This city is most known for the Terracotta soldiers. I have been pronouncing it as She-ann.
I knew Beijing and Shanghai, but I didn’t know this name until I researched where the soldiers were.
They are not in the city center, but about an hour to hour and half drive away.
Let me talk about the city first.
I arrived really late by plane from Shanghai. I landed slightly before 11 pm and took this shuttle van to my hostel that I booked beforehand. If you are looking to come by train from Beijing- check out this article for more information.
I had a slightly bad experience with my hostel in Shanghai in terms that they barely spoke English and it was mainly Chinese.
I don’t mind Chinese people, but it’s nice being around foreign travelers to share experiences and just to talk with someone.
I’ll get back to this later.
On the plane, I was sitting next to this Chinese couple that….for a lack of a better description, were very flashy. They couldn’t speak English, but I could tell they were a bit fascinated by me as I spoke English yet was reading a book in Spanish
The whole flight I could feel them looking at me periodically while the husband would peer over my shoulder to look at my book.
Well, who else should appear in my shuttle van is that couple. We had a little chuckle and during the 45 minute drive they were trying to communicate with me through a translation app. Which spoke out loud and sometimes the translation didn’t make sense. The other Chinese passengers found it quite funny.
It turns out they didn’t have a place to stay, which I found quite ball-sy because it was now midnight.
They came with me to my hostel, but I was full and they ended up in a different place. She asked for my WeChat (the WhatsApp of China).
They wanted to hang out with me, which would have been ok, but things happened.
After checking in and taking a shower I only saw Chinese people. I believe part of my feelings were due to culture shock and perhaps a bit of homesickness.
I ask reception if they had any foreigners at all.
“No. You are our only one.” She replied.
The only one.
Again, I don’t mind being the minority and in most situations I am. But like I said, I just wanted to talk with people in the evening and these Chinese guests either
1. Didn’t speak much English
2. Didn’t care to talk with me (one woman grunted at me when I said hello in Chinese)
3. Aren’t travelers and are actually working
I broke down crying calling my dad and the Spaniard in the process.
“Change hostels tomorrow. Go where you can be successful.” Said my dad
“Well, it is China and it is February…..there’s not many foreigners in general.” Suggested the Spaniard.
“The problem is you like to talk.” He joked trying to get me to laugh.
Yes, I am social, but I need PEOPLE to be social with.
However, the Terracotta soldiers are the most visited Asian site apparently so it was hard for me to believe that there were so few foreigners in this city.
The hostel staff was concerned and tried making me happy by saying there was ONE other foreigner.
I went to sleep and the next morning found the hostel my friend, A, stayed in. And in matter of seconds I saw several foreigners. There were of course Chinese people, but there were others that I had things in common with.
My first hostel was nice and returned the money for the next 3 nights (I booked a total of 4). It was slightly embarrassing because after I checked out I had to come back because I forgot a few items in the bathroom.
My second hostel was a lot better and it cheered me up immensely. When I entered my room there was a German woman, M, who just checked in and so we spent the rest of the day and the next together.
Xi’an has been the warmest I felt on mainland China and so I didn’t need so many layers walking around, which felt so nice. At times, I didn’t have a jacket on.
M and I just walked around the Muslim quarter where we enjoyed some delicious street food.
We went into 2 mosques and they were styled in the Chinese way, but it wasn’t that different from the Buddhist temples.
We also thought about viewing the light festival, but discovered it is paid only. I was surprised because in Shanghai the light festival was free.
We ate at this fast food Chinese place. I ordered rice, which was decent while M ordered wonton soup with steam buns. The buns were good, but she could have had better a wonton soup.
The first night, we had 3 other girls in our room. A British woman teaching English in Shanghai and 2 recent university graduates traveling for a bit from America. They were so innocent it was cute. One was actually adopted from China and from what she was saying it was like that made her different from other Americans.
Girl, you grew up in America just like me and have parents that love you just like me. You aren’t any different.
The second night the British girl left and was replaced by an Asian guy and a Spanish guy.
I’m not sure what type of Asian he was as he didn’t speak much English. I was asking him if a certain bag was his or the Spanish guy, just pointing at the bag and then him, not saying actually words and he just shook his hands meaning he didn’t speak English. When I pointed to the bag then to the Spanish guy (he was sleeping) he still shook his hands.
This is what I mean. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to understand what I was trying to say by pointing, they just have no wish to communicate.
My second full day in Xi’an I booked the tour of the soldiers through my hostel. I remembered that the Great Wall was price reasonable and that I got to meet other people so I figured it was the same for this. Actually, my first hostel was charging more for the same tour so I thought this was a deal.
In the end it was M, the Spanish guy, and myself from my hostel and 13 others from the other hostel. 8 of those were of the same travel group (French exchange students in China).
When the tour guide split us up, she had the French 8, as I called them, go together and then the rest of us.
Our tour guide was awesome. It was a bit hard to understand her as she had a strong Chinese accent plus spoke English in a staccato manner (how I assume Chinese is spoken). I sometimes, as the only native speaker, had to do a bit of translation.
But she was very informative.
My recommendation would be to take this tour, but to also bring your passport. A lot of tourist sites in China require it. I didn’t thing the soldiers would since the Great Wall didn’t and that no one said I needed it. However they were sort of checking ID. Every time it was my turn they always flagged me away not checking in typical Chinese security fashion. I really don’t know why they have so much security if only for
2. Gives more jobs
But better safe than sorry. I was using my driver’s license, but bring your passport.
There are 3 pits. Pit 1 is the classic photos you see. Where all of them are standing. However, it is not all of them. In total, they have found about 8000 statues of soldiers and horses. But since 1970s, they have only restored 2000 and to finish pit 1 alone will require another 40-70 years as pit 1 holds 6000.
Pit 2 is the smallest while pit 3 has a lot of uncovered soldiers and the first statue found (the archer from above) was apparently the only one that was found completely intact.
There were a lot of people there due to the holiday, but it was manageable.
There is also a little cinema on the soldiers and how they were found, but it was broken so we didn’t watch it and instead went to the souvenir shop and then to lunch. M and I brought our own food so we sat outside in the sun while the rest were inside the restaurant.
I was craving vegetables so much because Chinese food is very oily/greasy so I ended up buying green peppers and eating it like an apple. It was really good.
After lunch we saw the tomb of the crazy Emperor who made the soldiers. He was honestly crazy because he ate mercury believing it would make him immortal or something. In fact, it just made him die sooner probably. However, he reigned for 55 years about. From ages 22 to 77 so made there was a method to his madness, literally.
So I mentioned that there are over 8,000 soldiers, well each soldier has it’s own unique face and physical appearance. This isn’t due to the genius of one or several men, this is because over 8,000 people worked on this project and they used each other as a model. Some even inscribed their names on the statues once it became known that once you finished your part, you would be killed to keep the secret.
However, it wasn’t much of a secret because the next Emperor and next dynasty, to ruin his afterlife (he believed all these soldiers and the 3,000 concubines he killed would go to the afterlife with him). So he burned the soldier down. Which, with all some natural Earth movements, the soldiers were destroyed and you can see black burns in certain places.
No one has actually entered the tomb of the Emperor. I’m not sure if this second guy even knew where it was as they built a mini hill around it (think of it like the pyramids), but with modern technology, they have found it is filled with mercury and traps. So until it is safe, everyone is not allowed near or inside it.
Our tour included a free drink from the hostel so when we got back M and I had a beer. The Spanish guy used his drink for a coffee before we left- he thought we had the better idea haha.
This particular night was dumpling making night so a group of us got together and learned how to make dumplings. It was free. From past experiences with rolling and folding wraps like dumplings, I was quite comfortable, but many of the other guests had all toes instead of fingers. We had a good laugh.
When they were boiled, we sat around and started eating. It was silent. We just made dumplings together and now sitting together- we should be talking! Plus it was a hostel! So I tried my best to get the conversation going. Finally, other people helped, but at the end we were all pretty tired.
I met another American woman, T, at this hostel and we made plans for the next day.
I was recommended 3 times by A (see Beijing and Shanghai posts) and others to bike ride the city walls of Xi’an. It was also recommended to us to go late afternoon and wait for the sunset because the light festival would start when the sun set and it would be basically free.
To enter the walls, there is a price and then renting the bike for 2-3 hours is another fee. But there is a student discount and I think worth it. The wall is quite long around and the bike made it nice instead of walking the whole thing.
The lights were awesome. Unlike Shanghai, you can walk around and touch these lantern lights. You aren’t supposed to, but that’s how close you are to them. I liked it better than Shanghai. It is only on the Southern wall and not even completely West to East, but still a lot.
I was talking about getting some food for my train the next day to Beijing as well as sunglasses so T took me to the Wal-Mart.
Everything was red instead of blue (color of China) and most of the things were Chinese- like huge bags of rice. It was funny. It makes sense, but something so associated with the USA- it was weird seeing non-American things.
Afterwards, we went back to the hostel and I immediately went to sleep after taking a picture with M!
I still had to get up a bit early for my train which was at 11:20 am. It takes about 45 minutes from my hostel to the train station- on the same metro line. And I wanted to be there earlier in case of long security check etc.
Well, everything went smooth and I ended up having to sit and then stand at my gate for a bit. They really like falling in “line” when it comes to making sure they get on the train or whatever first.
I found my seat no problem. I had the window. I had to disturb the aisle seat to get boiling water (free) for my instant noodles for lunch, but he seemed chill about it.
Then I was off- the rest of my trip I wrote in my Beijing post since I went back to Beijing.
I hope you have enjoyed reading about my time in China or if it has helped you with your own travel plans. Please be sure to check out my next posts on the Philippines!