Family Travels: Pingyao

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

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 financial town, taking the overnight train on Friday night and arriving early Saturday morning. On Sunday, they drove to Taiyuan via several locations before taking another overnight train home.

The city: Surrounded by a fully intact Ming Dynasty Wall, Pingyao is like stepping into China’s past. Saturday was spent exploring the old town; Beth and Jamie enjoyed walking on the town’s perimeter wall. The Confucian Temple, Nine Dragon Screen and Ancient City Building are worth seeing. They also had fun zipping around on the local electric “taxis” – or glorified golf carts.

Where to rest: The Hewitts loved their guesthouse, the Tian Yuan Kui, right in the middle of old Pingyao and one of the oldest in town, with a beautiful courtyard setting, kang style beds and great breakfasts (family room from 380RMB, 73 Nanda Jie, 0354 568 0069,

What to buy: The family found some wonderful papercuts and the kids got a free lesson with a local papercut artist. Nanda Jie is caked in fabulously kitsch knickknack shops and you can even hold a monkey dressed in a miniature Aladdin costume.

Where to eat: Both Chinese and Western style restaurants abound in Pingyao, and the family enjoyed the local food as well as the pizza. On the Sunday, they had lunch near Qiao Mansion; the touristy meal was expensive and awful. Maxine recommends asking the guesthouse in Pingyao for a picnic lunch to take with you instead.

Out of town: On the Sunday, the family travelled by private car to Shuanglin and Zhenguo temples, then on to the Qiao Family Compound (where the movie “Raise the Red Lantern” was filmed) – a beautifully preserved courtyard mansion shaped in the character “xi” or “happiness”. Their last stop before Taiyuan was the magnificent Jinci gardens which feature a Never Aging Spring; be sure to rub the monk’s water-worn head to retain your youth!

Ancient tips: Maxine recommends buying the 120RMB ticket that allows entry into 19 of Pingyao’s historical sites, letting you pick and choose what suits. Don’t waste money on a guide, as the town is small, gridlike, and easy to navigate, especially by bicycle (available to hire everywhere) or golf cart taxi. Pingyao’s weather is changeable; take something warm unless you go in summer.

First published, in part, in beijingkids magazine and on the beijingkids website. Last two photos by Tania McCartney.

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