It’s been a couple of weeks since we came back from our first visit to China. We started in Beijing and did the usual tourist attractions. Luckily it was still the low tourist season so it was not as crowded as it would be later in the summer. Even with the rich history in all those places, my favorite was hiking the Great Wall, which you can read about in my last post. Another highlight was the side trip we took to Pingyao Ancient City (平遥古城) and the nearby Mian Mountain (绵山).
When we travel, we generally like to get away from the city and visit the smaller towns/villages or the countryside. After a little searching on the internet and consulting with a tour agency I found Pingyao Ancient City, a UNESCO world heritage site, with well-preserved city wall and buildings. Pingyao started out as a financial/banking center in the old days and it was fascinating visiting those old bank buildings. Other than banks, you will find the old equivalent of the courthouse, temples, and old courtyard houses with traditional Chinese architecture. Pingyao is also famous for its vinegar and alcohol. I’m not into alcohol so I did not try it but we had a few dishes with vinegar and I had to buy a few bottles to bring home. Yes, they make wonderfully aromatic aged vinegar and I never thought that vinegar could smell this good. The city itself is enclosed by city walls on all sides. The entrances to the city close at different times of the day so for convenience, most people eventually move out of the city and live on the outer skirts. For those who are still living in the city, they generally operate the tourist trinket shops, hotels, restaurants, and bars converted from the old courtyard houses. We stayed in one of the courtyard houses that used to house the government officials. We were probably one of the two groups staying there at the time and the nighttime can be a little eerie. However, we enjoyed walking on the quiet streets early in the morning.
Mian Mountain is about an hour car ride from Pingyao Ancient City. Once arrived, we bought the entrance tickets which include hop-on-hop-off bus rides throughout the scenic routes. This travel website is the only one I found with a good map of Mian Mountain. Mian Mountain is the birthplace of Qing Ming Festival or Tomb-Sweeping Day in English. It has a rich and long history with it’s many Buddhist and Taoist temples and beautiful natural scenery. It is a place where the people come to worship and pay respects to the gods and soak in the positive energy the mountain has to offer. Our first stop was Shuitao Valley, a scenic route with streams and waterfalls. We then visited the YunFeng Temple, Sky Bridge, and Daluo Taoist Temple. I’m always amazed by how people built these temples in the old days. They are all either inside and through caves or hanging by the cliff sides. This is just a quick glimpse of the Chinese history and culture. It would probably take about a week to fully immerse yourself and enjoy all the attractions in the area. I hope one day we will return and see more of this mountain.