Xi’an, the capital of Shaanxi province, is one of the oldest cities in China. With more than 3100 years of history, Xi’an was the imperial capital to 13 dynastic periods, and is best known today for the Terracotta Warriors.
When one thinks of China, a couple of things come to mind: The Great Wall, The Forbidden City, The Summer Palace, The Terracotta Warriors… One cannot come all the way to China and not see these wondrous places. Thus, Tess (an Australian friend who lives in Zhuhai), Brigitta (one of the Zhuhai interns) and I have set out to see all of these places before we leave China. First on our list was Xi’an, home of the Terracotta Warriors.
When planning trips throughout China, a lot of planning is required, being students and wanting to get the best possible travel deals, we compared the prices of flying out of Zhuhai and Guangzhou. It is really easy to get to either of these airports, as there are Zhuhai-airport shuttle busses that leave from downtown, so there is no worry of how to get to the airport. Ctrips is a great website to use when flying around China – the deals are great and they offer an array of departure times.
Having chosen a flight from Guangzhou after work, we only arrived in Xi’an at about 2am. We had chosen a hostel inside the wall, which was recommended to us by Tess’ parents – Xiangzimen Youth Hostel – and it was a mere 60 RMB (7.60€) per person, per night, for a 3-bedroom room. We were expecting the standard hostel, but what we arrived to was nothing short of a hotel! Hidden away on a little street, we arrived at these old-style Chinese double doors, only to enter into a luxurious and truly unique space. There were Chinese trinkets everywhere; bamboo door hangings, terracotta warrior statues, beautiful vases, exotic plants – the works. Everyone spoke English, which is a plus when you arrive at 2 am, exhausted. They also have a variety of arranged trips for their guests.
On our first morning, Tess’ dad surprised us with booking a private tour of the Terracotta Warriors for us. We were to be picked up at the hotel in a large van, just for the three of us, and we were feeling very exclusive. First, we were taken to the factory where they create the real Terracotta warriors statues and souvenirs, as they use the clay that was used to make the real Terracotta warriors that is only found on that one mountain. It was special going there because we were introduced to how the warriors were made, and the fact that we were able to buy real terracotta souvenirs.
From there we were taken to see the real Terracotta Warriors. We all read about them and learn about them at school, but one cannot fathom actually seeing them in real life – the burial pit is massive, and row upon row are warriors; 8,000 of them made, each one different from the next.
Built in 210 BC (at 2200 years old) the statues were found smashed up from having had the roof cave in on them. All the statues now that are standing have been put back together. Upon finding them, all of the warriors were completely painted in bright colors, however almost immediately after being dug up from the earth, the paint flaked off.
We also got to meet the farmer that found the warriors. He spends his days signing books (and gets really angry if you try to take a photo of him).
The mountain in which the emperor is buried contains an abundance of jade and gold, and in this region the special black jade can be found. The girls each bought a beautiful black jade bangle that turns dark green in the sunlight.
When we got back to the hostel in the evening, we passed by a board which was advertising a trip to the Music and Dance Opera, a show of the Tang Dynasty music and dances. It is said that the Tang Dynasty (from 618-907) was one of the most glorious and prosperous periods. We quickly decided to join, and again were put in a private bus and taken to the Opera. What we saw was a combination of beautiful musical acts and many beautiful traditional dances.
To add to the many great things that we had discovered about our hostel, turns out it was right on the bar street as well! After the show we decided to take a walk down the lively bar street, picked a bar that looked chill and sat down to people-watch.
We had heard that a great thing to do in Xi’an is to take a bike ride on top of the city wall. Built during the Tang Dynasty, the wall encircles 13,7 km around the city center, and at 700 years old, it is the oldest and best-preserved wall in China. So, although it was 32 degrees and the sun was blazing, we decided we could not miss out on this activity. Apparently, you can only hire the bikes for 100 minutes, so you have to make it around the 13,7 km wall before then. This quickly became the highlight of our trip – we were able to get a top-view of the city around us, as well as to experience biking on China’s most preserved ancient wall. That was a really special experience.
For the remainder of our day, exhausted after the intense bike ride, we walked along the Muslim Quarters of the city. Here, there are many markets that sell interesting trinkets, from wooden masks to silks to delicious sweets. It seemed that there was food at every turn, and so we had to give in and taste some. Unlike the food in Zhuhai, which tends to be spicy, the food in Xi’an was sweet and bursting with interesting flavors. We sat down for the traditional Liang Pi Cold Noodles, Buckwheat Cold Noodles, Stewed Pork Burgers and tofu.
Before having gone to Xi’an, we were told that other than the Terracotta warriors, there was not much to see in Xi’an. Instead, we arrived and found a beautiful and ancient city, packed with exciting people and special foods.