Day 9: Xian
After enjoying the free breakfast in our hotel, we got a cab and headed for Xian’s train station. We had two goals here: buy train tickets to Beijing and locate the bus that would take us to the Terracotta Warriors.
At the station, a guard directed us to an English-speaking ticket window, but the line was long and unmoving. Eventually we gave up, stepped over to the empty “Ticket Refund” window, and using limited English and a little pointing, we bought two soft-sleeper tickets on tomorrow’s overnight-express train to Beijing. The station was packed and chaotic, so we wandered around until we were pretty certain where to find our train, Matt deeming it would be a miracle if we managed to do so successfully and make it to Beijing. 🙂
I knew from my research there were buses to the Warriors that left from a big parking lot near the train station, but we had difficulty finding them until a helpful stranger pointed us in the right direction. There were several of them lined up and each would leave when it was full. We boarded a nice coach bus, paid the $1 fare, and arrived in an hour.
The Terracotta Warriors are part of a massive mausoleum built for Qin Shihuang, who became the first emperor of a unified China in 221 B.C. His tomb complex took nearly 40 years to build using over 700,000 workers and was essentially designed to contain everything he needed in his living life in his afterlife as well, including an army, weapons, horses, and chariots. After his death, looting soldiers set fire to the entire thing, crashing the vault’s wooden support beams and tons of earth onto the statues, burying them completely until 1974, when farmers digging a well uncovered some pieces of pottery. Most of the tomb has yet to be excavated, but over 1000 warrior statues have already been pieced back together, as well as an assortment of horses, weapons, and tools.
We visited three pits, each in various stages of excavation, and a museum with many finished statues and pieces. All were impressive, though the main pit holding thousands of warriors standing guard was even more so. Incredibly, every soldier was sculpted with unique facial features and outfits; we marveled at the detail that had gone into each one.
In the main pit, we could see the site of the well that was being dug when the vaults were found. The weapons the soldiers were holding are lost from decay, though we learned that their bronze blades were still sharp upon excavation.
After touring the vaults, we braved the gauntlet of souvenir stands and bargained for a couple bronze replica statues to take home. As we walked out, we noticed a guy standing outside his restaurant twirling and pulling noodles, shouting, “HELLO!!! NOOOOODDDLLEEESS!” at every single person who walked by, and we decided to try some.
We found our bus and headed back to the train station. We decided to spend the rest of the evening walking through the city center and its Muslim quarter, and dinner would be whatever street food looked good. The weather was dry and warm, around 70 degrees; it was a nice change from the rain in Yangshuo.
Xian has a large Muslim community, and just east of its Great Mosque is a famous snack street loaded with stalls selling everything from lamb kebabs to flatbread to dumplings. We strolled along, looking through souvenir stands and buying various things to eat. Street food is the way to go in Xian; it is delicious and super cheap. Here is a list of everything we bought to eat and drink today: big bowl of noodle soup, two skewers of spicy squid, five skewers of grilled beef, flatbread sprinkled with herbs and chilies, big bowl of chopped beef mixed with finely ground wheat, an ice cream bar, two ice cream cones, a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice, four bottles of water, and two bottles of Coke. Grand total: $10.
We walked home after another great day; tomorrow we’ll explore more of the city before catching our train to Beijing.