Someone in Beijing once told me that Taiyuan was like “Beijing 10 years ago”, perhaps referring to its lack of a subway system, its lack of Starbucks, or the apparent roughness of the people there. But it may be more appropriate to say Taiyuan is like “Beijing 1000 years ago”, as a tour guide in Taiyuan proudly introduced Shanxi (the province where Taiyuan is located in) as the area where you can find many of the oldest Chinese architecture and artifacts above ground (presumably, as opposed to the Terracota Army underground in the Shaanxi Province.)
Taiyuan is a well-connected city accessible by public buses and minibuses but it is a bit difficult to navigate the system without Mandarin. If you only have a weekend, say you’re taking a short trip there from Beijing, here are my suggestions:
Where to go
1. Yuci Ancient Old City (see video above)
- This an old town built in the Ming Dynasty. I went there during the Chinese New Year Holidays. Though it was cold and the shops were closed, I had the sites, i.e., the temple, the garden, the law court, and the torture chamber, all to myself, which is quite unusual when traveling in China. Besides, I also avoided many tacky shops offering tourists to be photographed in ancient costumes.
- How to get there: Take bus 901 to go to the last station, Yuci Ancient Old City @ 3RMB, get a feel for the public buses in Taiyuan. People seem a bit rougher than in Beijing, but they are nice 🙂 This is only a half-day trip. If you have time, visit the free Shanxi museum in the city.
2. Qiao Family Courtyard (see video above)
- This is where the movie”Raise the Red Lantern” about gender inequality in the pre-communist era was filmed. You can watch it here: http://www.tudou.com/programs/view/aE0_4a302Vc/ with English subtitles. The movie will add another layer to your experience there, though for its actual history, see http://firstname.lastname@example.org
- Buses to PingYao from Taiyuan goes through Qiao Family Courtyard. You can ask to be dropped off there but you’ll need to arrange your own transportation back to Taiyuan. I did that last time around Chinese New Year, which means that basically it’s harder to find transportation than usual. The cashier at Qiao said I could take a cab back to Taiyuan for 200RMB. Instead of doing that, I waited at the “drop off” area outside the courtyard for about 5 mins and got picked up by a tour bus heading back to Taiyuan from Pingyao for about 20 RMB.
3. Ping Yao
- Ping Yao is a very nice city and worth taking a day trip to. Go to Jiannan Bus Station in Taiyuan early in the morning and take a bus to Ping Yao. There are tour buses that take chinese tourists there for a day trip @ 60-80RMB.
How to get there
- Take the hi-speed train to Taiyuan. Or book a flight ticket @ http://english.ctrip.com/
- At the airport, there is a public bus going to the city center for 2RMB. You have to walk through a small car park where the taxi stand and the tour buses are. Or you can take a cab for 60- 80RMB.
Where to stay
- Find a place to stay near the main train station. Go for the hostels mentioned in Lonely Planet. There are also many small chain hotels, 2-3 stars, like Hanting Express, for about 200 RMB a night.
What to eat
- Find a noodle restaurant and have vinegar noodles with mutton.
- Or go to Food Street: enjoy the street food on the grill or honey chestnuts before go to a sit down restaurant.