Pingyao city is most famous in China for its banking industry and trade history. It was most important to Pingyao during the Ming and Qing dynasties. You can visit some of these old banks that used to have connections all over Asia thanks to the Shanxi merchants.
Rishengchang Exchange House
Temple of the City God
Around Pingyao I recommend to see:
Wang Merchant's Courtyard House
You can enter the city for free. However to visit the Pingyao highlights you have to buy a multiple-day pass. You can get the pass at any of the attractions ticket offices.
The Shuanglin Buddhist temple just outside Pingyao (you can take a long walk or cycle to get there) has some very impressive sculptures and decorations. The picture of the guard on my main web page was taken there, these warriors (four in total) are guarding the Hall of the Heavenly Kings.
The statues are made of clay that is sculpted over a wooden frame finished of with colorful painting. You can find over 2000 statues that are the best that Ming dynasty produced.
The current buildings of the temple date from the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) Dynasties.
The Buddhist Zhengou temple is located close to Pingyao in the village of Hadongcun. The Wanfo Hall (963 c.e.) is the oldest building at the Zhenguo temple and one of view original timber constructions left in China.
The wood construction of the Zhenguo temple has large brackets that hold up the roof.
Wang Merchant's Courtyard House:
Wang courtyard is an impressive "city" it is huge ! 19.500 m² with 342 houses . It is large especially if you think about the fact that it was build for only one (very successful) merchant's family. The billionaires of China's past.
Watch the movie "raise the red lantern" for reference. The whole complex is build against a gently sloping hill and has a maze of lanes connecting one courtyard to another. It even has its own school and temple.
The complex is not the only one in its kind there are several more that survived. Some of them are on the tentative list of UNESCO including the Wang Merchant's Courtyard House. It's relatively far from Pingyao city. Hire a car or take a bus to get there.
The Zishou temple is close to the Wang courtyard. This Buddhist temple also has clay sculptures dating from the Ming (CE 1368-1644).
The heads of 18 arhats statues have been sawed of in 1993 and sold on the underground market. A Taiwanese business man bought them and returned the heads to Zuzhou temple. So you can see complete sculptures once again.
Like in European Churches theft is a serious problem for cultural heritage in China too. Our driver told us that even the week before we visited Buddhist statues disappeared from temples.
Transportation and accommodation:
We travelled to Pingyao by airplane from Beijing (Taiyuan airport) a driver who was arranged by the Yide Hotel picked us up. It's still a ride from airport to the old city by train you would arrive much closer to the center of town. On arrival we first checked in at the Yide hotel. It is a old traditional courtyard house. After the original owners "left" the premises it was split up to house many families. The current owner bought the pieces bit by bit and turned it into this nice hotel.
Our room at the back of the courtyard had a stone arched ceiling and was decorated with traditional Chinese furniture. The window looked out on the courtyard that is shared with other hotel guests.
But since we are not the indoor type of persons we headed out into the Pingyao streets immediately. This city is a lucky survivor of the demolishments of the past. It still retains its city walls and old buildings both residential and religious.
But don't expect a perfectly restored city. A lot of restoration and conservation still has to be done. Current priority seems to focus on commercial exploitation. It is also very popular with Chinese tourists which make the main streets crowded. Beware of electrical cars whisking tour groups around town.
In the small side streets it's more quiet though and you can see some street scenes from long time ago. You can get a feel of traditional Shanxi city life there. It is possible to walk all around the city walls that have been restored extensively. More interesting for me though where the temples and houses outside the city.
Shanxi is deeply rooted in Chinese ancient history. Cities like Datong and Taiyuan played important roles in China's cultural and religious development. Specially during the Tang Dynasty. The Province's most important attractions are:
When you drive around the province you will notice the special landscape. Shanxi is for a big part made out of Loess. This silty soil erodes very easily and the landscape is marked by ravines as a result. It gives some impressive views but also engineering problems for new railroads being build currently. It is relatively easy to build cave dwellings in this soft soil though. Shaanxi province (next to Shanxi province) is famous for this type of vernacular architecture.
Be sure to try some traditional Shanxi noodles they come in a variety of tastes and are best with some cold beer.