Our second stop in a major Chinese city will have taken us to the city of Xi’an in Shaanxi province. After taking our first night train in China we arrived actually pretty well rested. Xi’an is a beautiful city which has 8 million inhabitants.
After Beijing and its 22 million it seemed “almost” small. Well then we quickly put it into perspective because Xi’an still has more inhabitants than our entire little Switzerland…;)
For our second Chinese city we decided to take our time. We stayed for a total of 6 days. At the beginning we thought we would stay only 4 days but finally we liked our little hostel and we wanted to take some time to update the travel blog and just rest… We offer you a small preview in pictures of our few days in Xi’an….
The Muslim Quarter in Xi’an
You may have already known this, but Xi’an is located at the far east of the Silk Road. This means that there is quite a big Muslim community living in the heart of the city. Most Muslims are indeed descendants of Arab or Persian traders who travelled the Silk Road in the Middle Ages.
In the centre of the district is a large mosque which can also be visited for 25 yuan. Admission is charged only for non-Muslims. We enjoyed the visit of this mosque which had almost nothing to do with the ones we know from home. Its style is very much influenced by Chinese culture. Even the minaret in the middle of the city has honestly reminded me more of a small temple than a minaret, but at the same time we couldn’t see it well because it was under renovation when we were there….
The muslim quarter in the evening
The neighborhood is very nice and very lively. It is one of the best neighbourhoods to come and have a bite to eat in the evening or to do some shopping in the afternoon.
Since our guesthouse was a few steps away, we spent most of our evenings strolling around and discovering new flavours. We also tasted our first Yangrou Paomo. This is a typical Xi’an soup made with sheep meat and pieces of bread… Not really great gastronomy but an interesting discovery, let’s say…;)
In any case, if you’re looking for street food, market, music and crowd don’t worry, you’ll love it here!
Bell Tower and Drum Tower
These two towers were built in the 1380s in the middle of the Ming dynasty. They are in a way the symbols of the city and are located in the heart of the city, a stone’s throw from the Muslim quarter.. Both towers can be visited, but honestly we preferred to keep this budget (about 50 yuan) to offer us a good meal… However, we really recommend that you spend some time in the neighbourhood after dark, as both towers are beautifully lit and well worth a look.
The Big Goose Pagoda
The pagoda was originally built in the year 652 but was rebuilt in its current version in 704. The padoge is a magnificent building, but what pushed us to go and discover it one evening was the fountain music show that takes place right in front of it every night of the week. The show is really impressive, and it only confirmed once again this idea that has been with us from the beginning:
“The Chinese don’t do things halfway!”
To give you an idea the show takes place in a fountain which is the largest fountain in Asia, 6500m2 of surface area…. Tthe show is very popular with the Chinese, and you will not be the only one to attend the show…. Despite the size of the fountain, we had to push through the crowd to see something…
But as usual, the show was as much about the attraction as it was about the crowd! We enjoyed watching the Chinese pose with their rabbit ears or other fancy clothes…
Shaanxi Province History Museum
In China there is a history museum in every region, and of course Shaanxi is no exception to the rule. It should be noted that provincial history museums are systematically free, you only need to present your passport number to access them (or be creative to invent one if you don’t have the passport with you)… 🙂 Shaanxi’s was very interesting: the rooms follow one another and you learn a little more each time about the great dynasties that ruled as well as about the development of the Silk Road by admiring the nearly 300,000 pieces on display.
Probably the most famous tourist site in the region, it is also one of the most visited sites in China after the Great Wall… Being in the area we couldn’t possibly miss that! Most hotels or youth hostels offer organised tours with air-conditioned buses and guides. Instead we preferred to do it independently by taking public transport and using the services of a guide once on site. To be honest, taking a guide to this place is almost an obligation, as usual, the Chinese are not particularly good at English translations in tourist sites…
Go see the terracotta warriors as an independent
The easiest (and cheapest) way to see the soldiers in the ground is to take the bus. To reach the warriors of Terracota you have to take the tourist line 5 / bus N°306 , it says: 5 (306) on the signs in general.
The bus is taken from Xi’an station square (east part of the square). The trip takes about 1 hour and the trip costs 7 yuan (less than 1 euro).
Attention: when you arrive at the station square, you may well be harpooned by “bus drivers”. Do not follow anyone and look for the sign/dock of bus 306 on your own. This line is an official line and no official driver is fishing for tourists…;)
The bus runs every day from 7am. There are several times an hour (between 2 and 4). If you want to know the exact times, don’t hesitate to ask your hostel.
Take a guide for the visit
So if we had wanted to pay 150 yuan per person (the entrance to the site) to only admire the terracotta soldiers it would have been a little expensive just to watch “terracotta warriors” if you want my opinion… A private guide (there were 3 of us) cost us 150 yuan in total (about 20€) for a visit of about 2h30, which is reasonable… And compared to the other groups, we didn’t have to follow a small flag and listen to the talk learned by heart by the guide. Our guide was extremely open-minded, and we were able to ask him a lot of questions about warriors of course, but also about China in general.
The visit is really worth it, it’s just so impressive the work that was done at the time. It must be said that this emperor (the first emperor who unified China) had built a real army to continue to rule in the afterlife. And what we see is actually only the tip of the Iceberg. In all, about 2000 soldiers are exposed to the public, but in reality the site shelters more than 6000! But many statues are still buried, because initially they were all painted! Of course, the daylight has made the soldiers staring at the tourists lose their colour, it was decided to wait for future technological advances in archaeology and especially in the preservation before continuing to dig trenches…;)
Infos Terracotta Warriors:
- The entrance fee is150 yuans (about 20€)
- You can buy fast-lane ticket online here
- The price of the guide will depend on your negotiating skills;) We paid 150 yuan for 3 people (back in 2013)
Cycling around the fortification
The old town of Xi’an is still surrounded by ramparts and can be visited without any problem. You will need about 60 yuan to climb it, and then the 13.7 km of wall is yours (or almost yours). Indeed, this tour is much less frequented than the rest of the city’s tourist sites, so it is an excellent way to find yourself a little “quiet” in the frenzy of the big city.
Getting to Xi’an from Beijing
We arrived from Beijing by train. To reach Xi’an by train is really the easiest way to get there! Afterwards, it should be noted that the train is not necessarily cheap in China, or at least it follows a very simple rule: the faster it is, the more expensive it is!
To reach Xi’an from Beijing you have roughly two options:
- The express train: it takes between 4h30 and 6h and costs between 65€ and 220€ (depending on the category). There are more than 15 high-speed trains operating every day.
- A night train: this one takes between 11h30 am 16h…;) But on the other hand they are much cheaper! In sitting class the prices start at about twenty euros (on the other hand 15h sitting quite harsh if you ask me). In the bunk it depends on the category, but roughly it varies between 40€ and 60€.
For our part, we took the night train. Unfortunately there were no more hard sleepers available (the cheapest sleeper option) and we found ourselves buying soft sleeper tickets at the last minute for almost 60€ per person #ouch.
Afterwards, even if the difference between night train and express is not huge, the night train offers the advantage of saving one night in a hotel (there are no small savings). And let’s face it, in the soft sleepers category one sleeps like a baby!
To find a hotel in Xi’an, we recommend you take a look on Hotelscombined. It is a search engine that allows you to compare several major booking sites such as Booking, Agoda, Expedia and many others. In short, the guarantee of the best price! and if you are more of a youth hostel kind of person, then it’s for sure Hostelworld that you’ll need 😉 For info: we were in Xi’an with Sabine, Benoit’s sister. We had taken a triple room at the Han Tang House. Not very expensive, it was clean and well located.
A quick review after a little over 2 weeks of travel in China
- Number of sick days: 0 (we knock on wood to keep it going)
- Weight: No scale available but a little less fat on the belly…
- Number of unidentifiable meals: 3…. Including one time when we’re pretty sure we got dog… ouch….
- Number of burps and spits heard: We stopped counting a long time ago… Sorry!
- Number of instant noodle bowls: 3! Cheap (0.5€), but rather difficult to identify the content…. There will probably be more of them in the upcoming weeks
So, you know everything, we’ll meet you soon to tell you about our climb to Mount Hua (our calves and buttocks still remember it…)
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