Pingyao is an ancient walled han city and an early banking center of China. Preserved within its original city walls and earning it UNESCO world heritage site status are old banks, armed escort services, and Confucian and Buddhist temples. We decided to stop here for a few days between Beijing and Xi’an.
The thin, cobblestone streets are contained by han style buildings and gates and lined with red lanterns, bikes and tourists. This is the odd place in China that the domestic tourists flock to but that the foreign tourists are a bit slow to find, though thats not to say we were the only foreigners here. As with most domestic tourist sites in China it is clear that a lot of money and effort has gone into keeping the ancient walled village well-preserved with the satisfaction of the modern tourist trumping the preservation of historic culture, though Pingyao does not feel like a produced ancient town like so many other remakes in China. There is still an authenticity here that towns like Suzhou, Lijiang and Dali did not have.
We visited several of the old residences, company buildings (e.g., banks and armed guards), and temples. The old han style architecture was beautiful and, being our first experience with an old town like this in China, we really enjoyed just walking the streets of Pingyao. While the domestic tourists have certainly found this place, it is only the few main streets that seem to have been outfitted to satisfy the mass consumer that is the Chinese tourist, and even here there is more space and relaxation than other similar towns in China. And beyond those few streets, its really easy to get lost in old Pingyao’s back alleys and sideroads and you’re likely to actually be the only one in sight. This is not a large town, but a full day is easily spent just meandering old back streets.
We stayed at Yamen Hostel, a place situated in an old residence with a number of courtyards. It was a really great place with classic style and courtyards that fit in with its surrounds. Our room had Chinese furniture and decor, which included an earthen bed.