Xi'an and the Terracotta Warriors
Xi’an was a late add on to our journey and really only made the cut due to a couple of factors. We initially planned on visiting the country of Laos when mapping out our trip, but due to the time it was going to take to travel to and from there we decided to forgo it. You can’t do it all! These extra seven to ten days gave us some more flexibility and allowed us to add on a day in cities we already knew we wanted to visit along with finding new places we hadn’t spent much time researching before we left home. The city of Xi’an is home to the Terracotta Warriors, a truly impressive piece of Chinese history due to their age and how recently they were discovered. With our newfound time, we bought a train ticket to Xi’an, a flight from Xi’an to Seoul instead of from Beijing as first planned, and off we went.
Not counting Hong Kong (oh the Mirador Mansion), we actually had some pretty decent places in China for budget traveling. Normally we’re able to find a guest house or hotel in the $30-45 range! We got hooked up one night in Shanghai with a sweet two-bedroom modern apartment, our hostel in Hangzhou had good enough internet to support our VPN for the GOT finale, and the 161 Hotel in Beijing had a hostel feel but had families throughout. But we haven't stayed in a really nice place since early in Vietnam (read about Mue Ne experience here), and even then we battled thunderstorms our entire stay. Maybe because Xi’an isn’t as popular as Beijing or Shanghai, we were able to book a room at a Ramada for less than we’ve paid anywhere in China. Now I know some of you may be thinking, all that build up over a freaking Ramada. Listen, it’s no St. Regis my snobby readers, but props to Ramada for upping their game and when you walk into a room that has a big plush king size bed and a rain shower after staying in budget accommodations for months, you cry a few happy tears. Xi’an was already off to a fine start.
While hiking the Great Wall, a fellow traveler told us while in Xi’an to make sure to visit the Muslim Quarter. Just a short walk from our hotel, this area was bustling with vendors making candy, selling delicious plum juice, noodles, lamb and more. We were so overwhelmed by the variety of options we had a dinner of a little of this and a little of that: kebabs, noodles and takoyaki.
We wandered the area a bit and left the quarter for a main square of sorts that had street entertainers and sat under a temple that was beautifully lit with colorful lights.
The next day we were off to see the Terracotta Warriors. Everyone said it was very easy to get to, just grab the clearly marked tourist bus by the train station. So off we went to the train station we arrived in from Beijing the day before. Ohhhh wrong move, and here we are thinking by this point we are travel experts. We might be more experienced, but in a foreign country, especially one as large and confusing as China, you are never bullet proof from mistakes. It turns out Xi’an has about four large train stations and the one we were supposed to go to was actually one subway stop away from our hotel, Oooops! We made our way to the correct station and guess what, the trip to the museum was really easy.
The army or warriors, commonly referred to by both names are located at the Emperor Qin Shi Huang's Mausoleum Park and the entire piece of land is an UNESCO World Heritage site. The statues were originally buried with the former emperor around 209 BCE and were not found until 1974 when a group of farmers were digging a water well. The discovery was an unbelievable find for archeologists and historians alike and now the pottery figurines are displayed at this museum along with exhibits all over the world.
For the public there are three pits staging the excavated life-size warriors along with displays of horses, weaponry and more. Pit One was the largest site with thousands and thousands of statues. Each pit you could walk all the way around the outer edge to see both angles of the statues, as you were perched above where they were excavated. I honestly didn't know what to expect before we arrived and was really overwhelmed by the whole experience. Between the intricate detail used to design their bodies and faces, the technology used for the weaponry was centuries ahead of its time, and the pure history of how old these were was amazing. I definitely recommend learning more about them and going to see them if they are ever exhibited at a museum near you.
That evening we knew we wanted to try a restaurant this time in the Muslim Quarter. After checking out a few menus we decided on one that was busy and had an English menu, both key things. Here we had some great bread which is famous in the neighborhood, dumplings and an amazing spicy crawfish dish with onions and peppers. It was one of those dishes that was the great kind of spicy where you were sweating a bit on the top of your head and the only thing you can think of to manage the heat is to dive in for another bite. It was delicious and after we found a stand selling yogurt Popsicles that had a full Oreo inside it, the perfect way to cool off the tongue.
We had one final day in China before we headed off to our next country, South Korea. Steph found a great activity, riding bicycles on the top of the Xi’an City Wall. The wall is a fortress that was built around the old imperial cities of past Chinese dynasties in Xi'an. The top of the wall is nearly twenty feet wide and provided ample space for a relaxing two-hour ride.
There were great views throughout from the watchtowers on the corners or points near each gate. So much of our China trip has been the hustle and bustle of big cities, subways and buses, going from this temple to that shrine, to that palace and starting anew the next day. It was a nice way to bring our China trip to a close, a relaxing ride, taking in the history, with no more sites to cross off our itinerary once we were done.
Later that evening, we went back to the same restaurant as the night before to try out a few more things off their massive menu. This time around we had some delicious grilled eggplant, potatoes and a whole fried chicken. They even put the head on the plate, maybe it was for eating but we just chose to think of it as a garnish of sorts. One more Oreo Popsicle later, not because our meal was spicy but because they were so damn good, and it was time to head back to pack.
When looking back on China as a whole it was certainly an experience that both of us will remember as sometimes difficult, often mesmerizing and overall worth it. It is not the spot if you want a relaxing vacation, for that book yourself a trip to the beaches of Thailand. But if you are into history, enjoy ancient architecture and seeing a world unlike ours at home, China is definitely worth your time. Bring your appetite, your patience and an open mind and the rewards will be plentiful.