Trains and dust-storms..

Trip Start Jul 27, 2004
Trip End Dec 13, 2006

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Flag of China  ,
Tuesday, March 28, 2006

From Beijing we took a surprisingly comfortable sleeper train to Pingyao, 10hours west. We arrived at 5am to be met by the friendly owner of Harmony Guesthouse who ushered us into a waiting pedicab (m/cycle powered 4 seater) and off through the cold and dusty streets. After some hot green tea we retired to our beautifully decorated room complete with traditional Chinese beds, where we caught up on some extra sleep before re-appearing later in the morning. Pingyao is a small little town and the old city walls are stil intact and quite impressive. Most of the old buildings have survived to help the town retain lots of olde-worldy atmosphere and the fact that a dust storm was blowing through and keeping everyone inside meant it was even quieter than usual. We spent two peaceful days here exploring the old narrow streets and drinking lots more hot green tea along the way. In the centre of town is a pagoda which at 18m high is the tallest building in town so we paid the 5yuan entrance (35pence) to climb to its upper floors for a good view of the town. Even better views were to be had from walking around the city walls but this is normally only allowed if you buy the 'City Tourist Ticket' for 120yuan each, the price also including entrance to various temples and preserved houses. We managed to bribe the gateman for 15yuan each and he pointedly looked the other way as we entered and strolled off around the perimeter. On our last day we hired bicycles and cycled the 7km to Shuanglin Temple outside of the town. This monastary-cum-temple was built almost 2,000 years ago (no-one knows exactly when) and has amazingly well preserved statues and frescoes from the time of the Ming Dynasties. A couple of monks were still to be found in the complex and a few local chinese were praying and lighting incense sticks which all helped to add to the experience. After cycling back to town we headed to one of the local restaurants to try the local Pingyao beef (cured and served cold - like a cross between salted and corned beef) which was excellent. After another comfortable night we then left early the next morning to take a 2hour train to the city of Taiyuan. There we managed to book sleeper train tickets to Shanghai, photocopy travel documents, get some more passport photos taken, find an internet cafe and even decipher a chinese menu to order some food - great achievements in this land of strange writing!!!! All this done we spent a relaxing afternoon enjoying the sunshine in a nearby park before stocking up on food at the local supermarket and boarding our 6.12pm train to Shanghai. This was a mammoth 23hour journey (although longer ones still await us...) but we got some decent sleep and arrived in Shanghai at 5pm the following day ready to explore China's most vibrant east coast city.
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