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Pingyao (平遥) was the financial centre of China during the Qing dynasty and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Following the collapse of the dynasty, the financial centre transferred to Beijing leaving Pingyao in limbo. This had the advantage that the town never became a target for fighting warlords, and as such much of the town is untouched by more modern developments. Chinese people often refer to the town as being "stuck in history". The town is charming and radiates a feeling of nostalgia. Its surrounded by an authentic city wall and is a bit of a maze of small, cobble stone streets. Everywhere you look you’ll see red Chinese lanterns attached to the facades of the courtyard houses. The lanterns create a magical glow in the evenings.
The predominant activity for a tourist in Pingyao is to visit the many museums within the walls. Although tickets are required to gain, they are not available at the museum entrances and must be purchased at the gates entering the old town. A single ticket gains entry to most of the town's museums and is valid for around a week. The cost is around 120 Yuan. Try to visit the Buddhist Zhenguo Lotus Temple and the courtyard of the Qiao Family - This is where the famous movie, 'Raise the Red Lantern' was filmed.
China has three "Golden Week" holidays per year. People get a mandatory two or three days off work for each holiday, and workers' companies can grant them the rest of the week off, making each holiday a total of 7 days. As you can imagine, having almost 1.4 billion people with the same days off can make travelling at these times arduous to say the least.
Travelling during the Spring Festival/Chinese New Year is incredibly difficult. Chinese New Year is China's Christmas, so the millions of migrant workers and students flood back to their home towns. Everybody else takes the opportunity to spend their hong bao (gifts of money traditionally given at CNY) and go travelling. Most of the time, since you are only allowed to purchase train tickets 6 days in advance and must be present in the city of origin, sometimes only standing room tickets are available. Be aware! The Spring Festival is undoubtedly the busiest time for the Chinese transportation system. Flying will avoid the crowded trains, but book early and expect to pay higher prices. All the main tourist attractions will be crawling with tourists (worse than usual), so unless you like crowds, it's best to avoid it altogether.
Chinese New Year is based on the lunar calendar, so the date changes each year. The Chinese New Year/Spring Festival holiday is 7 days long and usually starts on New Year's Eve.
The two other national holidays are October 1st, National Day, celebrating the founding of the People's Republic of China and May 1st, which is International Labor Day. Almost all Chinese get the two holidays off and many take the opportunity to travel. If you want to avoid the crowds, fly, but it should get a lot less busy towards the end of the week.
Pingyao doesn't have an airport. The closest one is the Taiyuan Wusu Airport, about 100 kilometres to the northeast, which has regular connections to all major Chinese cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, Xi'an, Chengdu and Hong Kong.
Pingyao is easiest to reach by train, with overnight services operating from Xi'an and Beijing, taking around 0 or 11 hours in both cases. There are regular connections from Taiyuan as well. From there a taxi should be able to get you to the border of the old town. If sleeping within the walls of the old town, you will probably need to carry your luggage to the guesthouse.
Buses go frequently to Taiyuan (1,5 hour) and there are about 5 or 6 daily connections to Xi'an (6 hours).
Cars are pretty much banned from the centre of the old town and as such the best options are on foot.
The centre is old town is small enough to do this, but comfortable walking shoes are recommended.
If you wish you can rent a bike for the day for a small cost.
There are no ATMs inside Pingyao old town, so it is recommended that sufficient money is carried before entering it. However, there is an ATM of the Agricultural Bank of China just outside the southwestern gate.
There are no western or fast food options in the old town. However, there are plenty of restaurants serving predominantly noodle-based dishes.
There are only a few guesthouses within the town walls and pricing does tend to put them out of the range of the backpacker. It is however worth the expense to stay in a guesthouse that is around 500 years old and steeped in history.
|DeJuYuan Guesthouse||NO.43 West Street||Guesthouse||-|
|Pingyao Harmony Backpacker Guesthouse||No.165 Nan Da Jie Street||Hostel||89|
|Pingyao Yide Hotel||#16 Shaxiang Street, Pingyao, Shanxi Province, Chi||Hotel||89|
|Tian Yuan Kui Hotel||73 Ming Qing Street Shanxi||Hotel||86|
|Yamen Hostel||69 Yamen Street||Hostel||-|
|Zhengjia International Youth Hostel||No.68 Yamen Street, PingYao||Hostel||75|
|Pingyao Mini Guesthouse (Hongyuyuan)||167 South Street||Hostel||-|
|Tian Yi Hotel||No.9 Mijia Alley South Street||Hotel||-|
Wangba (联网) means internet bar in Chinese. Almost every town will have an internet bar or gaming center. The best way to spot an internet bar is to look for the 网(ba) character, which means net, and large digitized images of computer game characters. Often, there will be a sign saying Green Power in English at the entrance. Most gaming centers cost about RMB3 an hour. You prepay at the main desk and are then given a plastic card or a piece of paper. Once you are done you return the card or piece of paper and get reimbursed for the money you didn't spend. Be prepared for a place that might be dingy, basic and messy. Internet bars in China tend to get crowded starting in the late afternoon to the late evenings.
Some hotels provide access from the rooms that may or may not be free; others may provide a wireless service or a few desktops in the lounge area.
Also, quite a few cafes provide free wireless Internet service. Some cafes, even provide a machine for customer use.
See also: International Telephone Calls
The country calling code to China is 86. To make an international call from China, the code is 00.
When making international phone calls it is best to buy an IP card. They typically have a value of ¥100 but sometimes can be had for as little as ¥25. The cards have printed Chinese instructions, but after dialing the number listed on the card English-spoken instructions are available. As a general indication of price, a call from China to Europe lasts around 22 minutes with a ¥100 card. Calls to the U.S. and Canada are advertised to be another 20% cheaper. There is no warning before the card runs out of minutes.
If you already have a GSM 900/1800 cellphone, you can roam onto Chinese networks, but calls will be very expensive (¥12-35/minute is typical). If you're staying for more than a few days, it will usually be cheaper to buy a prepaid Chinese SIM card; this gives you a Chinese phone number with a certain amount of money preloaded. Chinese tend to avoid phone numbers with the bad-luck digit '4', and vendors will often be happy to offload these "unsellable" SIM-cards to foreigners at a discount. If you need a phone as well, prices start around ¥100/200 used/new. Chinese phones, unlike those sold in many Western countries, are never "locked" and will work with any SIM card you put in them. China's two big operators are China Mobile and China Unicom. Most SIMs sold by the two work nationwide, with Unicom allowing Hong Kong/Macau/Taiwan usage as well. There is usually a surcharge of about ¥1/min when roaming outside the province you bought the SIM, and there are some cards that work only in a single province, so check when buying.
China Post (中国邮政) is the official postal service of the People's Republic of China, operated by the State Postal Bureau of the People's Republic of China (website in Chinese only), and has more details about price to send letters, postcards and parcels, both domestically as well as internationally. The Chinese postal service is very good. Remember that in more remote places usually only one post office in a city can handle sending international boxes or letters. Also many times it might be worth having the name of the country you are trying to send to in Chinese characters, because small town people might not know what Estonia is in English. Post offices have a striking green logo and can easily be found everywhere in the cities. They are mostly open every day (including weekends!) from 8:00am to 6:00pm, though small offices might have shorter opening times, while the bigger ones in central and touristic areas are sometimes open during evenings as well.
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