Xi’an had been on my list of places to visit in China since we arrived, so when we were thinking of booking a weekend trip to somewhere new it was the first city that came to my mind.
As the capital of Shaanxi province, Xi’an is not only home to the Terracotta Army but is one of the oldest of the four Great Ancient Capitals of China, holding the title under several of the most important Chinese dynasties in history. The city is also famously known as the starting point of the Silk Road, so we knew we’d have plenty to see and do to keep us busy. What we weren’t prepared for, though, was the weather. I’d checked the forecast a week or two in advance and it was looking a little chilly (low 20s with no humidity is what I consider cold these days.. who am I?!) so we made sure to pack some trousers and thought that would be fine.
It was not fine.
It rained. And rained. And it was 14 degrees centigrade complete with an icy cold wind. When we stepped outside on day 1, in our t-shirts, we could see our breath in the air. But with our umbrellas and determination we headed to Starbucks across the road for a quick coffee before booking a car to take us to our first stop, Xi’an Museum. The grounds would have been beautiful to walk around on a sunny day but instead we ran through them shouting the occasional swear word as our feet were swallowed up by huge puddles.
The museum itself was OK. As many as 130,000 cultural relics are kept there so it was interesting to walk around and look at them, but the information in-front of each was written only in Chinese. After wandering around for almost an hour, our clothes and shoes almost dry thanks to the heaters on full blast, we decided to head back outside. “Maybe it’s stopped raining now?” we thought to ourselves.. idiots. Located within the grounds of the museum is the Small Wild Goose Pagoda, which is somewhat of an iconic building to see when visiting the city. It was quite an impressive structure and the gardens around it were, again, beautiful.
FYI it had not stopped raining..
We were feeling a little gloomy and I was disappointed that the trip I’d planned out wasn’t taking shape like I’d hoped, so we had a look for restaurant suggestions online and found a great local place to sit and eat some lunch. One of my favourite things to do when we travel is to experience the local food, whether I think I’ll like it or not we have to try something at least. Luckily for me the food in Xi’an was incredible. One of Shaanxi province’s most famous dishes are thick, belt-like noodles know as Biang Biang, topped with chili. It’s said that the name of these delicious carbohydrates comes from the noise made as the chef stretches the dough and bangs it onto the table!
On day 2 we woke up early to head to the Terracotta Army and, surprise surprise, it was still raining. The drive from the city centre took around 1 hour as the museum complex is located where pieces of the Army were originally uncovered, on farm land when locals were attempting to dig a well in the 1970’s. Toby slept most of the way and I stared out of the window wishing that the rain would stop (imagine a sad scene in a movie with sad music playing in the background, you know the ones I mean). We arrived just as the complex opened at 8am since I’d read that it was best to get in and out as early as possible to avoid crowds of Chinese tourists – and I can’t stress enough that you should do exactly that if you ever visit. Buying the tickets was avoidably and unnecessarily stressful (make sure you take cash) but we finally made it in and enjoyed learning about the history and seeing the warriors in real life.
And that’s that! If you think my comments are underwhelming that’s because I felt underwhelmed. The Terracotta Army is a world heritage site and rightly so. The history is so interesting and the work that went into creating each individual warrior is truly incredible (they vary in height and uniform in accordance with rank and there are also terracotta horses & chariots) but I think I had hyped it up so much in my mind that I saw them and wasn’t as blown away as I’d expected to be. I realise we’re incredibly fortunate to have been a 2 hour flight away from something that people fly across the world to visit, and I’m so glad that we’ve seen them now, but I just wasn’t as impressed as I thought I’d be. Regardless I 100% recommend visiting if you ever find yourself in China because they have such a rich history and you can learn so much of it here. It was definitely still a big tick off my bucket list!
I also didn’t realise that the work of uncovering the warriors is still very much ongoing. One of my favourite sections was an area filled with arms, legs, heads and various bits of the soldiers (that sounds a bit grim..) waiting to be paired up and stuck back together. It must be such an amazing feeling to attach the final piece to the soldier you’ve been working on for months! The archeologists that work there are literally rebuilding history and I think that’s pretty incredible.
By day 3 I was honestly feeling a bit let down by Xi’an. I think being cold and wet put a negative spin on everything we did (potentially another reason why I felt so “meh” about the Army). One thing I really wanted to do during our trip was to cycle around the old city wall – one of the largest ancient military defense systems in the world. If you read up on things to do in Xi’an I guarantee every single article or blog will tell you to rent a bike or walk along the wall. Just when I was ready to give up hope (how dramatic) the clouds cleared.
IT. STOPPED. RAINING.
This was by far the highlight of our visit and I suddenly had a lot of love for the city. Seeing the new VS old architecture from every angle was the perfect way to finish our last day in Xi’an, which redeemed itself with just a little glimpse of sunshine. We cycled the full 13.7 kilometers just in time for dinner, so we headed off (with slightly sore bottoms.. bike saddles are not the comfiest) to the famous Muslim Street Night Market.
I love a good night market and I think this one was the best I’ve ever been to. The street food was incredible and there was so much atmosphere – also another spot that every corner of the interest suggests you visit and I couldn’t agree more. It was the cherry on top of our trip and a perfect way to end it.
Do you think Xi’an is somewhere you’d like to visit one day? Let me know 😀