…We dropped our things and went exploring. The day was filled with sightseeing and enjoying the new place. We walked streets that were mostly emptied of motor vehicles but filled with shops, street food stands, and street vendors. This city felt like one large hutong really. It was exciting, but not like Beijing. The road and vehicle noise was gone, but the lively food and vending scene made it feel like China still. We perused the stores and ended up at a local restaurant. We tried some local food that we all agreed was not entirely appetizing.
After our somewhat disappointing lunch, we split up. The majority of us decided to rent bicycles to explore the city, which turned out to be a lot of fun. After some exploring and getting great pictures, we purchased a ticket that allowed us entrance to all of the local temples and attractions. We walked the city wall, explored some interesting temples, and bartered with some street vendors. We even found a woman with a small monkey who let my friend Harry hold him for 5RMB. We captured a great little video of them together.
While the city seemed very touristy, it was extremely interesting to see. Among all of the amazing architecture and history, something lingered though—smog. The entire city smelled of burnt fireworks. Someone mentioned that it was coal. There was a blanket, like in Beijing but a bit thicker, that hung over the city. If anyone is in denial that China has environmental issues to attend to, they need to see this country. Sure we have had some blue-sky days in Beijing, but it really hits home when a city renowned for history (and a lack of that big city feel) seems even more polluted than Beijing. Regardless, we all found our time here to be a great escape from the busyness of Beijing.
We returned to the hostel to shower and eat dinner. We ate at a restaurant that had more traditional Chinese food that we all enjoyed. After dinner we returned for some drinks at the hostel before we headed to Pingyao’s only bar. Our long days of traveling and exploring kept us on a short leash. We returned to our hostel early and climbed into bed.
We woke early to catch a bus back to Taiyuan. Catching the bus was not what I expected. We boarded the half-filled, little bus headed to Taiyuan and paid the woman at the front. After a moments wait, the driver proceeded to poke along at no more than 2 miles per hour down the road yelling out the window at folks on the street, “TAIYUAN, TAIYUAN!” Sure enough, he filled the bus in about 15 minutes and we were off.
Our train back to Beijing was much more comfortable. We all had bottom bunks this time, which allowed us to sit around much easier to chat. In addition, we arrived home in about 7 hours—in time for dinner and a good night’s sleep back at Beida.