From the awe-inspiring Terracotta Warriors to the smells and sights of the Muslim Quarter, Xi’an, you were my favourite city in China!
Located in the central-northwest of China in Shaanxi Province, I highly suggest jumping on an overnight train from Shanghai and experiencing this amazing city for 2 to 3 days.
When I arrived in Xi’an, a small town of only 9 million people *cough*, I assumed the pollution would be a bit better than the big city of Shanghai. Alas a thick, oppresive smog blanketed Xi’an the entire time we were there. Not great for lung capacity, but excellent for adding moodiness to photographs.
How to get there
I travelled to Xi’an from Shanghai and there are 2 main ways to get there. The long, painful and authentic way (the overnight sleeper train), or the more expensive and quicker way (the plane). I went the train option.
For 15 hours, this was my home. The middle bunk squished in between 2 other bunks, crammed into a tiny space with 6 beds. I couldn’t even sit up straight!
Sure there were people shouting in Mandarin throughout the night, someone repeatedly hitting himself in the body (I think he was trying to get his circulation going) and the mattress is basically a slab of concrete. And yes the smoking inside the carriages was a bit much. And the toilets? Well… they were nothing short of traumatising.
But you know what? It was actually fun! My friends and I were organised and had plenty of snacks, reading materials and games to keep us entertained. I even managed to get a bit of sleep thanks to my ear plugs and eye mask.
What to do
Visit the Muslim Quarter
Xi’an has a large Muslim community, and this area, referred to the Muslim Quarter, is lined with various restaurants and stalls. Filled with locals and tourists alike, this place is bustling at all hours of the day. The Muslim Quarter has a reputation for being the snack centre of Xi’an. Now do you get why I love Xi’an so much? Snacks!
Breads, fresh pomegranate, chilli peanuts and yoghurt.
A steamed rice and meat dish.
I queued for what seemed like an eternity for the “Shaanxi Sandwich” (Rou Jia Mo), a toasted flat bread stuffed with finely braised and chopped beef.
We joined a very, very long queue and were handed this card after we paid. All I can tell is that they were featured on the Discovery channel.
We slowly moved closer and closer to receiving our sandwiches, whilst a young boy moving at a glacial pace alternatively added meat to broth and hacking at the stewed meat with a cleaver. The hoards of people eagerly waiting for their sandwiches didn’t faze him one bit. It was a long wait.
And then finally, we got the sandwiches!
So, was it worth it? The meat was well seasoned and succulent, the flat bread fresh and crispy and soaked with the meat juices. It was delicious! I can see why it’s one of Xi’an’s most famous snacks.
Dessert making in Xi’an is hard work. There are countless stalls pummelled sugar with a hammer and stretching and throwing the taffy. I took a video of the taffy stretching which you can see here.
This dessert was everywhere and was a cold yellow sticky rice cake (Feng Mi Liang Gao). I must admit I really didn’t like it and promptly threw it in the bin!
Ride a bike on the City Wall
The ancient city wall stretches around the old city and was the original fortification for Xi’an, built to protect the city in the old Tang dynasty.
For only a few dollars (plus a deposit) you can hire bikes to ride the length of the wall. This was such a great experience and I highly recommend it – you get to see the city from a very different view point!
The ever-present smog added to the atmosphere as we rode along the wall, I swear it felt like I was in a kung fu movie. Make sure you bring water and snacks with you, as opportunities to buy supplies when on the wall are slim.
Take a day trip to the Terracotta Warriors
I didn’t really know what to expect as I arrived at the Terracotta Warriors, an hour outside of Xi’an. But I was completely blown away by the sheer scale of the site! The Warriors were discovered fairly recently, in 1974, by a local farmer who was excavating his field.
These warriors are 2,200 years old and so far around 1,800 different life-size statues have been uncovered (although many more are yet to be excavated, experts expect there are 8,000 soldiers).
The attention to detail on each sculpture is incredible, each one has different gestures and facial expressions.
Here is my excited dorky face at the Terracotta Warriors! (Please note you can’t get near the main section of warriors, they have some selected statues upstairs near the gift centre to pose with).
Work is constantly being done still in the pits, with archaeologists unearthing more finds and rebuilding broken statues.
There was a “statue hospital” towards the back of the site which was basically an area filled with body parts that were in the process of being put together.
We arrive back to the hustle and bustle of Xi’an for more eating and then bed.
Check out more of my China posts here and stay tuned for my guide to Beijing and the Great Wall of China!