We took an overnight train to the small and historic town of Pingyao. We booked our train ticket a few days in advance, but were not able to get sleeper seats and we were stuck with hard seats. This didn’t seem to bad, but we really didn’t understand how the trains work in China until we got to our seats.We jostled with the crowds, pushed our way onto the train, took our assigned seats in the assigned car, and then realized they sell all the formal seats, and also sell as many standing room tickets as possible. The result is that the aisles are full of people, and people end up sitting everywhere (by the bathrooms, between the cars, at your feet, on the edge of the seat next to you, etc.). There was also liquid all over the floor coming from the heavily used bathrooms, so we avoided that. We didn’t get much sleep on our overnight trip, so we took a nap when we got to the hostel in Pingyao.
Pingyao is a preserved, historic, walled Ming-era town. The great thing is that the old town center is off limits to most cars, so it is mostly full of people on foot or bicycles. The narrow streets have the old paving stones and the buildings are accentuated with great preserved architecture and red lanterns. Pingyao was once the financial center of China and many financial tools (like writing cheques) are said to have originated here during the Ming dynasty. We also rented bikes and rode around the old city.
Pingyao is also known for noodles and Pingyao beef (which is cooked with coriander, minced onion, mild chilies, and sesame seeds). We had some tasty buckwheat noodles, flat noodles and round steamed noodles. Our hostel was this great, historic building with awesome courtyards and red lanterns lit at night. Next we took a bus to Xian.