Oops, Should Have Pre-booked Accommodation
A short 1 1/2 hour flight from Chengdu had us arriving in Xian. The flight did not cost much more than the train that would have taken 12 -16 hours to get us there. This was the first place we have traveled to and had a problem because we didn’t prebook accommodation. It seemed many of the backpacker type places were full. I left Jack standing in a cool outside corridor of one of the hotels with our bags. It was really hot and not going to be pleasant to try and carry the bags around with us while we looked for accommodation. After trying several places that were fully booked I found the Bell Tower Youth Hostel. It had a room available and it was in a good location close to food and attractions. We stayed in a double with private bathroom which was actually more like a hotel room rather than a hostel. It was all okay, except for our bathroom. It had a bad smell to it. The floor stayed soaked with a half inch of water for hours after having a shower. The water pools and runs to the opposite side of the floor from where the drain is. I’m sure this is adding to or causing the odor issue.
We were happy to get wireless internet in our room. The staff are very friendly and can speak fluent English. They are very helpful in giving any kind of information you need. They will tell you how to get to places on interest on foot or by local bus and don’t just try and push you into tour bookings.
We got an excellent view of the Bell Tower from our room. The chaos and traffic circle going on around the tower was enough to keep us entertained for hours, as you can see Jack thoroughly enjoyed sitting in the window and watching. I think we witnessed at least one accident happen from our window everyday! A lot of times it would involve a large bus. Little attention is paid to the traffic lines. Vehicles are wedging into lanes and going cross wise and cutting people off. On top of this you have people on bicycles and scooters weaving their way into the mix. Each time we saw a bus get into an accident the passengers would instantly pile out as if they have experienced this many times before.
The City Walls
Xian was a fortified city. The wall here is the most complete city wall that has survived in China. It stands 40 feet high and varies between 40 to 60 feet in thickness. The distance it covers is 8.5 miles in length. It was one of the largest ancient military defense systems in the world. The gates that are strategically spaced apart along the wall are massive in size. You can bike or walk along top of sections of the wall. We never did find out where to get up on top of it. There are wide walkways along the bottom part as well.
Xian, A Modern And Big City
Xian is a very modern city. It has huge shopping malls, McDonald’s, KFC, the works. The traffic here is crazy like any other big city in China. You would never be able to walk across the streets in the main areas. They have a huge underground walkway system that takes you under the bell tower intersection. As you can see it is clearly marked in English as the Redestrian Way!!!
The pollution is pretty bad, we never saw blue sky the entire time we were here. The sun was visible as a round object behind the haze and heavy smog. We went to a huge shopping complex and walked around it for quite some time. We had to laugh when we the shops use Terra Cotta Warrior mannequins to model the clothing.
The Bell And Drum Tower
Two attractions in the main area of the city are the Bell Tower and the Drum Tower. The Bell tower dates back to the 14th century. It was rebuilt by the Qing at the present location in 1739. You get an impressive view of the city from the balcony around the upper floors. There is a huge bell that you can ring 3 times for 5 yuan. You can hear it ringing for long distances throughout the city. Since it was right across from our hotel, we heard it all day and into the evening. Every time it made its huge echoing dong, Jack would think that Hells Bells by AC/DC was starting up. It really did sound like the beginning of the song. There are also lots of example of bells on display inside the tower. They are from various times in Chinese history.
The Drum tower is of similar design to the Bell tower. You get a nice view from it’s outside balcony as well. It overlooks the Muslim quarter in Xian. It has many huge drums around the outer balcony. Which you can also beat on for a few yuan. They don’t make nearly as much noise as the bell though. Inside the Drum tower is an interesting display of old drums as well as a floor of impressive antique Chinese furniture.
Muslim Quarter of Xian
Xian has a very large Muslim quarter. We didn’t even know there was such a thing as Chinese Muslim people. This has been home to the cities Hui Muslim community for centuries.
This area is a great attraction for the tourists who come to the city. There are a few main streets as well as many skinny alleyways lined with souvenir shops and food stalls. The main streets have large trees that overhang into the road, they look very pretty and provide some much needed shade.
Walking through the narrow lane ways with mud brick houses you pass by all kinds of places like butcher shops, and sesame oil factories. There are small mosques hidden behind enormous wooden doors. The Muslim men have long stringy beards and wear decorated white caps on their heads.
It has been one of our favorite shopping places so far in China. There are lots of interesting items for sale. Some popular items are lanterns, puppets, bird cages, and of course small Terra Cotta Warrior figures.
Terra Cotta Warriors, We Took The Local Bus And Saved A Lot Of Money
We were contemplating whether to see the Terra Cotta Warriors as part of a group tour through our hotel or do it on our own. The hotel tours add on some other sites that we were not very interested in. The cheapest tour was 270 yuan per person, about $38 Canadian.
We ended up going on our own for less than half the price of the tour. The other advantage was that we could spend as much time at the Warriors as we wanted. The tours limit you to about 2 hours. We paid 9 yuan for a taxi to the bus station and 7 yuan each way for the bus. The entry fee to the warriors was 90 yuan. So altogether we did the trip for 217 yuan instead of 540 yuan. The bus took a little over an hour to get there. You do have to be careful, the bus you need to catch is #306. There is a shadow 306 bus that sticks a cardboard sign in their window. (which is quickly pulled down if they get near the real bus or any officials) They try to suck in unknowing tourists and charge five times the fare of the proper bus. Apparently they also have you stop at many tourist shopping traps along the way.
The 2000 year old Army of Terra Cotta Warriors ranks up there with the historical sites of the Great Wall and the Forbidden City. It was only discovered in 1974 when a farmer was digging a well in his field and found some pottery fragments. They happened upon what might be the most major archaeological find for the 20th century. They are underground vaults of earth and timber that eventually yielded thousands of life size terracotta soldiers and their horses in battle formation.
There are 3 pits that cover 22,000 square meters and hold an estimated 8000 pottery warriors and horses. They were all placed there to serve as guardians of the emperor’s burial site. Once all the warriors and horses were positioned inside the corridors, the entrances were closed. It meant a sealed underground united army was formed to protect Emperor Qin’s underground palace.
All of these warriors were ordered to be built for the first emperor of China. Emperor QinShihuang was born in 259 BC and was the founder of the Qin dynasty. He had two million or 10 percent of the population put into labor to build his tomb. The loss of this huge amount of farm labor damaged the economic development of the empire.
The soldiers and horses were all made using local clay. They average about 1.8 meters in height. No two soldiers unearthed so far have the same facial features or expressions. After each statue was made the craftsmen were ordered to inscribe or print their name onto the back of the robe, legs or armor. The names of over 80 craftsmen have been discovered so far. A 2000 year old form of quality control!
Archaeologists believe the warriors discovered so far may only be a small part of an even larger army still buried around the tomb of Qin Shi Huang. Excavation of the entire area and the tomb itself could take decades more.
When we arrived at the site we couldn’t believe how huge the parking area was. The whole area of the grounds covers 20 hectares. It’s all planted with grass, trees and flowers. It is quite a walk to get to the buildings were the warriors are. There are multi person golf carts to take you from the parking to the site. We did the pits in the order recommended. Pit 3, 2, then 1. Number 1 is the most impressive and you might be a bit disappointed by the others if you see Pit 1 first.
We thought this was an impressive site, some people have complained they were disappointed with it all. I don’t know if we would go a long distance out of our way just to see the warriors, but we were heading towards Beijing from Chengdu and it wasn’t that big of an effort to stop in Xian along the way. Perhaps the people that did not like the site don’t appreciate what has gone into the excavating of the area and the restoration of the warriors. We were told each warrior takes a year to put back together. Everything has been found in hundreds or even thousands of pieces. There are two prized bronze chariots that took 8 years to reconstruct. The exciting thing is this will be a changing museum for years to come. People have come back several times in the last 20 years to see the progress being made.