Tandem riding along the city walls, Pagodas galore and the spectacular Terracotta Army are just a few reasons why Xi’an should be on your China to-do-list
Arriving from Beijing into Xi’an North Railway station on the Chinese hi-speed train was a lifelong dream. Catherine and I had always wanted to see the Terracotta Army since the early days of our relationship.
The metro was very efficient, although not very extensive yet. Arriving in the city of Xi’an was a sensational experience as the smells and the hustle and bustle hits you hard. Finding the hotel was a little tricky as we followed our google maps address to an apartment block. This was not the hotel and the locals, even with an address in their native tongue, couldn’t tell us which way. (As obvious as it sounds, always carry your hostel or hotel address in the native language).
Luckily, a passer-by managed to point us in the right direction and we headed in a completely different direction we had been going! As night-time fell we managed to reach our hotel, the Days Inn City Centre Hotel.
The hotel was a fantastic mid-range hotel right on the main street. With a walk across the road to the Muslim Quarter we devoured some delicious food. China’s Muslim Population has been living in Xi’an for centuries. The quarter extends north from the Drum Tower with small alleyways and well-lit backstreets.
With small mosques, food markets and shops selling halal meat, it’s an explosion of senses. At the north end of the quarter our hotel resided.
Catherine and I woke up very excited as today we were off to see the world-famous Terracotta Army. It is quite tricky to visit the museum by public transport, especially if you can’t read where the bus is going.
We chose to do a tour as this included a lot of other things that would otherwise take a while to do on public transport. Our tour picked us up at our hotel and we hurtled off to Banpo Museum.
This museum is an excavated site with the remains of humans and buildings. A collection of artefacts and some reconstructed houses designed to resemble the Neolithic settlement is worth a quick visit.
The tour then moved onto the main event, the Museum of Qin Terracotta Warriors and Horses West Gate. The army is a collection of terracotta sculptures depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. The site dates to 210 BC with the purpose of protecting the emperor in the afterlife.
The figures were discovered in 1974 by local farmers. Walking into the main room you get the first glimpse of the tops of the soldiers’ heads and it suddenly dawns on you the sheer scale of what you are about to see.
Thousands of soldiers are all lined up in front of you. They estimate that there are 8,000 in total with the majority still buried in the pits near Qin Shi Huang’s mausoleum.
The tour lady, who was very informative, let us walk around, which was awe-inspiring. As the tour was leaving, my partner realised that we hadn’t seen the chariot and so with a bit of a discussion with ventured back in. We were lucky Catherine had mentioned it, as this statue was beautiful and we would have been gutted to miss it.
The ride back into town was quick and we got off at the famous Bell Tower that soars into the fog. The Bell Tower was built in 1384 in the Ming Dynasty.
It’s a symbol of Xi’an and one of the grandest in China. At the top of the tower, there is a great collection of bronze cast bells from the Tang Dynasty.
The views of the city were good, with lights piercing the fog and the sound of the roundabout it sits in humming below.
Next, was the Drum Tower just across the street. In contrast to the Bell Tower, where the bell was rung at dawn, drums were beat at sunset to indicate the end of the day. This also has good views especially down the Muslim quarter.
As night had fallen, the lights and sounds were getting lively. We helped ourselves to some great noodles in the Muslim quarter and headed back to the hotel.
Walking through the Muslim quarter during the day shone a whole new light onto this crammed street. The smells were still extraordinary, but now we could appreciate the market with less people around.
Hidden in the backstreets of Xi’an, The Great Mosque sits waiting. It is one of the oldest and largest Islamic mosques in China and was constructed during the Ming dynasty.
The mixture of Muslim and Chinese architectural styles is worth the visit alone.
Afterwards, Catherine and I walked to the Bell tower and caught the metro at Zhonglou station. We left line 2 at Nanshaomen station and made the short walk to our first Pagoda of the day. Xiaoyan Pagoda (Small Wild Goose) is small than its cousin, the Dayan Pagoda (Giant Wild Goose). It was constructed around 700 AD with the intention to hold the holy Buddhist scriptures carried to China.
The Shaanxi Museum in the same neighbourhood is home to a collection of treasures from this province. The climb to the top isn’t too stressful and the views are worth it.
A one stop metro ride to Weiyi Street Station got us near our next stop the Da Ci’en Temple, but it still required a 25-minute walk. Dayan Pagoda (Giant Wild Goose) is in the surrounding area of the Da Ci’en Temple.
Built by the Tang Emperor to honour his mother, the temple used to hold the Buddhist holy books and it’s also where they were translated after eminent monk Xuanzang return home. This is according to the legend.
The pagoda itself was constructed in the 7th Century by china’s first lady leader, Empress Wu Zetian.
Back into the city centre and as we were walking through the city walls, we decided to venture up on to the top of the them. This was a real highlight. A fellow traveller on the way back from the terracotta army had told us about hiring a bike and cycling around the walls. We thought that sounded good so up we went.
The walls themselves are incredibly well-preserved. They’re 12km long and have stood for more than 600 years. While peddling along, Catherine and I took in some amazing views over the city, stopping of at the huge gates on all sides of this square boundary.
It’s a constant reminder of past glories and a great way to easily navigate around Xi’an. The Bell Tower is never too far away from the wall and so we strolled back into the centre. After we grabbed some food we headed back to the hotel for good nights kip.
In the morning Catherine and I filled ourselves up on a good breakfast and caught a taxi to Xi’an Xianyang International Airport, heading for Chengdu.
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