Our first bit of ’independent’ travel was fairly straightforward, as we made our way to the hectic Beijing West Railway Station (the largest in Asia apparently). My excellent Mandarin speaking served us well, as I asked a member of staff “I where go now”, pointing at my ticket, and she replied in English “back outside and upstairs”.
This train was similar to the Vodkatrain ones, with 4 of us in a cabin. Our two Chinese neighbours went straight to sleep, and we both had a pretty good journey to Xi’an.
It’s a very important city in Chinese history, home of the country’s first Emperor, the guy who had the Great Wall built, as well the famous Terracotta Army, which we were there to see. He was described to us as “very good” for his accomplishments, but also “very crazy”, for his mercury drinking, slave killing, giant tomb building madness.
Xi’an is also one of the few cities in China that still has its old city walls intact, which makes it fairly easy and pleasant to navigate around. Our hostel was quite central, and when we were able to drag ourselves away from by far the comfiest bed in China, we headed off for a tour of the Terracotta Army.
There are around 8000 figures, standing about 2 metres tall and they are split between 3 main areas, all surrounding the Emperor’s Tomb. They were discovered in the 70s by peasant farmers digging a well, who drilled down to discover the only intact figure, a kneeling archer. The others were later uncovered by archaeologists, who have had to piece them together ever since. The guide suggested it would be another 30 or 40 years before the main pit was done.
They are incredible to see, especially given that they are over 2000 years old now. We had a guide who was full of useful information, and she also took quite a shine to Law – at the end of the day she snuck up to her and gave her a small statue of one of the figures, and didn’t say anything about it or give one to anyone else. Saved us buying one though.
We explored the rest of Xi’an, wandering through the Muslim Quarter, and bartering with people in the markets. We ate some spicy jelly like thing that I still have no idea what it actually was, and I haggled myself a Guangzhou Evergrande football kit for about £8. We went to see the Wild Big Goose Pagoda, a temple built and used by the monk whose travels were written up as ’Journey to the West’, which of course introduced the world to Monkey! There is a music, light and water fountain show every night which is as weird as it sounds.
We also walked all around the ancient city walls, which are around 13km long and was a very rewarding and tiring experience. It did take us just out (or above) the city though, which was very nice. China has been a very enjoyable and interesting country so far, but the sheer number of people, cars, and insane moped drivers who drive anywhere they like gets a bit intense! It’s like the main street in Falmouth in August!
From Xi’an we booked our onward travel to Chengdu, to see yet another Chinese icon, the pandas.