Xian and the Terracotta Warriors

As you know we got to Xian yesterday morning quite early – about half 8ish. We made our way from the station to the hostel by bus (only missed our stop by one stop but apart from that, hassle free!).

We’re staying right beside the South Gate of Xian’s old city wall – a really good location with everything we could possibly need within walking distance! The wall is the most complete city wall that has survived in China, as well being one of the largest ancient military defensive systems in the world, and it looks very impressive all lit up at night.

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When we got to the hostel they told us that our room wasn’t available yet, which we were a bit miffed about since all we wanted to do was check in and go to sleep for a few hours, before getting on with the rest of our first day. Turned out okay in the end though as we got a free upgrade to a private double room with en-suite. Plus we got a free beer token which was also a nice surprise!

The hostel itself looks pretty cool – its an old preserved building built around a courtyard and decked out with traditional Chinese lanterns etc. Only problem we’ve found with it is the staff unfortunately – generally the most unhelpful people we’ve come across so far – especially at the so called information desk!

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Anyway, we spent the afternoon getting our bearings around the local area and researching the next part of our trip. We’ve decided to go to Zhengzhou to visit the Shoalin Monastery and check out the Kungfu Monks for real. It’s in a really nice part of the country at the foothills of the Songshan mountain range, so we’re hoping to get to see some more of China’s fantastic scenery – something you tend to miss out in the cities.

We’re going from there to Shanghai, so had quite a bit of ‘googling’ to do to figure out the best train routes.

After we’d done that we then proceeded to find out whether or not we could go to the Shaanxi Wildlife Research Centre at the nature reserve about an hour and a half from Xian. They have a Panda rescue centre there but we’ve heard conflicting stories about whether or not they allow visitors. Our hostel didn’t help at all but the one round the corner – Shuyuan hostel – did help and told us that they could in fact arrange a trip there because they had an exclusive deal with the centre. Were very pleased to hear that so booked onto a trip for Monday there and then!

Later that night we decided to ‘go local’ for dinner and walked past a fast food restaurant which had some awesome smells coming from it but no English writing whatsoever. What the heck, we thought, lets just go up to the counter and see what happens! The first girl couldn’t speak a word of English and giggled nervously at her colleague as we approached. Luckily, the other girl lent over and said ‘how can I help you?’ Success! Well, I think she may have learnt that phrase from a book as we still struggled with our order – we just wanted some noodles and veg, but couldn’t determine whether or not they had that, so just pointed at a nice looking plate of noodles that they were serving to some other people. Richard also spied some sort of roll with meat in it and we ordered that too.

Turns out we were in a Liang Pi restaurant – also known as ‘steamed cold noodles’ (a Xian speciality) and the meat thing is Rou Jia Mo – a kind of toasted wheat flour flat bread stuffed by finely braised and chopped pork. The noodles were SO spicy – tossed with hot sauce and garlic, with loads of little chillies in it. We both felt slightly light headed as we sat there eating it with our chopsticks. We also ordered another one of the braised pork rolls and our whole dinner ended up costing us just 40 Yuan – that’s 4 pounds!

The next day, we set off to actually book the train tickets for the route we had decided on. We didn’t want to use our hostel to book the tickets for us and we had learnt in the past that hostels and hotels that offer ‘booking’ services generally don’t give you the best price, plus add commission on top.

We’ve heard all sorts of horror stories about foreigners buying tickets in China but were determined to get a way around this!

We read on the internet that we should go to ICBC – a big bank around the corner from the hostel who apparently have a booking service. Feeling a bit dubious, we wandered around to the bank and guess what – they had a little window on the side of the bank saying ‘railway tickets’. The woman behind the desk also spoke excellent English and we managed to book both our tickets to Zhengzhou AND the following tickets to Shanghai for much cheaper than we thought they’d cost! Just 644 Yuan for the entire Xian – Zhengzhou – Shanghai trip for both of us. Slightly over 60 pounds for two people to travel over 1000 miles isn’t bad!

Feeling very proud of ourselves we then headed off to indulge in our next bit of independent planning – getting to the Terracotta Warrior Museum by ourselves!

The Terracotta Museum houses the ancient clay warriors that the First Emperor of China, Emperor Qin Shi Huang, commissioned in order to serve as his army after his death. He ordered their creation around 210 BC. It is thought that there are approximately 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, the majority of which are still buried in the pits they were left in all those years ago.

The hostel offers tours for 160 Yuan per person but we worked out we could get there a lot cheaper and by our own schedule by getting bus number 306 from Xian Railway Station (which costs 7 Yuan each way and takes just over an hour). We got on the bus at 12 o’clock and arrived at the museum entrance at 1.15.

The whole museum complex is massive – before you even get to the ticket office you can spend over an hour looking at all the shops and having lunch in one of the many restaurants there. We opted for a KFC which we thought would give us enough energy to spend a good few hours there!

The entrance fee itself was 90 Yuan, so we worked out that we saved 92 Yuan by getting there ourselves – this more than covered our lunch and dinner later that evening!

We spent nearly 3 hours at the museum, looking in Pits 1, 2 and 3, which were all very different. Pit 1 is the largest and most in tact – there are hundreds of figurines in there, plus horses and other parts that have yet to be uncovered.

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We saw the very spot where the warriors were first discovered just over 30 years ago – a well that some local farmers were digging.

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At the back of the pit, there is a lot of active restoration still going on and we saw more warriors in various states of repair.

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It really was quite impressive walking around pit 1, and the detail that had been put into creating these figures was amazing. It was also quite eerie too, to think that they were all positioned here with military precision, waiting to guard Emperor Qin in the afterlife.

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It was great to see the whole work in progress too and to think about just how many more of these statues could be under our feet! Pits 2 and 3 were smaller than Pit 1, with the 3rd one only having about 60 unearthed warriors. This pit has been the most destroyed during history so the statues were not in the best condition, compared to those in Pit 1!

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Pit 2 had more in it, but again, looked as though there was a lot more to be discovered there. A lot of the original roofing that hid the warriors was still in tact and we wondered what they’d find once they began digging!

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Once we had seen all of the pits, we went into the on-site cinema, which was running a brief film about the history of the site and how it came into existence. Once the warriors had been made by hundreds, perhaps thousands of labourers, there was an uprising in China and the Qin Dynasty was overthrown. During the battles, the place that the warriors were being kept hidden was discovered and pretty much destroyed by rebels who set fire to much of what the Emperor had created. We felt sorry for the guys who had spent so long making them!

The museum was really well thought out and was probably one of the only ‘tourist attractions’ that we felt was real value for money. There was lots to see and the whole site was great – surrounded by mountains and nice and clean with decent souvenirs rather than the usual tat! Would definitely recommend a visit there.

All in all, our second day in Xian was a great success! We’d got our train tickets, made our own way to the Terracotta Museum, saved some cash and had a really interesting glimpse at Ancient China!

Tomorrow, our last day, should also be one to look forward to, as we get to see more Pandas! yay!


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  1. September 06, 23:53 #1 Auntie Pat

    Absolutely fascinating! Hope you turn this inyo a book! You will make millions!

  2. September 06, 23:29 #2 Mum

    Most people would just pay for the tours offered by reps and hotels, so well done on sorting it ourselves. Seems like China is quite cheap for most things. The photos are fab xxx