Pingle Old Town

Historic Site in Central Sichuan

A popular subject of paintings for Chinese art students, this ancient river village began as a way-station on the southern Silk Road more than 2000 years ago. Many of the wooden buildings have been rebuilt, but some date to the Ming and Qing dynasties and locals still live among the ever-multiplying trinket shops.

The town’s most venerable inhabitants are its banyan trees, a dozen of which are more than 1000 years old. The most charming of old stone passageways, Fuhui Street Water Gate (福惠街水门, Fuhuì Jie Shuimen), leads down to the river where you can lounge on a bamboo chair and sip tea (¥20 to ¥50). Cross the river and you can wander away to the decidedly untouristy surrounding farmland and small tea plantations.

Hardly any foreign tourists visit, but at weekends and on holidays half of Chengdu seems to decamp to here and commercialism threatens to overwhelm the charm. However, just enough real life remains to make this a pleasant day trip from Chengdu, especially in warm months when there's fun to be had in the water and a nice breeze keeps things cool in the many shaded teahouses on the riverfront. Try Wáng Páng Zi Nǎi Tāngmiàn, an open-fronted place a block back from the river and on a quiet street, which serves nai tang mian (奶汤面) – noodles in a plain, milky broth – as well as versions loaded with spice.

If you want to linger, there are comfortable guesthouses (客栈, kèzhàn) and other accommodations (住宿, zhùsù) along both river banks. Gǔbù Kèzhàn has bright little rooms with river views.

Buses to Pingle usually stop first at the small town of Qionglai (邛崃), about 15 minutes before Pingle – don’t get off here by mistake. Once in Pingle, walk out of the bus station and turn right for the river – it's straight ahead. Buses leave for Chengdu’s Xinnanmen bus station from 9.20am to 5.30pm about every 1½hrs (¥33, two hours). For other long-distance destinations you'll need to transfer in Qionglai (¥5, between 8.30am and 6.25pm).