Ping'le Ancient Town
The road from Qionglai to Ping'le (平乐古镇) is lined with cornfields. When it's harvest time, travelers heading on the sole road that runs from the Qionglai bus station to Ping'le will see the tarp after tarp of corn husks and kernels lying out to dry in the sun. The farmers who live along the road wait outside, rushing up to tick off the passing mini buses in some sort of community authentication system.
Considering the town's proximity to the city, the window-view along the journey is a disconcertingly sharp contrast to that from a bus window in Chengdu, where shimmering towers rise up as far as the eye can see. This is farm country; the sky is bright, the air is full of pollen, and the buildings are few.
Ping'le itself, although a tourist destination, is far less trafficked than some of the other ancient towns near Chengdu. The town makes for a delightfully lazy stroll up and down its blocks, giving visitors the opportunity to shop for a hat or snacks and inspect the bugs on sticks—one type skewered and spiced up for eating and another variety whereby live, flying insects are tethered to sticks and sold for RMB1 as children's playthings. Wood-framed stalls house shops and restaurants, and stone staircases that run under the buildings lead pedestrians from the elevated street down to the river's edge.
On a sunny, late summer day, the crowds were minimal, mostly locals hawking corn-based snacks, toys, and souvenirs, kids shooting one another with water guns, and a few tourists playing majiang along the river. Covered bamboo rafts floated listlessly by the bank, rendered out of commission due to the high water level.
Surrounded on all four sides by mountains, Ping'le was established over 2,000 years ago and played an important role along the ancient Silk Road. Known for its abundant natural resources, including the nearby bamboo forest, Ping'le was an early center for paper manufacture and processing as early as the Song Dynasty.
Today, apart from the main old town, an even newer and more upscale (read: pricier souvenir shops) wing of the ancient town has just been built this year, replete with a plaza for hosting cultural events in the town.
For a true escape from civilization, spend the night in one of the guest rooms in the bamboo forest—a lush, green retreat perfect for a chill-out evening with good company or a romantic getaway.
Ping'le is approximately 90 km west of Chengdu. Two morning and two afternoon buses depart daily for Ping'le from the Xinnanmen Station (; for more frequent buses, go to the Jinsha Bus Station and take one of the buses running every 30 minutes to Qionglai (RMB24, 90 minutes). From the Qionglai bus station, take a van (RMB4.5, 40 minutes) or a taxi (RMB 40 to 50, 30 minutes) to Ping'le.