As mentioned in the post on Chengdu, we chose Xian mainly because it is a good 16-hour overnight train ride from Chengdu. That it was the ancient capital of China, is home to a good deal of history including the Terracotta Warriors and interesting food was obviously a bonus.
We landed in Xian both earlier and later than expected – we arrived a day earlier thanks to having to take the fast train, and later because we arrived at Xian North Railway Station at 9.30 pm rather than 8 am.
The kids were tired and there was a long queue for a taxi, so we ended up taking one of the cars that a driver was touting. V bargained him down to a decent rate, and he turned out to speak English quite well, so that was good. He also convinced us to hire him to drive us to the Terracotta Warriors. I had intended to take the public bus, but by then, three of us had caught a cold and I figured multiple transport changes might not be ideal. It also turned out Xian is bloody hot at this time of the year, making a seamless air-conditioned journey more attractive.
Luckily, we were able to book a room in our original hotel for the extra night and when we arrived, they were nice enough to give us the same room rate. (More on the hotel later).
Our first morning, I did my best to drag everyone out to the Xian wall early, but we still managed to get there only at 9 am, by which time it was blazing hot. The hotel was a 15 minute or so walk from the South Gate to the wall, which may not have been the most exciting entry point, but it was good enough for us, and not very crowded. The wall was built by the first Ming emperor in 1370 and is extremely well preserved.
One can walk, hire a cycle or reportedly take a buggy ride around it, the latter being my preferred option but when we got there it didn’t seem like it existed. There is practically no shade on the wall and the sun was blazing down so we didn’t make it very far. There is some historical information at certain points, but not much, and I might have benefited from a guide, but I don’t think the kids or V would have enjoyed it. While I braved the heat and did a little walk, V and the kids struck up a conversation with a very sweet family from Qingdao (and apparently also became the tourist attraction for several families who wanted photos with them).
On the walk back, we found a little restaurant making spinach noodles, which to my surprise the kids really enjoyed, despite the slightly sourish flavouring.
That evening we headed out in search of the grand mosque which is apparently in the Chinese style and the surrounding Muslim quarter. We found the latter but the mosque evaded us. The Muslim food street was enough though – stalls upon stalls of kebabs, breads, yogurts and more, with to Nene’s delight, silver shops with exquisite filigreed work in between.
We sampled meat on a stick, yogurt rolls and the famous pita bread stuffed with mutton before caving to the intense heat and settling down in a shop for the famous soup into which you break bread. The kids enjoyed breaking the bread. Honestly, while I loved the street, the heat was absolutely exhausting.
The next day was our Terracotta Warriors day. We set out at 8.30 am and reached there by 10 am. It’s a bit of a walk to the ticket booth, but our driver showed us in and also told us to take the shuttle in, rather than walking in the heat. There was a scrum of people waiting for the shuttle but it didn’t take more than 15 minutes.
I had toyed with the idea of a guide, but I knew that the kids would not really be interested in extended commentary, and the audio guide (but V neglected to ask for it when booking tickets) so we just winged it. We followed the suggested route of Pit 1, Pit 3 and Pit 2. I looked up some stuff on my phone and told the kids the history of the warriors and how each one is unique.
I didn’t expect them to be as interested as they were in what are essentially huge pits of mud statues. There were points at which we had to drag them on. After we booked the Xian leg, I remembered that V and I had actually seen the warriors when some of them were brought to Hong Kong on an extremely well curated exhibition, and I felt a little silly about going all the way there, but the kids really did like them. On the way back, we bought a cheapo set of warriors for 20 yuan, and the kids really played with them a lot. Until they broke two, alas.
We finished early, and had McDonald’s for lunch, much to the irritation of our driver who had been hoping to push us into one of his favoured restaurants. This is one of my problems with guides in China – they are always trying to push you into shops or to signing on to other itineraries. This guy wasn’t too bad, but I wouldn’t recommend him because he got somewhat sulky just because we did not want to go to Tang dynasty show or a 16-dish dumpling dinner.
We only did a short walk down the road to get food on our final day. V over-ordered from a Muslim restaurant down our street and I got biang biang noodles, a local specialty.
Entry to Xian wall: 60 yuan (I think, could have been 80 yuan, with a discount for kids)
Entry to Terracotta warriors: 150 yuan per head (kids under 120 cm are free, otherwise they pay full fare)
Car and driver to Terractotta Warriors: 380 yuan.
Where we stayed: Citadines Central Xian
The pros of this hotel are that it is well located and we could walk to the locations we wanted to see (except the Terracotta Warriors, which is outside the city proper). It is also extremely well priced, and our room was clean, comfortable and had everything we needed.
That said, it is a bit old and fraying at the edges, and the lobby and especially dining room could do with an upgrade. The breakfast buffer is strictly so-so, but then again, it’s cheap.
We took a superfast back to Chengdu the next morning, and stayed the night at Chengdu Airport Hotel for one night. This was a really nice hotel, our room was lovely, and it served our purpose. It is right opposite the airport (we had a view of planes taking off from our room) and has a shuttle that gets you to the airport in five minutes. The breakfast buffet opens at 5.30 am and they let us in at 5.20 am since we were in a rush.