Xi'An Fast Facts:
- The oldest of the four great ancient capitals of China
- Capital during several of the most important dynasties
- Eastern starting point of the Silk Road
- Home to the Terra Cotta army of Emperor Qin Shi Huang, who unified all of China in 221 BC and was the first one to use the title "emperor" instead of "king". He also is responsible for joining state walls into The Great Wall we all know and love.
Due to it's rich history and the fame of the Terra Cotta Warriors, Xi'An has been at the top of China to-do list for as long as I can remember. I literally did a presentation over the Terra Cotta Warriors in middle school. So when I was brainstorming the best way to spend a weekend with my good friend Feti (We studied in Qingdao together, and he's in Beijing!) , Xi'An became the obvious choice. And as you're about to read, all the major sights are very doable in one weekend. Perfect!
I decided to fly, because it was the cheapest and most convenient from Dalian. Feti (feh-tee, I know you were wondering) took the train from Beijing which was wonderfully convenient. Train travel is really nice in China, so long as there is a good route. It's a pretty big place after all. We met up at See Tang Youth Hostel, which I would HIGHLY recommend to anyone visiting Xi'An. Check the link for my review on Hostelworld (posted on March 18, 2016).
I'm just gonna pause here for a bit of an emotional moment. Clearly, I love traveling. And the BEST part of any place is always the people. But being a somewhat frequent traveler tends to involve a lot of goodbyes and very few hello agains. Getting to see one of my favorite people from my time in Qingdao made my heart immeasurably happy all weekend long. Okay, now back to Xi'An.
Friday night we strolled around to the Muslim street near the bell and drum towers that is famous for it's atmosphere and snackage. The hustle and bustle, smells, music, lights, all made this a really fun place to spend an evening. It's a must.
Saturday, we decided to venture out to see the Terra Cotta fellas with a couple of lovely Germans staying in our hostel. We took a bus across town, where we then waited in a looooong line (should have gotten there earlier) for bus 308 going to the warriors. Fun fact: they are an hour outside of Xi'An city center. Bring snacks. The buses are much cheaper than taking a van or getting with a tour group though. Well worth it, in my opinion.
These guys were part of Emperor Qin Shi Huang's necropolis and were meant to guard him in the afterlife. There are thousands and thousands of soldiers, chariots, horses, etc of varying heights, ranks, and purpose. All of them were buried with the emperor sometime around 210 BC. They were only discovered in 1974, and the process of unearthing them is still a work in progress. Much of the area still remains untouched, including the tomb of the emperor. All of the soldiers used to be painted, but when they were were unearthed the paint flaked right off. Shame. I hope they use better technology when they start moving into new sites.
After the warriors, we took the bus back to the city center to ride bikes along the city wall. Originally built in the 14th century, its most recent of three renovations was in 1983. As such, it "represents one of the oldest, largest, and best preserved Chinese city walls." It completely surrounds the city center, with a large gate in each side. The wall is wide, and there's plenty of room for lots of visitors renting bikes and strolling. It's only about 8.5 miles around too, so it makes for a really nice way to spend an afternoon or evening. We hit it right around sunset as the lights were turning on, and it was probably my favorite part of the entire weekend. My poor feet definitely appreciated the bike riding for a while too.
After the wall we tried to make it to the Big Goose Pagoda for a light and water show that began at 8:30 that evening. It's a bit farther away from the wall, but we made it just in time! Just in time for Earth Hour, that is. This is a massive global event to raise awareness about earth issues and climate change, and it involves turning off the lights for one hour, 8:30-9:30, in a wave around the world. This has even grown to include some of the world's most popular monuments like the Eiffel Tower and -- you guessed it -- Xi'An's Big Goose Pagoda. Really cool, but no water & light show for us.
Our last day we chose to explore the writer's street our hostel was on. LOVED IT. There are stalls and stalls of art, calligraphy, jewelry, etc. It was also a great place to get some little souvenirs for friends. At the end of this street is the Beilin Museum. We wandered around here for a bit too, and had great fun nerding out over the history and different calligraphy styles. Feti and I are both studying Chinese (him more so than me now), so this entire day was essentially two kids in a figurative Chinese history and writing candy store. Even if you're not as into these subjects as we are, the writer's street is extremely cool and anyone should check it out. After biking on the wall, this was probably my second favorite activity from this weekend.
And then it was time to go! We took the metro to the northernmost stop which was the train station Feti needed. From there I took a cab to the airport. This is something I would highly recommend doing, as the airport is pretty far outside of the city and taking the metro as far north as you can may cut the fare by close to half. You will have to pay a 20 kuai toll fee though, so don't think the driver is trying to rip you off by adding that amount to what the meter says. After my last trip to Southeast Asia I've become a bit too experienced with cabbies trying to rip me off so I'm afraid I was a bit ruder to the poor guy than necessary. Whoops.
Overall, Xi'An was one of the best weekends I've ever had in China! The good company had a lot to do with that, but the city itself is great! One weekend was enough to see the major sights, and the history and just..."China-ness" of the place was fun and awe-inspiring to be in. So many of the Chinese cities I've visited or lived in have had neighborhoods and areas heavily influenced by whatever other country had been there extensively. This is a very touchy subject in Chinese history and that's the most sensitive way I know how to say it. I won't go into it, it's not really my history or story to tell, but suffice it to say the Western world does not look good. Look it up. Anyway. Qingdao has a German influence, Dalian a Russian one, Shanghai a French one...etc. Xi'An? Not so much. It's centrally located, so the absence of a major port means it doesn't have much of these outside influences. Even some of the modern architecture seems to have more throwbacks to traditional Chinese styles than I've experienced elsewhere.
Basically, I loved it. If you ever find yourself in China, a weekend in Xi'An is a must.
'Till next time, happy travels to you and yours :)