Well, we survived the first overnight train. I think survived is a key word. Crammed into a four berth ‘first-class’ carriage, it was definitely not the best night’s sleep either of us has ever had. However, it was an efficient use of time in terms of travel. Also, cheap.
We made it to Xi’an around seven in the morning, and our hostel owner awaited us with two bus tickets and a cheery smile. Way too cheery for two people who’d just spend fourteen hours on a train, but here we are…
All we knew about Xi’an coming in was that we wanted to see the Muslim Quarter and the Terracotta Warriors. After dumping our backpacks at the hostel, we headed out for a walk to the Muslim Quarter. It was about fifteen minutes from our hostel and it was absolutely incredible. Bustling markets with every kind of Middle Eastern and Chinese food you can imagine (including dried mango – we invested in $20 worth that lasted us until after the end of our trip). Kids and dogs ran everywhere underfoot and we were completely overwhelmed with what we should eat, buy and see.
That afternoon we went to climb the Bell Tower where we were treated to a surprise and very enthusiastically executed drumming show. Ears ringing, we decided that a stop off at the local Starbucks wouldn’t go astray. Tom was pursued by several young children who wanted to practice their English and take photos with him, a regular occurrence for him in China.
The next day we were off to see the Terracotta Warriors. Our hostel was kind enough to provide us with a Chinese interpretation of a European breakfast – bread, a slice of cheese and some strawberry jam. It was an interesting way to start the day. It’s about an hour and a half out to the site where the warriors are currently being excavated so we read and slept. A common theme on our travels around China.
There’s actually three areas of excavation happening out at the site. The Terracotta Warriors are believed to be guarding the tomb of the Emperor Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. It’s quite incredible to walk around the pits and see the archaeologists excavating in front of your eyes, an experience you don’t get very often as a tourist. Our very enthusiastic tour guide insisted on a group photo at the end and you can see the results below.
Also, for those who were fortunate enough to study Chinese using the New Practical Chinese Reader, I finally put into practice the most useless sentence we ever learned… yes, I visited the Terracotta Warriors and I bought a postcard.
The air quality here was some of the worst I’ve ever experienced in China, and we invested in some face masks with filters to try and minimise the impact on our lungs, both of us had developed coughs by the end of three days here. I would highly recommend coming prepared with face masks if you can as Xi’an is quite notorious for shocking air quality.
Where we stayed:
HangTang Inn Hostel – 3.5/5 stars. This hostel had a really great common area downstairs as well as decent food and a happy hour. Also, they met us at the train station to guide us back to the hostel which was really nice. Downside, the rooms weren’t well ventilated so if you had a shower the whole dorm tended to get a bit steamy. Luckily it was only the two of us in our room for the second night.
Terracotta Warriors – we did our hostel tour but Viator also has some good options, as do Urban Adventures.
Three Sisters Dumplings – I think these were actually the best dumplings we had on our entire trip.