Journey Back to the Ming Dynasty
Visiting Pingyao is a real step into China’s past: The ancient city walls and picture-perfect red lanterns recall an era that has been lost in many of China’s modernizing towns. Pingyao is best explored on foot, and the sights possess enough charm to keep antsy children entertained. Just after Chinese New Year is a good time to go, as Pingyao hosts a lively Lantern Festival. If you wish to leave the brick walls of the Ming dynasty, you can visit Buddhist temples and traditional family courtyard homes that lie on the outskirts of the city.
The Travelers: Australians Peter and Maxine Hewitt, and their kids James (10) and Bethany (7).
The Plan: Wanting to see more of China, the Hewitt family chose this ancient market town, taking the overnight train on Friday night and arriving early Saturday morning. On Sunday they drove to Taiyuan via other sightseeing spots before taking another overnight train home.
Where to Stay: The Hewitts loved their guesthouse, the Tian Yuan Kui, right in the middle of old Pingyao. One of the oldest in town, it boasts a beautiful courtyard setting, kang-style beds and great breakfasts (0354 568 0069).
What to Eat: Both Chinese and Western eateries abound in Pingyao, and the family enjoyed the local food as much as the pizza!
Out of town: The family took a day to travel by private car to Shuanglin and Zhenguo temples, then on to the Qiao Family Compound (where the Zhang Yimou movie “Raise the Red Lantern” was filmed) – a beautifully preserved courtyard mansion shaped in the character for xi, or “happiness.” Their last stop before Taiyuan was Jinci Gardens, which feature a Never Aging Spring!
Time-Saving Tips: Maxine recommends buying the RMB 120 ticket that allows entry into 19 of Pingyao’s historical sites, letting you pick and choose what suits your plans. Don’t waste money on a guide – the town is small, gridlike and easy to navigate, especially by bicycle (available for hire everywhere) or golf-cart taxi. Also, as Pingyao’s weather is changeable, best to take warm clothes unless you’re going during summer.