Is Pingyao worth visiting on the way from Beijing to Xi'an? Beijing to Pingyao is about 4 hours by train. China's system of high-speed trains makes covering long distances across the country tolerable. We enjoy train travel but prefer to break up trips of five hours or more into shorter segments where possible. We planned to travel by high-speed train from Beijing to Xi'an, a journey of more than 6 hours. We wondered if there were any cool places to stop along the way to split the train trip into more manageable chunks. That's how we discovered the Ancient City of Pingyao. Pingyao is a preserved medieval city popular with Chinese domestic tourists. Pingyao lies conveniently along the route between Xi'An and Beijing so we booked in for two nights before continuing our train travels in China to Xi'An. Is Pingyao Ancient City worth stopping for on China's bullet train? Here are reasons why the Ancient City of Pingyao China is worth a layover to break up the train journey from Beijing to Xi'an.
Pingyao is Quaint and Pedestrianized
The Ancient City of Pingyao has been designated a UNESCO world heritage site. Founded in the 14th century, Pingyao's Ancient City is mostly pedestrianized inside the city walls. It's like taking a step back into time. We enjoyed walking around the perpendicular streets lined with dark wooden structures and ornate red lanterns.
A Touristy Place but No Westerners
Pingyao is an extremely popular tourism destination in China. When the sun goes down, bus loads of tourists descend on the city to experience the medieval ambiance and lantern-lit streets. However, Pingyao is essentially unknown by westerners. We saw very few foreign tourists on our visit to Pingyao's ancient town.
One Ticket Buys You 20+ Attractions in Pingyao
See China's Original Bank
Pingyao was the center of banking in China in the 19th and early 20th centuries. We strolled through courtyards lined with abacuses (abaci?) to help bank employees count out funds for different transactions and balance the books. The history of banking in China was fascinating and the architecture was splendid. Most of the banks were situated on open air courtyards with offices and living quarters surrounding.
Visit a Historic Bank Vault
At one of the banks, we had the opportunity to visit the historic bank vault below ground. The vault itself seemed to be guarded by a carving of an imposing Chinese warrior. The chambers were filled with replicas of the valuables that might have been stashed here during banking's hey-day.
Step Back in Time in Well-Preserved Courtywards
We strolled through courtyards lined with dark brick and wood structures set against a maze of passageways. These historic homes and businesses in Pingyao were extremely well-preserved and made me imagine what it was like to live in 19th century China.
Walk Pingyao's Intact City Wall
Pingyao's defensive wall is still entirely intact and well-preserved. The entrance fee to walk along the wall's ramparts is included in Pingyao's city ticket.
Temples Galore in Pingyao
We visited too many temples to name with our Pingyao day ticket. Each temple was a treasure-trove of religious artifacts, and representations of the gods.
Stay in a Traditional Chinese InnBaichanghong Inn which was run by a local family that also makes delicate paper lace. The rooms lined a quiet courtyard. There are a few things that westerners should be aware of before booking a traditional Chinese room in Pingyao. First, the traditional Chinese beds are extremely hard. The bed consists of a very thin mattress over a hard wood platform. The room was also very small. We barely had space to open our suitcase. Don't expect to find a desk or working area. There is a small tray that looks like it should be used to have breakfast in bed. However, in reality, it's used to turn the bed into a working space during the day.
We made sure to find a traditional hotel that still had modern amenities like an en suite toilet and shower. In our case, the shower was in the middle of the toilet closet. You can expect everything to get wet when you're in the shower. Overall, we're glad we had the experience of staying in a more traditional Chinese accommodation but two nights was plenty since the hard bed can be tough on the back.
Tasty Food including Pingyao Pancakes and Tofu
We also discovered that Pingyao has really tasty food. In particular Pingyao tofu and pancakes were delicious. The pancakes were cut up into strips so it was almost like a pasta or noodle dish. The version we had was dry with greens, herbs, and plenty of chili thrown in for a hot and spicy punch.
Pingyao's Tacky Bars with Live Music
Wandering around Pingyao at night, we walked past a bar. A young guy sat on stage playing folk songs and singing his heart out in Chinese. The beers were definitely overpriced (even by western standards) but we had an enjoyable evening listening to a heartfelt live performance in a kitschy tourist trap designed for Chinese tourists.
Is Pingyao Worth Visiting on the Way from Beijing to Xi'an?
Our conclusion is that Pingyao is definitely worth a short stopover on the bullet train from Beijing or Xi'An. Pingyao is a fascinating stop that not many westerners take time to visit when if they did, I think they would find the place extremely fascinating.
The Logistics of Booking High-Speed Train Tickets in China
To purchase high-speed train tickets in China online, it's easiest to worth through a Chinese travel agency. Tickets go on sale 30 days in advance and a travel agency can take your preferences and book your Chinese rail tickets as soon as the purchase window opens. We used ChinaHighlights to purchase our train tickets in China and were pleased with their professionalism and prompt communication. Once we booked our rail tickets, we had to go to the train station in Beijing to show our passports and pick them up. There was one line at the train station with a sign indicating that there was an English-speaking agent.
Our high-speed train tickets from Beijing to Pingyao and from Pingyao to Xi'An cost $38 USD and $28 USD per person respectively. The ChinaHighlights service fee was $6 USD per person per leg. We rode in first class from Beijing Xi (West) to Pingyao. The first class service was sold out on our train from Pingyao to Xi'An so we were booked in second class. Both trains were comfortable with food and drink service for purchase and toilets of an acceptable standard.