China

The Terracotta Warriors, Xi’an

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.

The Kneeling Archer

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.

Terracotta Warriors

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.

Xian fountain and light show

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!

Xian city walls

From Xi’an we booked our onward travel to Chengdu, to see yet another Chinese icon, the pandas.

Categories: China | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Beijing – the end of the line

Our first few days in China were our last few we would spend with our Vodkatrain group and we were met off our last stint on the trans siberian railway by our last local honcho, Snow.

We started off by having a massive Chinese feast and ate far too much exciting food (including donkey!) after all the simpleness of the last few weeks! It was delicious though. We also went to the Dongcheng Night Market which is famous for its exotic food – we both ate a scorpion each. Mmmmm… tastes like chicken.

Dongcheng night market

We then hit China’s most famous landmark, The Great Wall. We went out to the Mutianyu site, which is slightly further out so I think was a little bit quieter. We took the cable car up and hiked along the wall and up tonnes of steps to get some amazing views.

The Great Wall of china

It was here that a member of our group Jon, decided to say goodbye to his friend Mitchell, a watermelon he imported from Russia, by throwing it off the highest point. Read Emily’s blog for the complete tale of Mitchell, but it was the spiritual end of the tour…

We then got to toboggan down the hill from the Great Wall which was pretty fun, and exactly what the ancient Chinese had intended. After heading home, we went to a Chinese acrobatics show, where they did some mad things and then Snow took us to a karaoke bar, at 9pm, completely sober. Fortunately a few rounds of the Roxanne drinking game sorted us out for the night and we spent a happy few hours singing terribly, before being the only western people in a Beijing club.

We then got to the official end of our Vodkatrain tour and spent the next few days saying goodbye as various people left to go home or to go on to other travels. We also saw more of Beijing’s historical sights, including the Forbidden City, The Summer Palace, Jingshan Park and the Drum and Bell Towers.

Beijing has been a bit mad, chaotic and busy, but an awesome introduction to China. It’s been sad to say goodbye to our Vodkatrainers, but hopefully we’ll be catching up with a few again on our travels. It’s also nice to now be starting our adventures on our own. Next stop, Xian.

Beijing train station

Categories: China, Trans Siberian Railway | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

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