Today we went on a tour organized by our hostel to attractions about an hour outside of Pingyao. We met some nice folks: Tyler, who is an English-Chinese translator from Memphis living in Beijing, and his dad Dick who was visiting, and Sven and Kimberley, who are Bavarian students who are traveling for 5 months in Asia post-graduation before they start work. You meet the most interesting people traveling!
First, we went to Wang Family Mansion, which is a huge courtyard complex that used to be the home of a wealthy merchant family. This thing was enormous! You could get lost for days in the maze of courtyards, alleyways, and gardens. The nice thing was that it was so big, you could avoid the tour groups pretty easily and have entire courtyards to yourself. Every stairway, column, and doorway had intricate carvings, showing the vast wealth of the family.
After a while though, every courtyard starts looking the same, and Mike and I like to refer to it as courtyard fatigue and we also get temple fatigue as well. =)
Next, we went to Zhangbi Castle, which was build at the beginning of the 7th century. It’s mostly known for the underground tunnels built over 1000 years ago underneath the castle. The tunnels were only discovered in 1994, and they haven’t all been found as some of them have caved in and it’s dangerous to explore. We had a guide luckily, otherwise you wouldn’t be able to find your way around! There are lots of turns and tunnels going in different directions. It was used largely during the Sui Dynasty for protection against Tang invasion. We saw where soldiers would hide and attack (murder holes from Game of Thrones, anyone?) and they also had a drainage system in case the enemy poured water in the entrance to drown them out. The deepest went about 25m under the surface. Mike had to crouch pretty much the whole time since he was too tall for the tunnels. (He’s also had bad luck with bumping his head on short doors lately =()
All around the area, we saw a lot of openings in the sides of the mountains. Our driver explained that they were cave dwellings, called yao dong, where people lived and still live.