Drums and Warriors in Xi’an

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. And this ends our Xi’an adventures. We did have to invest in face masks, the air was really, really bad and both of us were coughing quite a lot by the end. Onwards to Nanjing!

Quick Bits

Where we stayed:

HangTang Inn Hostel – 3/5 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.

Ni Hao Beijing!

Beijing is an incredible city. In one place, you feel the concrete might of the Chinese government next to the towering skyscrapers of modern China, all surrounded by a healthy dose of smog. Our first activity in Beijing was to try and orient ourselves with the Forbidden City. After walking several kilometres, we found the river that outlines the Forbidden City. Thinking that we were being supremely clever and avoiding the crowds, we walked in the back gate expecting to be able to walk through and end up in Tiananmen Square (see below for an artistic rendition of our walk). Turns out, it only allows for one-way traffic flows… guess the crowds flow through from the front for a reason. So we had to backtrack all the way back out and around to the front to see Tiananmen Square. That was A LOT of walking.

To try and give ourselves a dose of local culture and stuff, we had booked in to an Urban Adventures ‘foodie walk’ that night. Apart from the thousand year old eggs and the donkey burger, all of the food was fairly standard Chinese food, similar to what you’d get here in Australia. The donkey burger was… interesting, sort of a cross between veal and beef. Probably wouldn’t eat it again but don’t regret trying it. For the cost, we ate like kings and had to take half the food home (our tour guide was most disappointed, we did explain that we’re not accustomed to five full meals in an hour but I don’t think she really understood…). She also gave us lots of fun facts about Beijing. For example, the traditional ‘hutongs’ that are still inhabited by many residents don’t actually have bathrooms built in to the houses. Residents who live in these alleyways usually share a public bathroom between a street. Luckily our hostel had bathrooms despite being in a hutong!

The next day we had booked in for a Great Wall tour with our hostel. It’s about a two hour drive out to the section of the Wall that we visited, so we had to leave around 7am to get there bright and early. The Wall was spectacular, it looked exactly like all of the photos that you see and it was amazing to walk on something that’s so ancient. It’s built on top of a mountain, which is an aspect you don’t really think about until you get there and realise exactly how high up it is. Tom walked all the way to the end checkpoint which is right at the top of the mountain.

It’s a wall!

The final day in Beijing we went to see Tiananmen Square, Mao’s Mausoleum and the China Museum. Turns out the museum is all in Chinese so not so great for tourists… but it was a weird and wonderful experience all the same with lots of information about China’s space program and defence capability. Then it was on to the first overnight train and Xi’an!

Quick bits:

Where we stayed:

Happy Dragon Saga Youth Hostel


Urban Adventures Beijing Foodie Walk

Mutianyu Great Wall Tour (note: we did the hostel tour but this is the section of the wall that we visited)

Back to the Middle Kingdom

Sometimes in life, fate strikes and it become clear that certain things were just meant to happen.

This trip to China was one of those moments.

My little brother (Tom) and I had been planning an end-of-HSC backpacking trip around China since June. We’d booked almost everything, timed it to be across the Schoolies period and were pretty much ready to go.

Continue reading “Back to the Middle Kingdom”

Highlights of Hangzhou

Also the name of an elective offered at Zheda, for the whole three weeks that we actually showed up to our elective classes before realising they weren’t assessable…


I’ve been back for a while now. Like a long while. Actually just did the maths and I’ve been back in Sydney for about 7 months. Despite this lengthy period of time between living the life in China and thumping back to reality in Sydney, sometimes the post-ICS depression still hits hard – especially when you’re going back through photos (which I made the mistake of doing in an attempt to find some decent ones to send to my Nan in Melbourne).

Continue reading “Highlights of Hangzhou”

Hangin’ in Hangzhou

After about seven weeks of living in China I was lucky enough to get a visit from Mum, Dad and a reluctant Tom (who really would’ve rather spent his holiday hanging out with his mates but got dragged to China for a week instead). To get the holiday off to the right start, Tom’s plane was delayed out of Sydney and he missed his connection in Hong Kong, so instead of landing 45 minutes after Mum and Dad he was due in six hours later. Continue reading “Hangin’ in Hangzhou”


Coming back from Shanghai three weeks ago, I was surprised at the feeling of relief when we got off the train at Hangzhou East Station. My thought at that moment was ‘wow, it’s nice to be home’.

About an hour later when I got back to my room at College the enormity of this thought really became apparent – Hangzhou is really starting to feel like home. Our tiny 2×5 metre rooms have now become the centre of our world, home to girls’ nights in and girls’ nights out, tea time, movie nights, witness to our last minute exam panic attacks and frantic writing an hour before our UTS assignments are due… Continue reading “Life.”

Long weekend in Shanghai

Once again we’ve come to a long weekend here in China. With no real plans, about a week before I decided to join a bunch of my friends in a trip to Shanghai. We took the Friday off class to extend our weekend out to four days and headed off late on Thursday afternoon (most of existing on around 2 hours sleep after the end of exams party the night before and the 8am class we had in the morning).

Continue reading “Long weekend in Shanghai”