Xian is one of the oldest cities in China, most famous for its remarkable Terracotta Warriors. We flew in from Hong Kong specifically to visit the site, booking only two nights.
I wish we had stayed a little longer as the area around the city wall is very interesting and I would have liked to explore it more.
We flew in on China Eastern, which was comfortable, but not memorable. The airport was a long way from town, and taxi fares are not especially cheap. We stayed in a hotel we could get a staff rate at, which was economical, but we were out of the way and if I was to return to Xian I would stay within the city wall area.
This was our first visit to mainland China. Many of my preconceptions proved incorrect, though some were reinforced. China was more advanced than I expected, I envisioned a lot more bicycles and mopeds, but everyone drove cars much as in any western city.
The streets, buildings, transport and housing was all on par with the First world, where I was expecting less affluence. The pollution was terrible, actually worse than what I had been warned about. The smog often hangs over the streets and monuments, dulling the environment.
Our first night in Xian was disjointed. It was dark before we were settled into our hotel. We were too tired and too far from anything interesting nearby, but we didn’t want to eat in the hotel, we wanted to experience exciting local food, so we set off on foot looking for a restaurant or food stand.
It turned out to be harder than we though. Chinese streets are big and long, and we walked for a long time before finding a small cafe that had just closed. We ended up in a mall shopping centre, buying some instant noodles and other barely satisfactory products.
The next day we set out for the Terracotta site, leaving after breakfast. We looked into a few tours, but they were all pretty expensive, so we worked out everything ourselves, which is normal for us.
We took a taxi to town, managing to get dropped off at the wrong bus depot, despite showing the taxi driver a map and getting broken english assurances. One issue to be overcome in China is the firewall that blocks most of the useful internet travelling tools, such as Google Maps and search. We made do with loosely translated guides, somehow managing to navigate the public transport buses to the tourist bus depot. The bus to the Terracotta Warrior site was Tourist Line number 5.
The tourist bus was very comfortable and cheap at around three dollars return. It took around forty minutes to get there. Once dropped off we followed everyone else through a confusing maze of shops and buildings until we got to the main entrance area. Along the way we were approached by a number of guides wishing to escort us. We brushed them all off, until one lady told us she could get us discount entry and the discount would be more than her fee.
It sounded like a good deal, so we agreed. Her ‘discount’ turned out to be bit shady, it turns out the admittance staff cannot tell the difference between a drivers license and a student card, but true to her word we were able to hire her for two hours and still save money. Ironically, the one person in our group that would have been eligible for a senior discount didn’t have anything acceptable to back up her claim so she had to pay full price, proving the universe likes balance.
The full name of the tourist attraction is Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s Mausoleum Site Park, which includes the Museum of Qin Terracotta Warriors and Horses. It is an extraordinary exhibition, up there with the Pyramids and the Colosseum. Like the Pyramids the statues were part of the mausoleum for a Chinese Emperor, but as everything was below ground all memory was lost of the site, until discovered by accident by some local farmers in 1974, one of which was on hand.
After we visited the sites our guide thoughtfully continued our tour, guiding us though souvenir shops that provided her with a commission. I highly recommend not buying anything on site, as you will find the identical items in town for much cheaper. After lunch a local restaurant we made our way back to town.
Xian Food Stall
We explored the area around the bus depot, impressed by its vibrancy and interesting sites. We decided to come back the next day to explore more, but we would not have long as we were flying out to Beijing in the afternoon. The City Wall is particularly interesting. As described, it is a large wall built in the 14th Century that runs around central town area. The wall is wide and it is possible to walk or ride a bicycle around the top, which gives great views.
Xian Bell Tower at Night
We went back to our hotel to freshen up a bit, then hit the town again after dark. We snacked at various small vendors and enjoyed the lit up city sites, including the prominent Bell Tower.
Xian City Wall
The next morning we got up early so as to make the most of the little time we had left. We navigated our way to the City Wall, which towers above at 12 metres high, and went for a leisurely walk along it.
There was an interesting antique and arts market along the way which we spent some time at, before continuing our walk.
One caution though.. as we were walking along I felt someone walk up behind us and I pulled my wife aside so she did not bump into him as he passed us. As I moved her across, it exposed the passerby’s hand halfway into her open handbag. I gave him a good glaring and he took off at a faster pace.
That was the only crime we experienced in China, apart from the souvenir sellers of course. After this incident we employed better anti pickpocket practices, such as keeping bags on the inside and keeping a sharper eye on passerbys.
City Wall Show
You need to pay a small admission charge to get access up onto the wall, but it is worth the price and they also have regular changing of the guard shows. We watched one and it was interesting, with lots of drums and gongs and jumping soldiers. After the show we went for a walk along the top of the wall.
City Wall View
We entered the wall from the South Gate I think. It’s important to know which gates have access to the roof, as not all of them do and it can be a long walk between them.
The view from the top of the wall is great. I liked the shape and style of the old houses you can see in the picture above. This is what I was expecting more of China to look like, but it mostly high-rise apartment blocks now.
The top of the wall is very wide, around twelve metres, giving plenty of room. It is a long walk around the entire wall, 13.5 kilometres or 8.5 miles. You could walk around it in a day, but the sensible way to do it would be to hire bikes, which are freely available. We ran out of time much too soon, and had to make the trip back to the hotel to pick up our luggage.
We really enjoyed our Xian stay. There is much more to do there than just visiting the statues, so if you visit I recommend you allow some extra time to explore around the City Wall area.
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