Mar 302012
 

After an unrestful night on the sleeper train, Mike and I opted for the day time train from Pingyao to Beijing. You take the slow train from Pingyao to Taiyuan (17 RMB) which takes 2 hours and then transfer at Taiyuan to the high speed train to Beijing which takes 3 hours. This is much faster than the regular sleeper train which takes 12 hours!
There is such a big difference between the slow and fast trains. On the regular slow trains, it’s packed and they also sell standing room tickets. So even though Mike and I had seats, we had people hovering over us the whole time and there’s trash all over the floor. The conductor was nice and directed us through the crowds to our seats and had to kick people out of our seats who apparently missed their stop.
The high speed train is extremely modern and nice, no standing room seats here! We watched a rented movie on my iPad pass the time, and we were there in no time.
No more trains for a while–next up is the last city on the China tour: Beijing!

 March 30, 2012  Posted by at 1:47 am China, Pingyao Tagged with: , , , ,  No Responses »
Mar 272012
 

Today we went on a tour organized by our hostel to attractions about an hour outside of Pingyao.  We met some nice folks: Tyler, who is an English-Chinese translator from Memphis living in Beijing, and his dad Dick who was visiting, and Sven and Kimberley, who are Bavarian students who are traveling for 5 months in Asia post-graduation before they start work.  You meet the most interesting people traveling!

First, we went to Wang Family Mansion, which is a huge courtyard complex that used to be the home of a wealthy merchant family.  This thing was enormous!  You could get lost for days in the maze of courtyards, alleyways, and gardens.  The nice thing was that it was so big, you could avoid the tour groups pretty easily and have entire courtyards to yourself.  Every stairway, column, and doorway had intricate carvings, showing the vast wealth of the family.

Ornate Carved Chinese Bed

Wang Family Courtyard Complex

After a while though, every courtyard starts looking the same, and Mike and I like to refer to it as courtyard fatigue and we also get temple fatigue as well. =)

Next, we went to Zhangbi Castle, which was build at the beginning of the 7th century.  It’s mostly known for the underground tunnels built over 1000 years ago underneath the castle.  The tunnels were only discovered in 1994, and they haven’t all been found as some of them have caved in and it’s dangerous to explore.  We had a guide luckily, otherwise you wouldn’t be able to find your way around!  There are lots of turns and tunnels going in different directions.  It was used largely during the Sui Dynasty for protection against Tang invasion.  We saw where soldiers would hide and attack (murder holes from Game of Thrones, anyone?) and they also had a drainage system in case the enemy poured water in the entrance to drown them out.  The deepest went about 25m under the surface.  Mike had to crouch pretty much the whole time since he was too tall for the tunnels.  (He’s also had bad luck with bumping his head on short doors lately =()

Zhangbi Tunnels

Too Tall for the Zhangbi Tunnels

All around the area, we saw a lot of openings in the sides of the mountains.  Our driver explained that they were cave dwellings, called yao dong, where people lived and still live.

Pingyao Cave Dwellings

Cave Dwellings in the Mountain

 March 27, 2012  Posted by at 11:27 am Attractions, China, Pingyao Tagged with: , , , , ,  1 Response »
Mar 272012
 

We arrived in Pingyao, one of the last preserved ancient walled cities of China.  Pingyao used to be the major financial center of China during the Ming and Qing Dynasties (18th/19th century).  The city has largely preserved the architecture of the buildings and motor vehicles are limited within city walls.  We are staying at Harmony Guesthouse, which is in a traditional courtyard style, and we sleep in a raised platform bed called a kang.

Harmony Guesthouse in Pingyao

Courtyard of our hostel

We explored the city walls, which are still intact from the Ming Dynasty.  We walked about ¾ of the way around, which took an hour and a half.  You can get a nice view of the city and the inner courtyards.

Pingyao City Walls

City Walls intact from Ming Dynasty

We also stopped in a few of the museums—the most interesting was the old bank museum, Rishengchang.  It was the first bank in China in 1824 and one of the first places in the world to use checks.  Some of the other museums were under construction when we went in and weren’t really well maintained.

Mostly, it was better to wander around the town and look at the old architecture to get a sense of what old China used to be like.  Most of the shops didn’t have anything interesting to sell.  One casualty today: Mike lost his REI hat somewhere along the way. =(

Pingyao Streets

Olden China

 March 27, 2012  Posted by at 11:23 am Attractions, China, Pingyao Tagged with: , , , , ,  No Responses »
Mar 262012
 

Tonight we board a sleeper train from Xian to Pingyao.  The ride is supposed to take around 8 hours.  We got the soft sleeper beds.  There are hard sleeper beds which are stacked three high, but the soft sleepers are supposed to be only two high.  We’ll find out!  We both have bottom bunks.

Alex from Germany said he took the hard sleeper to Xian and it was pretty uncomfortable.  He also didn’t know that when they take your ticket, they know to wake you up for your stop, so he spent the whole time worrying about which stop was his!  Good to know for our ride.

Will post an update about the ride when we get to Pingyao!

 

Update:

The overnight train was an experience!  Glad we tried it once, but it’s probably not something we’d do again soon.  Like taking the red eye.  You think you’re saving time/money, but in reality, you don’t get good rest and then arrive exhausted at your destination.

So…we didn’t have soft sleepers after all!  They only had hard sleepers on the train.  At least we had the bottom though.  The beds were indeed stacked 3 on top of each other.  Boy, did we have the ultimate snorer with sleep apnea on top of us!  Was difficult to go to sleep.  No curtains or privacy or anything.  Speaking of privacy, there have definitely been restrooms I’ve seen that have no doors at all, just a bunch of squat toilets out in the open. =)

We got to Pingyao around 7:15am and fortunately had already arranged for our hostel to come pick us up.  We booked our train ticket to Beijing yesterday and this time we’re taking the day train!

 March 26, 2012  Posted by at 11:59 am China, Xian Tagged with: , , , ,  No Responses »