From terracota warriors and mighty city walls to holy land of Chinese revolution - welcome to Shaanxi province!


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Asia » China » Shaanxi » Xi'an
May 27th 2013
Published: July 4th 2013
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There it was, my solo adventure in China was coming to an end as I was about to join the Dragoman truck the next day. First had to pick up my visa and get to Xi’an though... Didn’t really have a lot of time in the morning to do that as my train to Xi’an was leaving at 12.50. I booked it before I even went to Emei Shan but already at that time my choice of trains was very limited – didn’t know the route was so popular with locals! There sure were many trains going to Xi’an from Chengdu each day but at the time I was booking my ticket there were only two morning trains left – had my group meeting at 9 the next morning so really needed to get there before that time. So 12.50 train it was in the end, I still had to run to PSB office and pick up my visa though... Taking into account how much hassle and running around it took me to apply for it… well I was a bit stressed out and wondering whether I was going to make it for my train on time… Got to the office 10 minutes before opening time, I was surprised that I was the first one there actually (there were lots of people around but I was the first one at the foreign section). Even though there was a clerk sitting at the desk already she just wouldn’t give me my passport yet and told me to wait until 9 o’clock. Ok 9 o’clock it was then! At 9.00.01 I was standing at her desk again. 😊 I almost got the wrong passport though! And even though I was saying to the woman this wasn’t my passport and I wasn’t signing anything she was insisting and getting all angry that I didn’t want to take it! Finally somebody else came up and told her to look through the passports again and she realised her mistake and even apologised to me? Didn’t expect that! Ah well… At least I had my passport and my new visa so no hard feelings… It was only 9.15 when I left the office (happy days!) so still had a bit of time for a lovely doughnut (or two? 😉) and a coffee. Then a bus to the train station and I was ready for my 17 hour journey. I swear I was the only foreigner in the whole train station again! Incredible! The trip went by very quickly actually – chose an upper bed (in a hard-sleeper) and couldn’t be happier with my decision, nobody sitting on my bed or putting stuff on it, had it all to myself! Just when the sun was rising we were pulling up to the station and for the first time I had a chance to glance upon the mighty city walls of Xi’an… It took a while before I found a taxi with a meter and after a little sightseeing detour I got to my hotel. We got lost on the way to the hotel and the driver seemed to have forgotten to switch off the meter so at the end we had a ‘nice’ Polish-Chinese conversation about the payment. Well it seems that my Polish persuasion skills are pretty good as the driver finally agreed on my price. 😊



As soon as I checked in, I met my roomie, very nice girl from NZ, things were looking pretty good so far! I still had two hours before my team meeting, which was great as after the long train journey I sure was happy to freshen up a bit. Apparently there were two trucks going in the same direction all the way to Beijing – Oscar (my truck) and Archie. It created a bit of confusion as to who was on which truck and how many people were actually in each group… Ah well… We would find out sooner or later… The cost of the trip went up a bit it would seem as we had to pay a bit more for kitty (definitely didn’t like the sound of that as after travelling on my own and knowing how much accommodation, transport and food cost me in China so far, this trip was proving to be totally overpriced and very expensive indeed, just hoped it was going to be worth it!). After the meeting we had a bit more free time and soon after were getting on the truck and heading to see the terracotta warriors…



Once we arrived at the site, we got the tickets and a guide and headed to the first pit. I felt a little bit disappointed at the beginning as first of all I thought that more warriors would
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be uncovered (all sources of information were talking about 6,000 warriors on display there, well… I doubt there was a thousand of them there?) and what’s more I thought we would be able to get closer to them. Not to mention that walking through the hordes of tourists was pretty demotivating and tiring… Still I was actually here and was looking at the famous terracotta army after all so I thought I’d better enjoy the moment! And after all I didn’t really have to get that close to see some of the sculptures’ details – a decent zoom on the camera can always help a bit! Some sections at the site were temporary closed as apparently some VIP was visiting the site that day so we had to wait a bit to see the other pits. Wonder who that was? Hmmm… The more I walked around the sites, the more incredible the place seemed to me – it’s just unbelievable that all the warriors were hidden underground until 1974. The scale of the site is just beyond comprehension – estimated 8,000 warriors, numerous chariots and horses are said to be buried at three pits! What’s more it is said that 700,000 workers were involved in creating the mausoleum for Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China (the work began around 246 BC)! Just unbelievable! The first pit seemed to be the most impressive as you could see the warriors lined up in rows – each of them unique in its kind, different heights depending on the ranks, different faces and hairstyles. The next two pits sadly looked a bit like warriors’ cemeteries rather than exhibitions as the weapons and different body parts were just scattered all around on the ground. You could see at pit no 2 a few very well preserved models behind the glass though – you could admire the detailed work here without using your zoom. In the museum you could find two bronze chariots as well – exact copies of the originals only half-size. The museum was the last on the list and then it was time to leave the site, making our way to out truck through different stands with souvenirs and being tempted to buy small terracotta warriors (well I wasn’t really tempted, but some surely might have been).



On the way back to the hotel we had a bit of an adventure with our truck. Our Chinese guide hasn’t noticed the sign and we managed to get into a lane with a small bridge – there was no way our truck would fit under it so there was nothing else to do but to reverse – on a motorway against a pretty heavy traffic! It didn’t seem to matter to all the motorbike drivers that a huge truck was going against the traffic as they just kept on squeezing through next to us… Eventually couple of guys had to jump out of the truck and just stop the traffic as we wouldn’t be going anywhere! Yep! Stopping the traffic in the middle of a 9-million-people city! We got quite a few honks and even more shocked looks, but finally were on the right lane and could head back to our hotel. In the evening, we went for dinner to a dumpling place – after all they’re meant to be a speciality in Xi’an, well there must be something about it as they were pretty damn good!



Next day we had free time to ourselves. The weather was pretty miserable in the morning again, still there was no point sitting in the hotel, so my roomie and I took our raincoats and straight after breakfast we went to explore Xi’an. First we headed to the Big Wild Goose Pagoda as it was just next to our hotel. It’s 64,5m high and you can see a nice panorama from the top. The area around was worth seeing as well – lovely park surrounding the pagoda, many statues all around and a huge fountain right in front of the pagoda, the Chinese surely know how to make their landmarks stand out.



Then we hopped on a bus 609 and headed to the old city. The weather was getting better also, so it looked like we would be having a lovely day after all. We climbed on the city walls and decided to cycle them all around – my friend wasn’t too keen on it but eventually I convinced her to do it. 😊 After all we were up on the largest city wall in the world (12m high, 18m wide at its bottom and 15m at the top), so we’d better see it properly. 😉 We got our bikes for 100 minutes and set off to do a 13,7km loop on the city wall. Sun was shining, some calm Chinese music was floating in the air around the main gates, just lovely! And there weren’t that many people up on the walls, which made the ride even more pleasant. Then the 100 minutes was up and it was time to head further…



We walked next to the Bell and Drum Towers until we reached the Muslim quarter, it wasn’t too difficult to realise where we were as suddenly the dress code changed a bit – women in burkas all around us! Apparently 20,000 Muslims live around this area. Just loved walking the streets of this district, especially around the food and souvenir market, all the lovely local foods on display, the smells mixing in the air, people sitting all around sharing meals and enjoying each other’s company, really nice place for an afternoon stroll! Then we set off to find the Great Mosque, which is one of the oldest (built around 742 during the Tang dynasty) and best preserved mosques in China. With our little map it took a while before we found the right nook, thought even for a moment about giving up on it, but glad we didn’t as it definitely was worth a visit! Actually it didn’t look like a typical mosque at all! It’s a beautiful mixture of Islamic and Chinese architecture! The area is divided into four courtyards with the main prayer hall placed in the last one. Apparently it can fit 1,000 people at a time and prayer services are taking place there 5 times a day. We wandered around the mosque for quite a while. Really unique and peaceful place! Then it was time to head back to our hotel as the biking and walking the whole day was finally having its effect on us. Later on a group dinner in a lovely small restaurant (couldn’t believe how cheap the food and drinks were – obviously one of the advantages of travelling in a group is sharing meals – you always have a wider choice of food and in the end you pay less as the bill is split between all.) And the beer was sooo cheap, the cheapest I’ve had so far (5yuan only!), maybe I was eating in the wrong places until now? Hmmm…



The next day we hopped on our truck and set off to Yan’an. Once we got there we only had two hours to check out the revolutionary museum so got onto to it straight away. Well… I say it was more than enough time, considering that there was very limited information in English in the museum – one of these places that are directed only at Chinese people (well like most of the things in China actually, so no surprise there I guess…). You learn almost at the entrance of the museum that: ‘Yan’an is the holy land of the Chinese Revolution. …From 1935 to 1948, Yan’an was the location of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party’. Very important place in Chinese history indeed! And just couldn’t be more patriotic, they surely are very proud of their accomplishments! It was quite interesting to see some of the pictures from the revolution times. Then a quick visit to the army’s headquarters and that was about it when it came to a visit to Yan’an. In the evening instead of going to a restaurant for dinner, all of us (two trucks = lots of people!) went to the night market instead. It sure was fun to try and to see some other people trying some of the local snacks. 😉 Next stop: Lijiashan!


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5th July 2013

So you are overlanding with Dragoman...
I've read the blogs of others who have done it this way...along the Silk Road, around Africa, and South America. I must say that it seems to be the way to go when the route is difficult with many uncertainties...you have a guide to get you out of trouble and companions with whom to share the adventure and the cooking. When I check prices, they seem OK, but nothing about how much the kitty is, which as you say can really add to the price. I like a bit more certainty on that. So your blogs about your travels with them will help as I decide whether it is a good way to travel. My most likely overland will be from Nairobi to Cape Town. You mentioned Beijing as your final stop which isn't that far...overnight on a train. What tour are you taking?
9th July 2013

I did Xi'an to Beijing with Dragoman on one of their trucks. The original plan was to do Kathmandu to Beijing via Tibet and northern parts of China with them, but there were some issues with Tibetan permits in March and the trip was cancelled. I thought then I might still give Dragoman a go and looked at different China options, but was left with Xi'an to Beijing option only for the dates I was interested in. Like you say Dragoman might be good on less travelled (or more difficult) routes, besides wild camping sounds like it could be fun as well. It wasn't the best option for this leg though... There was no wild camping, only way too overpriced hotels and since I started feeling comfortable travelling on my own in China after a few days there, the trip with Dragoman just turned out to be quite a big expense. Sometimes it took longer getting to our next destination with the truck than it would with local transport as well - getting lost and stuff like that. I did meet some nice people on the truck though but that would be the only good thing about the trip. So if I had to choose Dragoman again it would have to be in Africa only. Hope this helps. Thanks again for reading Bob! Kind regards :)

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