Our Trip to Xi'an, April 30-June 3, 2008

Trip Start Jan 14, 2008
Trip End Jun 30, 2008

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Flag of China  , Shaanxi,
Thursday, July 3, 2008

Amazing Xi'an, April 30-June 3, 2008

The Labor Day weekend finally came and we got a 4 day weekend! YAY! Travis and I both actually got 5 days because we don't teach on Wednesday. So, we decided to fly ti Xi'an to see the terracotta warriors which is the one thing I BADLY wanted to see in China. We went to the airport in Guangzhou with etickets bought and paid for. Reservations ready-this time, nothing could go wrong, right? HA! Of course things could go wrong! Travis and I are traveling together. We got there early, stood in line, got to the desk and there resulted much puzzlement and searching. Finally we went over to the help desk. Much puzzlement and searching. Turns out we only got ONE reservation to Xi'an and two back. We had to buy another ticket. So, we did-paid full price for this one, of course. (However, I have to say that the online seller immediately refunded my money, no questions asked which was not what I feared!). We got to the gate right as they were loading and off we went. At least that part went right!

We landed in Xi'an just fine and took a bus to the city without any real idea of where our hotel was. We found the Tangcheng Hotel online-great prices and 4.5 stars. We rode downtown and got off in the center of town. We went into a hotel that had a tour service-they REALLY wanted to take us to see the warriors the next day but all we wanted was a map. The town was hopping because it was the Labor Day weekend and Chinese from all over flew into Xi'an to go see the warriors with us! Several tour groups full of westerners were there too. We finally found out where the hotel was and tried to hail a cab-no luck. Seems our hotel was outside the ancient city gates and all the traffic was going INTO the old city. So, Travis studied the map and decided we could walk. So, off we went.

Xi'an is a lovely city-noticeable different from Guangzhou and Zengcheng. It's bigger than Zengcheng but much smaller and more compact that Guangzhou. It's also just steeped in history-you feel it when you get there. When you enter the city from the airport, you go by a large memorial that commemorates the fact that Xi'an was the beginning (or end depending on where you are going) of the Silk Road, the ancient trade route between the West and China. Xi'an was the early capital of China too. You go into the center of the city through gates in the ancient walls with Guard Towers watching over the traffic. Much of the city is very modern but it's a tourist city so there are a lot of hotels and tourist spots. They are fairly used to foreigners though ones that speak Chinese are not the norm. Needless to say, Travis was a hit because he would try to speak Mandarin to them. They would then launch themselves into rapidly speaking to him and leave him behind but they were so genuinely pleased and impressed that he tried.

Xi'an is also MUCH drier and that weekend much hotter than Guangzhou. It was in the 90s until Saturday and very dry. The trees are different from the south too-the whole thing is a big change from the south-it is quite a way north of Guangzhou and in a very different climate. Here is a very brief history of the city. It is a lovely place that moves at a very different pace than Shanghai or Guangzhou. It actually reminded me of San Antonio in its slower pace and the focus on tourism.

City of Xi'an (Translation -- Western Peace)

Xi'an (pronounced Shi - an), capital of the Chinese Empire for almost a thousand years, was one of the world's great metropolises, rivaling and even surpassing its contemporaries: Baghdad, Constantinople, and Rome. (Xi'an is different pronunciation than Xian. The apostrophe indicates that Xi'an is two syllables as opposed to Xian that is one syllable).

It is also one of China's oldest settlements. At Ban Po, just east of the modern town, remains of a Neolithic village have been found. Of the three millennia that intervened between the decline of Ban Po and the rise of Zhou, we know very little. Villages slowly evolved into towns.

Between the 11th and 8th centuries BC, the Zhou Dynasty governed northern China from their palace at Hao, located a few miles west of present-day Xi'an. Although the Zhou capital was moved to Luoyang in 771 BC, Hao, now known as Xianyang, remained one of the four largest cities in North China. During the 4th century BC, it became the capital of the state of Qin. When, a hundred years later, Xianyang became the center of the empire. Qin Shi Huangdi determined that his capital should be worthy of him, and under his direction, a million workers toiled to build wide boulevards and eight huge palaces. The population had increased to nearly 800,000 when, in 207 BC, rebels overthrew the dynasty and put the city to the torch.

The Han rulers, successors to the Qin, built their capital of Chang'an (Xi'an' old name). The new city prospered, and by the 1st century BC, its walls enclosed eight main streets and 160 alleys, and enormous suburbs sprawled outside its ramparts. It was during this period that trade began with West Asia and the Roman Empire. Just as in present-day China, a special street was set aside to accommodate foreign visitors and a protocol department supervised their undertakings. In 25 AD, the seat of government was moved east to Luoyang and Chang'an declined in importance until the first Sui emperor, Wen-ti, ordered his engineers to build a new metropolis southeast of the old Han town. Although Wen-ti's successor governed from Luoyang, the Tang rulers returned to Chang'an, which they completed in accordance with the Sui design.

During the next two centuries Chang'an was at the center of a cultural and political renaissance that many historians consider being China's golden age. The Emperor reigned supreme from the Korean peninsula to the deserts of Turkestan. Painting, literature, and music all flourished, as did the more sybaritic art of gracious living. Among the court poets were Li Bai and Du Fu, and many of their most famous compositions describe the elaborate, Versailles-like fetes and revels of the day.


We walked QUITE a way-we had to get outside the city walls and then find the hotel. Travis has a great sense of direction and is unafraid of striking out-I just tagged along, dragging my suitcase behind me. Finally, there it was-the Tangcheng hotel! Whew! It was really a nice hotel too-very good service and great prices. The rooms were nice so altogether we were happy when we got there. They also had a nice buffet for dinner and a western breakfast. We ate dinner and went up to our rooms-only the next day did I find that Travis had left his backpack in the dining room, realized it (it had his passport and money in it) gone back down in a panic. They said they didn't find it-he went to the front desk and they also didn't have it but then the dining room called and said they had it and brought it over! YAY! Everything was there too-so Tangcheng gets high marks for honesty and security.

The next morning, we set off to try to catch a bus to the Terracotta Warriors site. It is quite a ways outside the city but buses run all the time, we were told. So, we took a cab to the bus and train station. People were EVERYWHERE at 9:30 in the morning-we stood in line for buses that seemed to be taking folks to the warriors' site. We were in a mass of folks moving up slowly in chaotic Chinese fashion. They do not believe in lines and they press forward like crazy people to get on and then wait for the next and do it again. Suddenly a guard told us we should be over in another line to get the tourist bus. ACK! We went and that line went on forever too. Travis and I decided we'd stood in line long enough. We decided to go see the city and try for the warriors the next day. It was hot and we were tired of standing.

We had the best time-I am so glad we did it this way! Travis is a good guide and he took out his map and we went off on foot. We just worked our way south from the northern gate where the bus station is. The first place we came to was the Museum of the 8th Route Army. Here is a little write-up on it.:

The Museum of The Eighth Route Army Xian Office

The Eighth Route Army Xi'an Office was a public,legal organization of Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and the Eighth Route Army between 1937-1946. The office`s main tasks were to do publicity for the Communist Party`s advocacy of resistance against Japan and to expand to National United Front. It escorted patriotic progressive youth to Yanan to expand the revolutionary forces. It received, purchased and transported materials to the Shaanxi-Gansu-Ningxia border region or rear areas to support the War of Resistance.


It is a small museum with most of the signs in Chinese only but enough were in English too that we could puzzle out what it was about. It also serves as a hostel today so there were folks staying there as well as visiting.

Next we headed for the Grand Mosque and what a lovely place it was. It is so old-according to the sign, it was set up in 742 when Muslims arrived on the Silk Road but the consensus seems to be that the mosque you see today was built in the late 1300s. It is still in use today. It is a fascinating blend of Asian and Islamic culture and architecture. There are several stelae with Arabic writing and then Chinese. Some have English explanations but many do not. It really doesn't matter, it was just gorgeous and we spent a long time just walking around, taking pictures and enjoying all the different courtyards. Here is a bit on it but you will need to follow the link to read it all-it's a good write up on the mosque:

The Great Mosque of Xian is the largest and best preserved of the early mosques of China. Built primarily in the Ming Dynasty when Chinese architectural elements were synthesized into mosque architecture, the mosque resembles a fifteenth century Buddhist temple with its single axis lined with courtyards and pavilions.

Like the Great Mosques at Hangzhou, Quanzhou and Guangzhou, the Great Mosque of Xian is thought to have existed as early as the seventh century. The mosque that stands today, however, was begun in 1392 in the twenty-fifth year of the Ming Dynasty. It was ostensibly founded by naval admiral and hajji Cheng Ho, the son of a prestigious Muslim family and famous for clearing the China Sea of pirates. Since the fourteenth century, the mosque has undergone numerous reconstructions. Most of the buildings extant today are from the Ming and Qing Dynasties of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The mosque was constructed on Hua Jue Lane just outside the city walls built by the Ming Dynasty, in what was once the jiao-fang neighborhood for foreigners to the northwest of the city. Today, this neighborhood is part of Xian proper, with the city's famous Drum Tower a block away.


Outside the mosque, you pass through the Muslim streets they are called. These small twisty streets are home to wonderful little shops with all kinds of interesting things that you don't see for sale in Guangzhou at all. It reminds me of the antique market I say in Guangzhou when I first visited there in 2001 but the selection is very different. You do still have some Mao memorabilia but also some crafts unique to Xi'an. One of the most interesting thing is the selection of shadow puppets, they are called. They are made of ox skin and often brightly colored. The more elaborate ones are jointed and very beautifully detailed. The folks in the shops were so nice too. One young man badly wanted to practice his English with us and he and Travis talked in a combination of Chinese and English-we bought several things from him so it worked well all around!

After the mosque, we headed for the two big landmarks in Xi'an. The Drum Tower and the Bell Tower are close to each other and dominate the downtown of Xi'an. They are the tallest (old) buildings and the folks have been careful not to let the tall hotels and other buildings overshadow them. The Bell Tower is on an island in the middle of the street that you take a series of tunnels to get to-you can go in one and out another so you can move around the busy downtown streets very easily. They are lovely buildings. We went to the Drum Tower first.

The Drum Tower was built in 1380,four years earlier than the Bell Tower. There used to a huge drum in the tower which told the time at dusk. The base of Drum Tower is 1,924 square meters in size, and 34meters high. The bell in the Bell Tower and the drum in the Drum Tower have been referred to as "the Morning Bell" and "the Dusk Drum".


You can climb up into the Drum Tower and look out over the downtown area. On one side you look straight down a plaza to the Bell Tower. It's really a very neat sight. After the Drum Tower we started down the plaza to the Bell Tower. On our way, we were stopped by two very nice young ladies who wanted to practice their English with us. They were both students in a university in Xi'an. One was from Inner Mongolia and was taking English this semester. Of course, there were many pictures taken. Nobody takes pictures of occasions like the Chinese!

The Bell Tower is in the middle of a round-about in the middle of a busy intersection so you go under the street to get there. Lots of merchants under there in the tunnels trying to get to buy something. The place was packed because of the holiday and it was hot and stifling. But we got there! The Bell Tower is really lovely too-when you climb up you can look all directions down major thoroughfares. It is surrounded with flower beds and we saw how they watered them. They had a truck with a water tank and then high pressure hoses-very clever way. No sprinkler system needed!

The Bell Tower in Xi'an is situated in the heart of the city at the junction of four main roads. Known as the symbol of Xi'an, its history can be traced back to the Ming dynasty. Each Ming city had a bell tower and a drum tower. The bell was sounded at dawn and the drum at dusk.

The wooden tower, which is the largest and best preserved of its kind in China, is 36 meters (118 feet) high. It stands on a brick base 35.5 meters (116.4 feet) long and 8.6 meters (28.2 feet) high on each side. During the Ming Dynasty, Xi'an was an important military town in Northwest China, a fact that is reflected in the size and historic significance of its tower. There is a huge bell hanging on the roof of the tower traditionally used to toll to tell the time. There are smaller bells on exhibit in the tower as well.


The Drum Tower and Bell Tower are such amazingly old and well-preserved buildings. It is really a wonderful thing to be able to visit them. After we left the Bell Tower, we decided we needed to sit somewhere cool for awhile-it was really hot in Xi'an all the time we were there until right before we left (more about that later.) It was in the 90s but fairly dry which was good. But we were getting HOT so we went to a Starbucks (of course there is one there!) and had a nice cool drink and resting in the lovely a/c. Then we started walking towards the city walls They are huge and thick walls that have been preserved/reconstructed through many centuries.

The city wall of Xi'an is an extension of the old Tang Dynasty structure. The city wall, after its extension in Ming Dynasty, stands 12meters high, it is12-14 meters wide on the top, 15-18 meters thick at the bottom and 13 kilometers in length.

The city wall was first built of earth, rammed layer upon layer. The base layer was made of earth, quicklime, and glutinous rice extract, tempered together. It made the wall strong and firm. Thus, the Ming Dynasty city wall formed a complex and well-organized system of defense.


We were getting VERY hot and I was getting very tired by the time we got close to the walls. No taxis seemed to want to stop so Travis, bless him, finally got a small motorized rickshaw to stop and agree to take us to the hotel! It was a long day and we had a great time and we were tired. So, we decided to pay for a taxi to take us to see the terra cotta soldiers the next day and a very nice young man agreed to take us and wait for us.. It was a deal!

The next morning, we got up and got ready to go-I was VERY excited-I'd wanted to see the terra cotta soldiers for years. I'd read about them and the tomb that they guard over the years as they found more and more about the whole complex. The cab driver was right on time and earn his 300 rmb. He was very nice and tried earnestly to make conversation with Travis as we drove to the site. Poor Travis was struggling with understanding and answering in Mandarin when most of his experience is in Cantonese.

After about 40 minutes, we arrived at the site which is huge. There are the three different excavation pits and in the smaller two, there is active archeological work going on. You can see the process of excavating the soldiers and how vast the area is. The whole site is beautifully planned and presented. The Chinese have done a wonderful job making a very impressive and yet accessible site. The soldiers and horses in Pit 1 are amazing. This is a huge area and they stretch as far as you can see. All the faces are different on the soldiers and there are all ranks represented. The whole thing is so impressive especially when you remember that it is just a portion of the entire area surrounding the tomb. You move around the excavation so that you can see the soldiers and horses from all angles. In the smaller pits, there are some of the more famous soldiers such as the archer and the general on display in cases so that you can get up VERY close to look at them. There are also displays of remains of the weapons and other artifacts found in the area. There are good explanations in Chinese and English-thank goodness!

Here is some information on the site:

The Terra Cotta Warriors and Horses are the most significant archeological excavations of the 20th century. Work is ongoing at this site, which is around 1.5 kilometers east of Emperor Qin Shi Huang's Mausoleum, Lintong County, Shaanxi Province. It is a sight not to be missed by any visitor to China.

Upon ascending the throne at the age of 13 (in 246 BC), Qin Shi Huang, later the first Emperor of all China, had begun to work for his mausoleum. It took 11 years to finish. It is speculated that many buried treasures and sacrificial objects had accompanied the emperor in his after life. A group of peasants uncovered some pottery while digging for a well nearby the royal tomb in Array in Pit 11974. It caught the attention of archeologists immediately. They came to Xian in droves to study and to extend the digs. They had established beyond doubt that these artifacts were associated with the Qin Dynasty (211-206 BC).


The tomb of the Emperor has not been excavated yet and they continue to find areas dedicated to different things around the tomb. They found an area with bronze birds around an artificial lake in one area and another area where the statues seem to be of acrobats and other people to entertain the emperor. Here is a bit on the tomb and complex:

The tomb of Qin Shi Huang is located in the eastern suburbs of Lintong County, 35 kilometers (22 miles) east of Xian: on the Lishan Mountain in the south and overlooking the Wei River towards north. The lay of the land from Lishan to Mount Hua is shaped dragon-like according to traditional Chinese geomancy. The imperial tomb is at the eye of the dragon. The emperor had chosen well.


Travis and I agreed that it was an amazing experience. We could've stayed there and taken pictures all day long. The crowds were huge because it was a holiday but the buildings are so large that you seldom realize how many people are in there with you until you see them going up stairs across from you or something that gives you some perspective. This was really the highlight of my time in China

When we were done, we went back to the hotel to rest and agreed that we were DONE for the day-there were other things we wanted to see but we were just in sensory overload by that time.
We rested and then went out on the street to find dinner. We wandered away from the hotel with no real goal in mind and finally found a Carrefour which is a French department store chain-also sells food but alarmingly, no prepared food! On the way out, we stumbled into a little restaurant called Daignan Dumplings. After much communication between Travis and the patient young woman (they were all so thrilled with Travis and his attempts to speak Chinese that they just overwhelmed him with words) we got an order of two different kinds of dumplings that were VERY good.

The next morning (Saturday), we woke to high winds and much cooler temperatures. We had thought we'd go visit another museum-the Forest of Stele Museum looked really interesting but with the wind and rain, we decided we were tired and just lazed around the hotel until noon when we had the nice taxi driver take us to the airport. Because it was Travis and I traveling together, the departure could not be without incident. Our flight was delayed from 1 or so in the afternoon until 7 pm! We got onto an earlier flight that was then delayed. I gave one airport store a bunch of money for two books on the terra cotta warriors and on the history of Xi'an so I had something to do but we finally took off and got back to Guangzhou without any other problems! It was a great visit and I really liked Xi'an.
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