Arriving in Xi’an on a sunny afternoon, our overland trip of Northwest China would begin in this ancient city. Xi’an marks the starting point of the Northern Silk Road. Constant changes have taken place throughout the city over the years – old quarters torn down to give way to concrete buildings. Although not all of its former glory was retained, important landmarks and relics have been left behind, such as the world-renowned Terracotta Army and the City Wall. Locals often say that if one has not been to Xi’an, they have not been to China at all – and there’s good reason for that.
International travelers usually get in via Xianyang Airport. From the airport, you can get into the city area at less than 50 yuan using the airport shuttle bus. There are six routes and buses arrive every 30 minutes. Don’t worry if you are arriving early in the morning or late at night. As long as there is an arriving flight, there will be shuttle buses running.
We chose to hop into a taxi instead and the 45-minute journey cost about 150 yuan. It is usually not recommended to get into the city via taxis as drivers may try to jack up the price for tourists. As Mandarin speakers, we were able to camouflage ourselves as locals so as to avoid getting ripped off. If you must, make sure to hop into a green taxi as the black ones will see you paying an additional 50 yuan or more.
Places of Interest
Huiminjie has become one of the major tourist hotspots in Xi’an. The market is very colourful and lively with plenty of food and souvenir stalls. But do hold off on the souvenirs for your loved ones, as you’ll most likely get a better price outside of the main tourist area.
The local snacks and food are worth indulging in, but it might be helpful to note that in this part of China the diet is extremely meat-heavy (especially in beef and mutton). You’ll see countless stalls selling rouchuan (skewered meat), roujiamo (Chinese version of a hamburger) and paomo (lamb or beef soup with leavened bread). They’re delicious, but getting used to the local diet took me some time. Apart from the fact that the food is pretty greasy and heavy-tasting, sometimes the meat is prepared and cut up out in the open. I was definitely not prepared to see animal remnants hanging out on the street. It was just really odd for me to be eating a yangrouchuan (lamb skewer) while its other body parts are staring at me in the face.
You see what I mean?
This is one of the main reasons why people say that you haven’t been to China until you’ve been to Xi’an. The Terracotta Army, like the Great Wall of China, has become synonymous with Chinese culture.
To get to the Terracotta Army by public transport, you will have to catch a bus from the main train station. Note that the bus square is infiltrated with other buses looking to grab uninformed tourists to mandatory and overpriced shopping. Be sure to hop onto either bus you5 (游5) or 306.
Apart from a museum, the site has three main excavations. My advice is to visit the sites in reverse order. Leave the main (and most impressive) pit for last. We also hired a guide at 90 yuan, which was worth every penny in my opinion as there aren’t many English information about the relics. Having someone to share in detail the history of Qinshihuang and the Qin Dynasty added a whole lot of impact to our visit. Not to forget it was also a great opportunity to make a new friend!
Xi’an City Wall
One of the oldest and best preserved Chinese city walls, the Xi’an City Wall is the first landmark visitors will encounter in Xi’an. The wall divides the city into the inner and outer parts and surrounds the old city in a square. It has gone through several refurbishments over the years and today it stands at 12 m tall, 14 m wide and almost 14 km in circumference.
The entrance tickets are at 45 yuan per person. To have a complete experience, explore the wall on a bicycle! You can rent them at one of the main gates. It takes about two hours to circumnavigate the wall. For two hours, the single-rider bicycle costs 45 yuan while the tandem bike is at 90 yuan. There is also a deposit of 200 yuan – make sure not to lose the deposit receipt or you won’t get the money back! You can buy drinks at the bike stations around the wall, but they’re a good distance apart so bring some water along, especially if it’s a hot day.
Shaanxi History Museum
Regardless of whether or not you’ve seen the Terracotta Army, The Shaanxi History Museum is a must-see in Xi’an especially for history buffs. It offers great insight into the history of China and on display are artefacts spanning from Neolithic to Qing dynasty. You might also be pleased to note that the entrance is free, although this means that the museum is now one of the tourist hotspots. The museum is usually crowded, but this isn’t a valid reason to not visit the museum. You can easily shut out the crowd by renting an audio guide at 50 yuan (English is available). Earphones are not provided so be sure to bring along your own!
Xi’an is well-connected and there are plenty of trains going in and out of major cities in China. You can get to almost anywhere in China via trains, but take note that it is common to have several train stations in one city. You’ll save yourself unnecessary confusion by making sure of the specific stations that you are departing from and arriving at. In Xi’an itself, the main stations are Xi’an Station and Xi’an North Station, with the North Station serving the high-speed rail.
There are several classes on trains ranging from seats to sleeper cabins. Keep in mind that train tickets sell out quickly during holidays and peak travel seasons. During these times tickets may only be available if they are booked well in advance. Generally, reservations are available online 60 days before departure.
If you are unable to get a train ticket out of the city, there are seven bus stations serving long-distance buses in Xi’an. Due to the long journeys, these buses are usually sleeper coaches. Although they can be cheaper than train tickets, a downside is that online reservations are not available. Tickets can only be purchased 3 days in advance from the bus station.