Friday, August 16, 2013

Government Appointed CarPark

It was gloomy day when we arrived at town of Pingyao, on our way to see the Pingyao ancient walled city, reportedly the best preserved ancient wall city in China, dating back 1200 years old. Everyone was telling us that this IS one of the attractions that we must see if we ever visited Shanxi.

After visiting the mind boggling architecture of the Hanging Temple and experiencing the awesome Yungang Grottoes, both dating back 1,500 years old, my expectations were high, looking forward to see some ancient authentic Chinese houses and their alleys and hopefully, for a moment, relive the lives of those living there so many years ago.

But that was definitely NOT THE CASE. In fact, it is here that we have our worst and probably most frightening experience as a foreign tourist in China so far.

Our driver who is also our good friend and someone who came from the tourism industry previously was equally appalled with what he saw and experienced.

About a kilometre away from the ancient city, we saw a huge new car park by the road side but there were only two cars parked there. Since, we were not quite sure where the ancient city was, he stopped to ask the parking attendant who immediately without hesitation told us that we have arrived, gave us a parking ticket and ushered us into the car park. We were apprehensive. Although it is off season and we arrived relatively early, but knowing China, there is no way that there would be no crowd here. We drove around in the car park looking for the exit only to notice a car following us closely behind. The moment we stopped, so did him. A burly Chinese man came out and immediately advised us to take one of the open trams (fit for 6 to 8 people) waiting in the car park to the entrance.

Smelling a rat, we repeatedly asked him where the entrance was and how far was it but to no avail because he kept on avoiding the question and insisted that we should follow him to take one of those trams. We asked again, whether is there another car park for us to park our car because it looked rather empty to us. Again, he kept on insisting that we are at the right place. In fact, he pointed us to a signboard which wrote “Government appointed Car Park!”

Failing to be convinced, we insisted to go out of the car park, paid our parking ticket and drove away, only to our horror, realizing that the burly man was closely following us in his car. Our driver tried every turn he could to shake him off but to no avail even to the point of running a red light.

As we drove on towards the direction of the site, we began to noticed more “Government appointed Car Park” signage put up at almost every single empty land we could see, some even as small as just enough to park 3 cars! 

We finally arrived after driving for another 5 minutes and saw the entrance to the ancient city of Pingyao. By this time, we have noticed that the car was no longer following us. There is another relatively sizable car park outside where we could park our car. We got down and went for our tickets as everywhere in China nowadays is chargeable!

RMB120 (RM60) per person! This is another issue that the tourism industry in China is currently facing, rising cost of entrance fees. We do not have much choices since we have come so far.

We thought the worst was over only to find that another new nightmare has just begun. As we walked through the gates into the Pingyao, a lady kept on following us, pestering us to take a tourist open van instead of walking, with the driver following close behind. The streets in Pingyao are narrow and crowded. I was really agitated and stressed with her, while we carefully negotiated ourselves along the narrow street, avoiding being knocked down by one of these tourist vans coming from either direction.

They finally gave up after following us for over 20 minutes and not until, our driver and guide told them off firmly.

With that, we finally have some space of our own to look at this ancient city.

Was it worth our while. Personally, I do not find it any more interesting than going through the hutongs back in Beijing. Yes, we still have many old buildings dating back hundreds if not thousands of years ago, but all of these have been refurbished into cafes, restaurants, hotels and souvenir shops, making the entire place rather commercialized  It was also dusty and crowded. We made our way quickly through several streets and walked along some lest crowded ones, all too eager to get out.

Overall, I would say that Pingyao has been over commercialized with little or no control by the local government. The place itself has been oversold. Although it could be true that it IS the best preserved ancient walled city, the over commercialization has left it with little authenticity.

This is one place that I would definitely NOT COME BACK and would not recommend as a place to visit.

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