07.09.2014 - 11.09.2014 20 °C
We flew into Xi’an late Sunday evening, and any worries regarding domestic flights were unfounded. Everything ran smoothly. In comparison with the hundreds of Chinese travellers, we only saw two other Western tourists, but we’re getting used to that now. We took a taxi to our hostel, the ‘Facebook Hostel’. There is no connection, and taking into account that China bans it, it was a little amusing to find a hostel with such a name. There were good reviews and it was centrally located, and cheap too. Our taxi driver got lost on the way and what should have been a forty five minute drive ended up closer to ninety minutes. Still, we only paid 110 Yuan for the trip (€13.50). We quickly discovered the Facebook Hostel was not all it was cracked up to be. The staff have very little English, so it’s difficult to get any advice or ask for anything. The wifi was non existent and you could feel the springs in your bed. We’d recommend staying at the Hang Tang Inn instead which is a couple of doors up. Their staff speak English, they offer great food at a low price, all the mainstream tours and provide free/fast wifi. Fellow backpackers staying there also commented on how comfortable and clean the rooms were.
Xi’an is the capital of the Shaanxi province and has a population of roughly five million people. It’s an easy city to get around and the centre is bounded by city walls, with a bell tower marking the crossroads of the four main streets. Xi’an is best known for the Terracotta Warriors. Approximately eight thousand statues were constructed two thousand years ago and left to guard the tomb of Qin Shi Huang (seen as an archetypal Tyrant). It is one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of the 20th century.
Before I get into what we’ve been up to, another amusing cultural difference worth highlighting is the sleeping habits of the Chinese. We’ve seen a few nodding off in random public areas, some in an almost corpse like condition. I’m looking forward to having a snooze on the street if Alberto will let me.
Monday was pretty much a write off. We woke up to the rain (it has been raining for the majority of our time here unfortunately). Problems with both of our bank cards meant that we were unable to take any cash out and were reliant on the little Yuan we had left in cash. We were just about able to get some street food for lunch with what we had. Three skewers of beef costs only 10 Yuan (€1.20) and a large portion of potatoes stir-fried in garlic, cumin, spring onion and chilli costs 5 Yuan. A bargain, and it’s pretty tasty too. Just make sure any meat is well cooked.
We spent the day trying out other ATMs, emailing our bank and trying to call them (we have been unable to make any international calls though). Luckily, the Hang Tang Inn allowed us to book our Terra Cotter Army tour and order dinner via credit card, which worked fine. Phew! That evening we stayed in and watched a film on the laptop. It was a pretty frustrating and boring day all-round. We’ve since been able to withdraw cash so the problem seems to have been resolved.
Tuesday was an early start. The Hang Tang Inn offers an all-day breakfast menu so we ate there prior to departure. We arrived at the excavation site late morning and we had a great afternoon exploring three different museums. The government must have known they hit gold when it was found. A trip to Xi’an if you’re in China is well worthwhile for the warriors alone. The farmer who discovered it in the 1970s now works at the souvenir shop for a ‘meet & greet’ and photo opportunity. We're not really sure if it was him or not, but funny all the same. We were too poor at the time to pay for the privilege.
We made friends with the tour group and that evening we all went out to dinner in the Muslim Quarter where there is a night market. Food stalls offering a wide range of meats, snacks and desserts are plentiful. A few drinks back at the hostel led to a spontaneous trip to the street bars and I finally found my karaoke bar. Every person got up to sing individually or in groups, generally paired with another member from the same country or in the case of Alberto with a girl from Portugal. We christened them team Iberia. And of course they sang the Macarena. We generally called each other by our country name, and in the case of multiples from the same country, you were Australia number three or America number two. After a lot of drinking, and singing we got to bed just after 4am. That evening was probably the highlight of our trip to Xi’an.
We booked ourselves onto another tour for Wednesday, this time to see the tomb of Emperor Jingdu (regarded as a benevolent ruler who lived during 188 BC – 141 BC). Most of the group from the previous night were also going. We had good craic in the van but unfortunately the tour was a waste of money. There was very little to see and the only saving grace is that we were probably too hungover to appreciate anything really good, so we didn’t have to feel guilty due to our lack of interest.
[There wasn't a pic worth showing from this tour, so a group selfie in the rain will have to do]
That evening we all met up again for dinner, and went to see a light and water show down at the Goose Pagoda. It took quite some time to get out to see it. Taxi drivers will pull up but as soon as they realise you’re a foreigner they’ll speed away as quickly as they can. We ended up taking a tuk tuk, Alberto’s first experience and I don’t think he’s overly keen. This one was a deluxe model with a proper enclosed carriage to get into so you didn’t get wet, but unfortunately we had to deal with a strong smell of fumes for the journey. We caught the tail end of the show. It was pretty good, and it’s on every evening for free.
At the end of the night we exchanged some contacts for possible future meet-ups and said our goodbyes. Overall our experience of Xi’an was pretty positive. The constant rain for the last four days didn’t help, but hanging out with a large group of backpackers for a couple of days was really fun, and we hope to do more of that. Aside from the Terra Cotta Warriors though, there isn’t a lot else on offer. We stayed four nights, but would only recommend two to three (in comparison four in Beijing was perfect). Next stop, Shanghai.
Lost in Translation: