Jul 9, 2011

China - Pingyao/Xian

We headed toward the centre of China to visit two ancient fortified towns. Pingyao and Xian have in common stone walls extremely well preserved of respectively 6 and 13,8 kilometres. But those towns radically differe by size: Pingyao, 50.000 inhabitants versus Xian, 8 millions inhabitants.

Walls of Xian built five centuries ago

Walls of Pinyao built seven centuries ago

Pingyao was the financial capital of China in the 19th century but lost importance at the beginning of the First World War. Where some traders invented a new bank system centuries ago, we found only one working ATM in the city and it is located outside its walls!

Pinyao is a charming little Unesco World Heritage town where every house is a piece of History. Four hundred fine houses are still intacts. Their architecture respect the same pattern and the unity of style is admirable.

HuiWuLin Traditional Martial Arts Exhibitition Hall

HuiWuLin Traditional Martial Arts Exhibitition Hall

Tianjixiang Museum

Pinyao seems lost in time and lives nowadays mostly thanks to the hordes of tourists, duly escorted by their microphonized official guide.


Capital of the first Emperor of China, Xian was once the starting point of the Silk Road. The urban centre is now fully developped but the Muslim Quarter remain exotic with narrow streets full of shops. The Great Mosque was built during the 7th century. Its style is closer to a Confucius temple than to Middle East mosques which creates a wonderful blend.

Great Mosque

Minaret of the Great Mosque

Next to the mosque and in the middle of the Muslim Quarter sprawl a maze characteristic of eastern bazaar. The only difference: the goods!



Who could have imagine that one of the most visited sights in the world would have been found by a peasant drilling a well in 1974? And that this discovery would turn him from humble unknown to celebrity who shakes hands with every VIP coming to Xian such as Bill Clinton and Jacques Chirac?

Pit 1

Emperor Qin Shi Huang mausoleum is protected by a menacing army of more than seven thousand terracotta warriors. This army was supposed to protect the emperor for eternity. Its construction lasted thirty-six years and occupied five hundred thousand people, one fourth of Xian's population at that time.

This burried army was forgotten after the death of its emperer twenty-two centuries ago. Immediately after its discovery started the explorations and excavations. Numerous relics have been unearthed from three different pits. Those subterranean earth-and-wood structures hosted life-size warriors in armor disposed in battle formation: charioteers, cavalrymen, standing and kneeling archers, infantrymen and war horses.

Standing Archer

Pit 1

Kneeling Archer


Trains in China! Such a unique experience. Starting with the booking time.. Well we still do not understand exactly how it works. We suppose that the tickets are sold only ten days prior to the departure. For exemple there are twelve daily trains from Xian to Shanghai. We tried to buy a Xian-Shanghai in 3 differents cities and even on the Internet! We finally managed to buy two of the last tickets only once in Xian train station. But the trains were full for a whole week so we had to anticipate our departure from Xian.

China is a gigantic country and a train trip quickly becomes a full day and night travel. Having to spend twenty, thirty... hours in a train... During one night trip we only managed to get seated tickets, not couchettes. And what a crazy night! Not having enough seats to match the requests, Chinese also sell tickets without seats so dozens of people are standing, seating on the floor or on tiny foldaway stools and laying down in the middle of every corridor.

Nevertheless, the train system seems well organized and controlled. Trains are on time and never stop more than ten minutes in a railway platform.

Thirteen hours overnight train Beijing-Pinyao

The usual food in Chinese trains. Everybody with his instant noodles!!

1 comment:

  1. Tout compte fait, je crois que je préfère mon petit train de banlieue, je promets de ne plus râler quand il est bondé (hum !)