Starting Point of the Silk Road
Our next move within China and after our first impressions of what is like to be in mainland China, we took off from Shanghai to Xian in the heart of China. The starting point of the Silk Road. Impossible to argue it is one of the most historical cities in China and perhaps under rated by most of the tourist, which they just go (or are taken as part of a tour) to the Terracotta Warriors and leave the city without even see the impressive city walls or not a glimpse of what other attractions the city has to offer.
I knew Xi’An had way too many places to visit and lots to do, but unfortunately in our super busy agenda all we could spare were 2 days, from which almost a full one was gone for the Terracotta Warriors. Still, from the remaining time we had in the city we definitely saw the most we could, and yet again as the same note of what happened in Suzhou, unfortunately the rest of the city around the sights is really an eyesore.
A very good point in favour is the way the city developed. Meaning what is within the walls covers at least 75% of all the sights and must do’s, and it’s easily reachable even on foot around the central ones. Only some temples, monuments and museums are outside of the walls.
Opposed to the previous cities of Suzhou and Shanghai, here in Xi’An the traffic was chaotic in all means. Noisy everywhere and busy every corner. In the other hand, still as clean and spotless as for what seems to be the norm in every Chinese city. Quite contradictory knowing their “bad habit” of spitting in the floor. And I quote bad habit because for the Chinese as a whole nation it is not a fault of respect or education but totally normal and accepted.
The truth after visiting the city is that it left me quite disappointed. Yes, it has great sights to see, but very sad is that the old charming streets and buildings around them are all gone to make way for those horrible new constructions. Luckily Xi’An is proud to have the best preserved Mind Dynasty city walls in the whole of China. Remarkably refurbished and opened in the whole length for the visitors. Notoriously at night are impressive with the thousands of red lanterns decoration on each lamp post.
For more information about Xi’An check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. China’s currency is the Renminbi (¥, CNY). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Xi’An
- Within the City Walls
-City Wall Is the largest city wall in the world and also one of the very best preserved. The present wall dates back to the Ming dynasty (A.D.1368-A.D.1644), and it’s 13.7 km long.
–Hanguang Gate Which remains are now in what is the only museum in China that shows the remains of city walls from the Tang Dynasty.
-South Gate Large and imposing opening towards the boulevard.
–Wenchang Gate And other gates, up to 18 in total.
-Bell Tower (钟楼) Located right in the centre of the city. Built in 1384 during the early Ming Dynasty is one of the most famous symbols of the city and at the time of its construction, the grandest of its kind in China. Inside there are bronze-cast bells from the Tang Dynasty that were sounded at sunrise to mark the morning of the day and that you can visit either on its own for ¥27, or in conjunction with the Drum Tower for ¥40.
-Stele Forest Is the largest collection of wooden steles in China ranging from many centuries. Over 3000 compose the museum. Entrance fee of ¥50, near the Wenchang Gate.
–Wolong Temple (卧龙寺) Next door from the Steles Museum. A Buddhist temple originally dating back to 200BC.
-Muslim Quarter Located to the north west quadrant of the city, is one of the key sights in Xi’An.
-Drum Tower (鼓楼) Another of the major landmarks of the city, built in 1380 during the early Ming Dynasty, was sounded at sunset to mark the end of the day. There are drum shows during the day and can be visited either on its own for ¥27, or in conjunction with the Bell Tower for ¥40.
–Grand Mosque (大清真寺) Right next to the Drum Tower. An UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built in blend of Islamic and Chinese architectural styles. Was the first mosque ever built in China. Although you cannot visit the praying room, it is possible to visit the courtyards around it. ¥25.
- Outside the City Walls
–Jianfu Temple and the Little Wild Goose Pagoda Completed during the Tang Dynasty in 709AD. Entrance fee ¥30 also including the Xi’An Museum. Located just 1 metro stop south of the Southern Gate of the city walls.
–Ci’en Temple and the Big Wild Goose Pagoda Built by Emperor Gaozong Li Zhi in 652 AD during the Tang Dynasty.It is the symbol number one of the city, an UNESCO World Heritage Site listed. ¥50 to enter the temple complex plus another ¥40 to enter the pagoda itself. Located 3 metro stops southwards outside the city walls from the Southern Gate.
-Shaanxi History Museum Housing the largest collection of artefacts both modern and ancient in the city. Minutes away from the Big Wild Goose Pagoda.
- Army of Terracotta Warriors and Horses Located 20km east of town. Opening hours March 16th to November 14th from 08:30 am to 17:30 pm; and November 15th to March 15th from 08:30 am to 17:00 pm. Entrance fees ¥150 or ¥75 for students, both including the almost not visited Qin Shi Huang Mausoleum, for whom the army was built. An UNESCO World Heritage Site in all senses, it is one of the key destinations from antiquity not only in China but the world. Often referred as the Eight Wonder of the World. You can see today some 2000 life size terracotta warriors, horses, chariots and carriages and some 30000 weapons, although many more thousands still wait to be uncovered. A free gold shuttle bus takes people to the Qin Mausoleum from the north of the main ticket booth. The best way to reach this place is by taking bus 306, (Chinese bus green 5) which goes very frequently costing ¥7 per way and taking around 1 hour. Buses 914 (8¥) or 915 (8¥) also do the route and all depart from the main train station.
The airport is located 40 km north-west of the city centre. Buses cover different routes towards the city at a frequency of every 20 minutes or so between 6.00 am and 18.00 pm. Tickets must to be purchased beforehand at the counter inside the arrivals terminal bus station and cost ¥26. It will take approximately 1 hour to reach the destination. The most handy lines are Bus route 1 to the Bell Tower, and Bus route 2 to the railway station, at the front of the Jiefang Hotel.
Reaching the city, or departing to any other destination within China by train is really straightforward, and in fact fast with the high speed trains in operation. Xi’An train station is at the north end of Jiefang Road just outside the north-east city wall, and you can reach it by metro or by bus from pretty much everywhere in the city centre for just ¥1. Not to be confused with Xi’An Bei station, which means North Station and it’s almost 20km to the north.
2 metro lines of very recent construction cross the city north-south, eat-west meeting in the centre. And even if those are not yet too much tourist friendly in the sense of taking you around the sights of the city, many more lines will become operational in few years time to finally cover a good network around the city. As for buses they are everywhere but can be more complicated for a non Chinese speaking tourist. Should you figure it out the route and number, or if anyone can help you, they are very cheap and reliable, just ¥1 per ride on a conventional bus, or ¥2 for air-conditioning one.
As taken from Wikitravel for the great explanation on most important bus routes for the tourists, the #610 (also labelled “游8” in Chinese, which means “tourist #8”) connects the railway station, the Bell Tower, the Small Goose Pagoda and Xi’an Museum, the Shaanxi Historic Museum and the Big Goose Pagoda. #609 connects the Bell Tower, the South Gate and the Big Goose Pagoda, and #611 connects the train station and the Bell Tower.
Getting a taxi in the city is an almost impossible task. Since they are so cheap everyone use them meaning the chances of spotting one free are rare, and when found, the likes of them stopping to pick up westerners are none to 0. This leaves you with one option, going to a nearby hotel and explain them the situation so they can order one for you. Tuk tuks are more readily available and specially towards the evenings and nights.
For getting to the Terracotta Warriors, there are frequent buses from the main bus station which is next to the train station. Bus 306, (Chinese bus green 5), goes very frequently costing ¥7 per way and taking around 1 hour. No need to buy ticket before, a conductor will issue the ticket once you are seated.
Although a smaller city compared to the vast size of most of the Chinese cities, the choice in hotels is still huge and very competitive, even during high season months. But be cautious that they sell out quite quickly. By the time we were choosing some possible hotels, half of them were gone when we wanted finalise a booking just few days after. Very shocking, but they tend to be booked in big bunches as there are hundreds of tour groups coming to the city. A good point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engines such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers.
We managed to get really good rooms at the Grand Mercure Xi’An Renmin Square. Quite central, as the name says in Renmin Square, 319 Dongxin Street. A 4* property with a 5* look and feel. Large pool and jacuzzi, incredibly good service and staff, super comfortable rooms, clean and well taken care off with big breakfast options. We could not ask for anything else to be honest.