Wednesday 24 Mar
Ping Yao, China
Chillaxing in Pingyao
Our next stop was Pingyao. It is about half way between Beijing and Xian and is about a 9 hour train journey. We decided to get an overnight train. The train was split into compartments with 6 beds in each, & we had the middle bunks. Apart from the regular sound of people hacking up phlegm and spitting, and a poor lady on the bottom bunk who sounded like she was dying a slow and painful (and noisy) death, the journey was quite easy.
Streets of Pingyao
We were met at the train station and brought to our hostel by a ramshackle tuk-tuk. It was just before dawn and truly freezing, but the town was bustling all the same. The locals were doing Tai Chi in the parks and people were pushing hand carts through the narrow lanes. Pingyao is one of the few ancient walled cities still intact in China. It was beautiful, our hostel was right in the centre of the old town in a converted Hutong complete with sloping tiled roof and loads of courtyards. The hostel was so authentic that it didn't have any central heating and it was FREEZING! Luckily we had our ski jackets with us, and hats and scarves!
The staff in the hostel were really friendly and made great efforts to chat to us in English. There were only 2 other guests staying so it was really cosy atmosphere. We had a few DVDs with us that we'd bought on various beaches along the way, so we put on "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" one night and sat down to watch it with the other guests and the staff. Well, we didn't expect as much full frontal nudity in the first 10 mins! The poor Chinese girls from reception didn't know where to look, and then of course the manager (middle aged man) popped in to say hello, and there we all are in the bar watching this crazy naked film! It was pretty awkward; it then got even more strained when the police came in for some after work beers..... Luckily they didn't stay long, seemingly they were only there to collect what looked like a bin-bag full of money from the manager. Hmm, no wonder they can't afford the heating bills.
Walking the Wall
The next morning we were all set for some full on tourism. Being fans of an audio tour we couldn't wait to get our hands on the Pingyao version. This one is used for the entire city and you keep it for the whole day. It's activated whenever you walk past a place of interest (no matter how many times you walk past the same place in a day!) As audio tours go this one was pretty amazing, and we had a great day walking the city walls before wandering the tiny streets and lanes of the city. The city has been restored over the years, old bricks replaced with new, but people do still live there and it remains a market town.
We loved the atmosphere of the place and it was so picturesque, apart from the police station which was a concrete & pebbledash mess, complete with flashing neon lights at night! Not really in keeping with the rest of the town. The food in Pingyao was very mixed, and impossible to know what to expect. Restaurants with fancy menu's and prices were dire, and then street stalls were sometimes delicious! We had fantastic noodles from a really dodgy looking street stall, and then we went to a restaurant and it was so bad we couldn't eat it at all (and we really eat everything) and also had no idea what we were eating. So after 3 days of freezing conditions in the hostel and erratic food standards, we were ready to ship out to our next destination Xian, home of the Terracotta Warriors.