Last known location: London, England

Sunshine (and some snow!) in Pingyao

After a hectic but great few days in Beijing we were excited to be leaving the city and heading inland to a more rural setting.  We left early on Sunday morning and caught the Metro to Beijing West station – the biggest railway station in Asia.  Potentially disastrous but we managed to find it without too many problems (pointing at words in a guide book can get you a surprisingly long way!) despite my constant moaning about the weight of my backpack and the miserable weather.  God knows what I’d do without Dan because he has somehow managed to navigate us everywhere without ever getting us too lost!  My sense of direction and ability to map read is shocking.  But I’m always happy to ask for help, unlike some!!

The station was enormous but thankfully had plenty of English signs and translations so we quickly made our way to the waiting area for our train, which was similar to an airport waiting lounge; it was really big with shops and cafes and nowhere near enough chairs for the hundreds of people packed into it.  The Chinese queuing technique is great – it all seems very civilised at first but once the doors open it’s every man for himself as the crowd surges forward in a mad rush to get to the front.  There was no need for us to join in with this; we had our seats booked on the train.  But somehow we got caught up in it all and were pushing and shoving our way through with the rest of them.  Our big backpacks definitely worked in our favour on this occasion!

After a few minutes we made it to the train – a new shiny white bullet train, by far the swankiest we’ve been on so far.  Loads of leg room, even for Dan.  The journey was very smooth and took about 3 hours, which is pretty quick for the distance covered.  We arrived in Taiyuan where we were due to leave the train and catch a bus to Pingyao.  The guide book advised that we get a taxi from the train to the bus station so we did as we were told.  However, once we left the station and headed for the taxi rank (which didn’t exist) we realised this was easier said than done, especially in the pouring rain.  We followed everyone else’s example and walked onto the main road just outside the station in the hope of flagging one down.  But every taxi was either full, didn’t stop for us, or refused to take us once we pointed to where we were going.  So frustrating!  Eventually after about 30 minutes we walked to a quieter side street and managed to beg a very kind taxi driver to take us to the station.

The traffic was crazy – hundreds of cars, bikes, tuk tuks, lorries and buses; none of which kept to any sort of lane or followed any sort of traffic law!  Horns were honking and we were weaving in and out so much I wasn’t convinced we’d get to the bus station alive.  But we did, and once there managed to buy our bus ticket relatively easily and board the right bus on time.  Compared to the train the bus was “cosy”; hardly any leg room and no heating so I was absolutely freezing!  It took forever to get out of town thanks to appalling traffic but the total journey time was only about 2 hours and we arrived in Pingyao in one piece!

We’d booked our hostel online and once off the bus decided to ignore all the kindly offers of a lift to town an make our own way.  Perhaps not the most sensible decision given it was STILL raining and pretty dark.  But Dan’s navigational skills shone through again and we made it to the hostel in about half an hour, with more of my moaning about rain and bags throughout.  We checked into the lovely Zhengjia Hostel, and seemed to have been upgraded to a triple room – enormous bed the width of the room!

On Monday morning we were woken by a cacophony of noise – the walls in the hostel were paper thin and we heard endless beeping horns, chatter and music from 7am onwards.  At least it got us up and about!  We walked the ancient city walls, which total about 6km, and give you a birds eye view of Pingyao.  Health and safety issues were apparent – the walls were about 6 metres high and had little or no barrier to stop you falling off the side!  You could see into lots of the old courtyards, something Pingyao is famous for, so we had a good nose at everything.  We also saw lots of corn drying out on rooftops, which added a splash of colour to the grey slates!

Pingyao makes a really nice change from Beijing – it’s so much quieter with no high rise buildings and fewer tourists.  Most of the buildings are hundreds of years old, built during the Ming and Qing dynasties, all a bit different to the high rise in Beijing. It’s also been the first time we’ve seen the sun since arriving in China – we’re finally out of the smog!  We’re still getting looked at a lot, and starred in a few photos with some locals.  At least this time they asked rather than sneakily taking snaps of us on the metro!  It’s quite a small place so we saw pretty much everything in one day and are now moving on again, further south to Xi’an, home of the Terracotta Warriors.

We were due to catch a bus to Xi’an on Tuesday morning at 9.30 but unfortunately we were left waiting around at the layby for 45 minutes before being told the bus had broken down so we’d have to get the later one.  Bit of a pain but these things happen and it’s the first time our plans have been messed up so we’re not doing too badly!  After all the sunshine yesterday the temperature has dropped considerably and it’s now snowing!  All the layers have come out – our ride to the bus is on an open-sided tuk tuk so it can get pretty chilly!  Let’s hope it warms up a bit as we head south…

  1. John 27 Oct, 2010

    The hostel looks really interesting and the people in the pictures are wearing unusual costume, is it Disney like and are they artists or are they just in a time warp.
    Pleased you have sorted out the navigational duties. Your job is to say how well Dan is doing but keep quietly checking with the locals.I hope you were invited to get on the Horse, presumably not terracotta.
    Keep having fun

  2. Gem 27 Oct, 2010

    Those were monks at the Taoist temple! Everyone else was wearing normal clothes. I think we looked a lot scruffier than most of them! We both had a go on the horse, it was metal and no-one was looking!

  3. Rose 30 Oct, 2010

    That bed looks amazing! Have you had to share many dorms or are you usually on your own? Have you met any other Europeans lately? Pingyao looks really nice. Some of the roofs are beautiful.

    Looking forward to hearing about Xi’an.


    Mum x x x

  4. Dan & Gem 4 Nov, 2010

    We’ve been in dorms and doubles – it depends on cost and availability. We try to give ourselves our own room if we’ve been on the road for a day or so.

    Met a few Europeans along the way, also quite a few Argentieans. The cruise we’ve just done on the Yangzi was all Chinese except for us and one guy from Belgium! We were quite the novelty!

    Caught up with Dan and Sarah in Chengdu which was fun.


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