Pingyao Pictures Guide, China

Pingyao's Ancient Ming-Qing Street during morning exercises, Shanxi, China

Pingyao’s main drag and original business centre, Ancient Ming-Qing Street during morning exercises. The 18m (54′) high structure at the end is the 14thC Market Tower, renovated in 1688 during the Qing dynasty. Photo by Jim.

Visiting Pingyao

The small county of Pingyao and even smaller old town of Pingyao in central Shanxi province is a popular tourist destination for Chinese people as well as foreigners because it is one of the few ancient Chinese places to have retained its ancient layout, style and ambience, with around 4, 000 residences still in Ming or Qing style. It’s a joy to visit after the mega-modernity of so many of China’s famous cities.
There are quite a few attractions in Pingyao county so staying in the city for a few days is worthwhile and you can make it more interesting by staying at a traditional Chinese inn.

Pingyao is a UNESCO heritage site and the only ancient Chinese walled city that is occupied by real residents. No cars are allowed within the city walls so it’s best to stay in a hotel/hostel within the old city and walk or rent a cycle. If walking is a problem then there are plenty of rickshaws for hire and even the occasional electric mini-bus.

An old Pingyao junction with modern electric vehicles, Shanxi, China

An old Pingyao junction with modern electric vehicles, not to mention air conditioning units that were probably not from the Ming Dynasty. Photo by Francisco Anzola.

Pingyao Attractions

Tickets

Note that though entry to the old city is free, admission to the main attractions requires a ticket. This single ticket covers all the attractions, lasts for 3 days and comes with a map.
Visitors over 60 years-old will get a free ticket if they take their passport to the ticket office.

Walking ancient Ming Qing street

This thriving banking and commercial centre during the Ming era but now more dedicated to supplying tourists with sights, eats, drinks and souvenirs in Ming-Qing buildings with frequent parades of Ming Qing costumed personnel.

The old city is quaint, pleasant and gives a useful snapshot of the past but it’s clearly dedicated to tourism so if that’s an issue with you, stay away. Mind you, if crowds of tourists bothers you perhaps you should give China a miss.

China’s first bank, Rishengchang Exchange

Rishengchang exchange, Pingyao, Shanxi, China

Rishengchang exchange. Photo by Zhangzhugang.

This attractive and interesting little banking complex formally opened for business in 1824.

In addition to the courtyard house layout there are manikins portraying the bankers and furniture from the period. It is quite small inside so give it a miss if there’s a large tourist group is inside, especially if it’s Chinese group as the guide may use a loud speaker to explain the sights!

Walk/cycle Pingyao city walls

The city wall, gates and watch towers are all intact and offer excellent high views of the ancient city and help to comprehend the layout, which, incidentally, inspired the animated movie, Kungfu Panda.

For those who care, the wall is built with rammed earth and brick/stone facings. It’s 10 meters high, 3-5 meters wide and about 6kms long.

The wall near the North and South gates gets crowded with tour groups but if you walk a little further you’ll find it quiet and pleasant. A tour guide is unnecessary.

Buy one ticket for wall access and all Pingyao museums. If you’re over 65 entry is free.

Shuanglin Temple, a colorful historic site

Shuanglin temple's Guanyin Hall in a snowstorm, Pingyao, Shanxi, China

Shuanglin temple’s Guanyin statue in a snowstorm. Photo by Angus Cepka.

Situated about 7 kms (4. 5 miles) southwest of Pingyao, Shuanglin Temple is at least 1, 400 years old and shows architectural additions from bothMing (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1911) Dynasties.

This large Buddhist temple/monastery is surrounded by a tall earth wall, which makes it look like a fortress from some angles and contains so many superbly decorated and lifelike sculptures – about 2, 000 in ten halls – that it has been called ‘the treasure-house of Oriental sculptural art’.

Confucius Temple

An ornate bridge over a small river and entrance to the Confucius Temple, Pingyao, Shanxi, China

An ornate bridge over a small river and entrance to the Confucius Temple. Photo by Zhangzhugang.

Some think this is the best of the dozen sights in Pingyao, it’s large, peaceful, well-preserved, houses plenty of fine statues (87 sculptures of Confucius and his disciples alone) and is English language friendly. It’s also included in the Pingyao Sights ticket.

Qiao Family Compound

Qiao Family's Compound, near Pingyao, Shanxi, China

Qiao Family’s Compound. Photo by Jim.

The wealthy Qiao Family lived in this elaborate compound in the Qing Dynasty. It was first built in 1756 and was renovated several times, including the addition of a wall in front of the main entrance to discourage ghosts from getting in.

The compound contains 6 major courtyards, 20 smaller courtyards and 313 rooms, with a 10 meter high exterior wall.

The compound is about 40 Km north of Pingyao and is a showcase of exquisite workmanship and architectural mastery. It has been used as the setting for many Chinese films so it’s more of a film set than a museum, which may explain why there are no explanations of anything, anywhere.
Ideally acquire a guide to explain the significance of decorations, motifs and layout as there is no other source of information. Seen from above the Qiao compound’s numerous courtyards form the Chinese character meaning double happiness.
A two hour visit is enough for most people and sharing your space with Chinese tourists is quite likely.

Temple of the City God (Chenghuang Miao)

Entering the Temple of the City God, Pingyao, China

Entering the Temple of the City God, Cheng Huang. Photo by Zhangzhugang.

This attractive Taoist temple and its typically Chinese courtyards and halls is one of the best preserved temples in China, outside and in.

Entered through a grand three gate wooden arch the temple is an elaborate mass of detailed woodcarvings, stone sculptures and large murals of happy-family/regal emperor heaven above a hell replete with sinners undergoing all sorts of tortures. The City God Temple is in daily use and was built during the Song Dynasty, 960-1227.

Restaurants

A restaurant in Pingyao, Shanxi, China

Pingyao restaurant photo by Gisling.

Many small restaurants serve Chinese food of course, plus local delicacies (deep fried crunchy cockroach anyone? ) and a few cafes offer western style food but prices are not cheap compared to other Chinese tourist cities.

Accommodation

A traditional hotel in Pingyao Old City, Shanxi, China

Jim’s traditional Ming-style hotel in Pingyao Old City. Photo by Jim.

Huge ancient trumpets being carried down Pingyao street, Shanxi, China

And here’s the traditional wake-up call, sadly lacking a doze button. Photo by Jim.

Best seasons

The best time to visit Pingyao is in the autumn when sunny days are common and a pleasing temperature. Winter is OK but quite cold with occasional fog and snow, which actually suits the Old City ambience.

Time to avoid: springtime (the weather is erratic, swinging from very cold to very warm and pollution can be an issue); summertime (hot, rainy, humid and crowded), 1st weeks of May and October (Chinese holidays so attractions are very crowded) and the Chinese New Year (sometime January/February).

The Shehuo Festival takes place during the spring, a folk art event during which Pingyao streets and houses are decorated with colorful lights and music and dances take place in the streets.

Getting there

Note that the classic tourist cities of Beijing – 600kms – Pingyao – 523kms – Xi’an – 742kms- Chengdu – 922kms – Kunming are located roughly equi-distance from each other along one axis north-east (Beijing) to southwest (Kunming) so traveling to them sequentially is relatively efficient, saving time and money.

By Plane. Pingyao has no airport. The closest is at Taiyun, 90kms (55 miles) away.

By Train. The old slow-train station is a couple of kilometres from the old town but tuk-tuks are cheap and cheerful. The new fast-train station is further out and will require a taxi or bus ride into town. Fast trains from Beijing take 4 hours and from Xi’an 3 hours.
Remember to book train tickets ahead for both slow and fast services.

By Bus. from Taiyun 90 minutes, from Xi’an 8 hours.

Getting around

Pingyao old city is quite small, about 1. 5 kms (1mile) square and a delight to walk around. Furthermore one of the pleasures of the place is that most vehicles are forbidden from entering it, so walking or cycling is the way to get around. However, for those with ambulatory problems there are trishaws and a few electric carts available.