancient walled city. The views from the wall overlook a compact area of the city, which provided much of the inspiration for the Kung Fu Panda movies.
No cars are allowed within the city walls and as such there are some small electric shuttle buses as well as scooters, bikes and lots of people. As we are in the height of summer, July 2018, the place was very busy with Chinese Tourists.
The warren of streets within the ancient city walls were filled with hotels, restaurants, street food, drinks stalls and plenty of tourist shops.
The main artery meets at a crossroads but there are many smaller alleyways leading off for you to explore. Within the city walls there are many temples and museums. See things to do for more information.
Getting to and from Pingyao
The best way to travel is by train. Our train was a G class (fast bullet train), from Beijing, which took 4 hours and we were seated in 2nd Class. It was an extremely pleasant journey with comfortable seats which reclined back a long way and good leg room. I have no idea why more westeners don’t travel by train!!
All signs were in English and the process was fairly straightforward. However, I would recommend reading up on train travel in China prior to you arriving and read my ‘Guide to train travel in China’, which I’ll post shortly!!
All fast speed trains arrive into the new ‘fast train’ station on the outskirts of Pingyao. There is a local bus No.108 which runs directly from the train station. We had read beforehand that there is one bus which takes you to the north gate (Bei) and one bus which goes to the south gate (nan).
We got on the wrong bus…. but it wasn’t an issue – it just meant more walking. Unfortunately Jasper was a bit hit and not happy about this!
We used our OsmAnd map to track where we were so that we could get off the bus. Or just ask the bus driver (they were usually very helpful).
Returning to the train station was a little more difficult as there was no bus station as such. However, we located a bus on Liugen Street (nearer to the south gate) and just beyond the park at the south gate. We just walked to the bus stop and located the bus stop with our bus number.
We then looked at the timetable and found the symbol for train station and worked out that we needed to be on the near side. We showed the bus driver our ticket showing Pingyao train station, he nodded, we put RMB 2 each into the slot machine and climbed in! Easy.
Staying in Pingyao
There are many options for staying in Pingyao, but the one aspect we struggled with was the number of beds. It wasn’t very clear when we booked a place whether the kids were going to be sleeping on the floor, so where possible we booked a place which was clear that there would be either 2 double or 4 single beds!
However, normally you’ll find a place will just say 3 single beds! very confusing. Also, there are a number of establishments which will only accept chinese travellers. It makes the process much harder!
We opted to stay at Free Heart Hotel, reserved through booking.com. Well, to say we struggled to find it was an understatement. We ended up wandering up and down the street several times. It turns out the directions were not quite accurate and we were based off a side street. To add to the mystery the exterior pictures were different. This was because the hostel had 2 sites!
The familiy run hostel was o.k. It was a small seating area at the entrance and a small courtyard area. There were a few chinese families staying who were very friendly and whereas language was a barrier, food was not – as they shared their dumplings, watermelon and whatever else they had with us!
We found out we were staying in 2 adjoining rooms with large double beds. They were dark but fairly comfortable and we had a compact toilet/shower room as well as air-conditioning. It was actually quite nice that the boys had their own room and we had our own space for a few nights.
The owners spoke very little english and so were concerned that we were going to get charged double for 2 rooms. As it turns out we still only paid RMB 600 for 3 nights (Just under £70).
Places to eat in Pingyao
The main street was full of life and packed with street food and restaurants. It was quite nice to be able to find what we needed on our doorstep without having to get subways etc..
We ate in our hostel one night which was o.k. but we prefer to eat out. So the next few nights we ventured into the main street and found a few restaurants.
One was recommended in the Travel China Guide, Tian Yuankui KeZhan. This was busy and also quite stress free as ordering was done via Ipad with pictures and english writing.
Another restaurant we visited, nearer the southern end, had many pictures along the walls and as we had downloaded a cheat sheet on food we were able to translate some of the dishes. Pointing seems so rude, but needs must!
While there we also found a huge supermarket. Mainly you find small local run shops or small supermarkets. This was based outside the west gate and situated in what looked like a derelict building (there was a mcdonalds there).
Downstairs there was plenty of options and we even managed to pick up a very tasty, and filling, lunch of pancakes with a tomato topping and a spring onion and garlic topping that was only £2.
Things to do in Pingyao
The main activity within Pingyao is the Ancient City walls and various temples and museums. However, there is only 1 ticket for all and costs RMB 150 for adults, but it gives you access to everything in the area and also lasts for 3 days. It’s one of the reasons we stayed for a few days in the area.
You can also explore the streets around the ancient city, stopping to enjoy the shops or one of the many eateries. While walking around the city we enjoyed a few rain showers. It was so refreshing! I had brought an umbrella with me which doubled as a sun shade too. You almost feel like part of the furniture as everyone has one!
I did like Pingyao for it’s quaint alleyways but the city walls weren’t that spectacular (one area was closed. We didn’t visit any of the ‘sites’ mainly because we were a bit worn out still from Beijing but the option is there.
I did enjoy the slower pace of the area and the fact that everything was on your doorstop. So for that reason I would recommend Pingyao as a great stopover for a couple of days (if time allows).