Xi’an (pronounced Shi-an) is one of the oldest cities in China. We decided to go there to see the Terracotta Warriors and have a general browse around the city quarter/Muslim area. I wouldn’t recommend it as a permanent stop, but one or two days to get a feel is great.
The number one thing, no doubt, to see are the Terracotta Warriors. They are a collection of sculptures depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang who was the first Emperor of China. The museum complex is a little out of Xi’an so you have to take a bus and it’s around an hour long journey. Once there you’ll battle through market stalls and people trying to sell all kinds of crap before you get to the entrance. Inside the museum I’d recommend an audio guide or a tour guide as there is limited information on display to read yourself. There are three pits that have been excavated and you can visit them all. The figures include various soldiers, horses and chariots (and it is breathtaking). When you first walk into pit one you will be blown away by the sheer number of sculptures staring back at you. The detail and intricacy of each one is amazing and every single one differs to the others. At the back of pit one you can see their restoration process and knowing they’re constantly finding more and more is just baffling.
As for the city the main spot to check out would be the Muslim Quarter. I had Israel flashbacks here as the streets are really narrow and the markets spill out into them. Admittedly we had no desire to buy anything there but you can definitely get a bargain – haggle haggle haggle. If you follow the market maze you’ll end up at the Great Mosque which is in the middle of all the madness. The markets then lose their roof cover and go out into wider streets and food vendors appear. Go here hungry as there are tons of great options to try out and taste. We got flatbread, spicy potatoes, watermelon juices and yellow cake – but there are more exotic options like deep fried scorpion and green jelly (not sure why it’s green).
Just a little note on how exactly we got to Xi’an from Beijing – the overnight train! You can get from one to the other in around five hours but they do offer a night train so you a) don’t have to pay for accommodation somewhere and b) are rested and not waisting the day. We booked two beds in a four room sleeper and ended up sharing with two dads who were on a group family holiday. Our little sleeper room was very concise and let’s say ‘cosy’. It had two bunk beds and all bedding was supplied when we got there. There is ample storage for suitcases under the beds and also in a cubby hole above the door. Each room had plugs, light switches and then each bed had a TV but they didn’t turn on. I was worried it was going to be noisy but actually the whooshing of the train and the rickety tracks were quite relaxing. As for the rest of the carriage it was full of other rooms and then had two bathrooms on either end, one was western and the other a squat. There was a separate room with three sinks to brush your teeth and get ready, as well as a hot water dispenser just outside. The conductor came by just before we departed to ask if we wanted hot drinks in the morning and to tell us the time of arrival. Rumour has it that there was a food cart lady going up and down the train but I never saw her, it wasn’t like Harry Potter. Overall, it was a really cool experience and I’m glad I did it (I’ve done an overnight train before in Prague but I had a seat not a bed). Next time I think I would fly considering it was pretty much the same price and would be much faster but heck give it a go and see what you think!