Actually – no, I personally thought there were a few things to do and two days here was about right for our 18 day tour of this magnificent Country.
Historically, Xi’an was hugely important and was the capital of China during several of the most important dynasties since 1046 BC including Qin (221 BC–206 BC), Han (206 BC – 220 AD) and Tang (618-907AD). It is also the start of the Silk Road, the ancient network of trade routes which was invaluable for connecting China to Europe via India. The Silk Road was an integral part for forming political and economic relations between the civilizations. Now do you see why it is considered one of the "Great Ancient Capitals"?
Xi’an is a classic city of contrasts; ancient temples are next to giant advertising TV’s and huge designer stores such as Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Ralph Lauren, Prada etc.
I have to quickly mention our amazing tour guide Ryan who was assigned to us as part of our tour package. He made our time feel so very special and I often wonder if Xi'an would have been as awesome without him. He had such a soft and caring nature and when we had to say goodbye, we felt very sad. Sy and I asked one another if it was strange to miss a guide after only knowing them for two days!
You simply cannot come to Xi’an and not visit one of the world’s most famous archaeological sites; in fact, I personally feel that if you are visiting China, you should add this to your list! Yes it is very commercial; it’s packed with people pushing one another to vie for the best view but, it truly is an astonishing story!
In 1974, 6,000 life-sized terracotta soldiers were discovered by a farmer digging for water, they had been buried for over 2,200 years. It is the largest discovery of its kind. If you don’t know the history, here is a brief overview. In 221BC, Emperor Qin Shi Huang ordered 700,000 people to build an army to guard him in his after-life. It is estimated it took around 30 years to complete. Qin (pronounced “Chin”) pioneered the name China as we know it today.
He used real men as inspiration for the army so no two statues are alike; they even vary in height between 5'9–6'3 tall. There are Generals, Infantries, Archers, Chariots, Horses and all built by slaves whom he knew hated him. Two years after his death in 207BC, there was a revolution and the terracotta warriors were smashed, the wooden chariots burnt and 8,000 pieces were destroyed. They would have been lost forever if it wasn’t for the farmer and, since then, the world’s biggest jigsaw puzzle has been painstakingly pieced together forming a magnificent museum for the world to see.
In the shop at the end of the tour, we met and shook the hand of that farmer which was an unexpected surprise, although he does sit in the shop signing books on the Terracotta Warriors if you buy one!
Our day started with being shown how the terracotta warriors were made using the same clay and original methods as were used the actual warriors. Naturally, we felt the need to buy a set for 400CYN (£44).
Even though the terracotta warriors are just on one site, in the surrounding area which covers 1.5km, they have since discovered a zoo, a theatre, a restaurant and even Qin Shi Huang’s tomb. It is believed that less than 1% has been excavated due to potential safety hazards. The site is actually split up into three pits and it is estimated that there are more than 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, the majority of which remain buried in the pits nearby Qin Shi Huang's mausoleum.
The second pit is where you will find the battle arrangements such as archers, chariots, mixed forces, and cavalry. The third pit holds the “command post” and has 68 figures of officers, soldiers, plus a magnificent chariot.
When looking around this magnificent museum it truly is astonishing to see history starring back at you in such pristine condition, and you have to keep remembering that this project is still a work-in-progress!
The Big Wild Goose Pagoda
We absolutely loved this Temple and felt very happy and relaxed when we visited. It was built in 652AD by monk Xuan Zang to house the Buddhists brought back from India. We spent a very long time here just strolling around, enjoying the slow pace and peacefulness of the day.
We marvelled at the room containing a huge gold coloured Buddha which also displayed hundreds of small Buddhas all around in different positions.
Tang Dynasty Palace
We attended a dinner and show at the Tang Dynasty Palace as part of our package. Arriving at around 18.30, we were given a good seat in the theatre which had clear viewing of the stage. Dinner was delightful and we sampled a range of around 17 different types of dumplings served in baskets, it’s very filling – but tough luck if you don’t like dumplings!
The performance was excellent! There were spectacular floating costumes, traditional music played on interesting instruments and the dancers had elegance and grace as they represented the Tang Dynasty, we absolutely loved it. I would definitely recommend a visit here, it was very special.
The first landmark you will see when visiting Xi’an is The City Wall. Built during the Ming Dynasty in 1370, it is 12 meters high, 12–14 meters wide across the top, 15–18 meters thick at bottom, and is 13.7km long. It may not be as impressive as the Great Wall of China in Beijing but nevertheless, it’s still to be admired!
There was an option of cycling around the City Wall and so for 80RMB (£8.80 approx) we hired a couple of bikes which had zero suspension – rather amusing when you are bobbing along over cobble-style stones. I have to confess though, we had a very enjoyable 30 minutes pootling along and we didn’t care that it started to rain – we were simply soaked right through and I looked like a drowned rat! No bother though – skin and clothes will dry!
We visited the Drum Tower which is from the 14th century and a symbol of the city. It is the biggest drum in China and we arrived just in time for an 11am musical performance of ancient Chinese culture.
Great Mosque for Chinese Muslims
Located in the Muslim quarter, you walk through wonderful small alleyways lined with delightful authentic, handcrafted Chinese souvenir shops and it really is worth slowing down to have a look at their wares. I wanted a Chinese calligraphy picture so we stopped at “Helen’s” stall and she made one for 35RMB (£3.50 approx); I was a happy bunny!
The mosque itself is bigger than some temples and is a lovely blend of Chinese and Islamic architecture; it’s a tranquil place in the midst of all the hustle and bustle. We didn’t spend long here and in truth, it isn’t a place I would add to my “must-see” list but don’t let this stop you if you want to visit!
I hope I have been able to convey the enjoyment we had in Xi’an and that there is more to see and do other than just the infamous terracotta warriors. Maybe you will consider it worthy of a trip if you are visiting China, after all, it’s only a 90 minute flight from Beijing and history buffs would love it! I have heard people say they were underwhelmed by this City, but I think you should judge that for yourselves. I personally don’t think you should miss an opportunity to visit this ancient capital and the history it has to share.
If you are travelling around China and Asia, we recommend you check bus, boat and train schedules ahead of time with 12Go Asia website. You can also book your tickets in advance online (as we did) to save time and hassle.
Have you been to Xi’an? Did you enjoy it or were you underwhelmed? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
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