When we were planning our 30-days in China, the one place I absolutely did not want to miss was seeing The Terracotta Warriors in Xi’an. And we’re finally here!
Xi’an (pronounced “she-ahn”) is a city in north-central China, and a former capitol of the ancient Chinese empire. It’s also the first “tourist” destination we’ve visited on this trip. Until now, we’ve been off the standard tourist trail, and have often been the only Westerners around. That will start to change as we hit the more populated areas of China, and especially the big tourist attractions.
We took an 8-hour train ride from Jiayuguan to Xi’an in “first class” seats, which really was just a smaller cabin with larger seats, not particularly luxurious. But 8 hours seems short compared to our previous train journeys!
The Terracotta Warriors are a 45 minute drive outside of Xi’an and we thought it would be more interesting to visit with a guide.
We’ve been getting a little annoyed at how much tours are marked up in price when you go via an agency. We paid 180 RMB (20 GBP / US $28) for a transfer from the train station to our hotel in Jiayuguan, which we knew was overpriced, but were concerned about getting a taxi at that small station. For the return trip, we talked to the driver directly, and he did the return transfer for us for 50 RMB (5.50 GBP / US $8)! So we can assume that the 130 RMB difference was pocketed by the agency, who didn’t do anything except reply to our emails about the transfer. I’d prefer to have money going directly to the guides and drivers…
So with that in mind, we asked our guide in Jiayuguan if she knew any guides in Xi’an (she’d been to university in Xi’an) and she did. So she connected us with her friend via the WeChat app, and we arranged a 1-day tour directly with him – for far less than it would have cost to arrange a tour through the hotel or a tour agency. Win-win all around (we spend less $ and still the driver and guide earn more!)
I’m really glad we saw them … but it didn’t make quite the impact on me as I’d expected. Maybe it’s the expectation gap – because I was SO looking forward to seeing them, maybe it couldn’t possibly live up to my expectations? Still, they are an amazing feat – each one is different, and life-sized. Different hair, different faces, different clothing. And there are thousands of them. I think what surprised me was how many were still in pieces in the earth. Yes, there are hundreds that have been repaired, but when you’re in the actual dig site, there are so many more just in shards, waiting to be pieced together.
Xi’an City Wall
Xi’an is surrounded by a 9km city wall. As it’s almost Chinese New Year (lunar new year, weekend of Feb 14, 2018), it was in the process of being decorated with illuminated sculptures.
Muslim Quarter + Soup Dumplings!
We walked around the Muslim Quarter of Xi’an, which has lots of street food and touristy shops.
You might know we’re slightly obsessed with dumplings, and found a restaurant via TripAdvisor that was known for their soup dumplings (one of our favorites!)
Soup dumplings have actual liquid soup/broth inside. So when you bite into the dumpling, there is a gush of hot liquid, and then you get to the filling. Our favorite soup dumplings in the world are at Din Tai Fung (which has branches across Asia and also Los Angeles!) These soup dumplings were filled with lamb (since it’s the Muslim area – no pork). Really good, rich, slightly gamey flavor, but slightly too big, so they was difficult to eat.
As an aside, this woman was standing right by our table – I always love looking for interesting English on clothing in Asia …check out the red patch on the back of her jacket!
And Even More Dumplings!
We found Three Sisters dumpling restaurant again via TripAdvisor. These dumplings were SO delicious! We had meat and chive, and you could choose to have them on a platter, in sauce, or in soup. We got them on a platter, with about 20 dumplings and a bowl of smoky hot-chili sauce on the side. Yum! Super delicious, and our entire meal of 20 dumplings, stir-fried cauliflower and a Sprite cost 38 RMB (4.25 GBP / $6 USD!)
The local food here is so affordable compared to Europe/USA. Our first lunch in Xi’an we visited a local noodle shop and had two massive bowls of noodles (the size of a serving bowl! I couldn’t finish mine) with vegetables and tofu, and one large beer, and it cost 24 RMB total (2.60 GBP / US $3.80!) Amazing. Really tasty too.
Blue Blood Supermoon Eclipse, what?
On our walk home from dinner and a stop at the local Xi’an brewery, we noticed tons of people lining up along the bridge to look at the moon. We looked through the zoom lens of someone’s camera to watch part of the eclipse, and finished watching it from our hotel room, the moon hanging over the Xi’an city wall.
Next we’re off to Pingyao, around 4 hours East by train. Pingyao is a small, ancient walled city, and we’re looking forward to getting out of a big city again for awhile. Although we read that many hotels in Pingyao have “traditional brick beds”… hmmm… we’ll have to see how that goes in this cold weather!