Both Dave and I have been wanting to see the Terra Cotta Army for a long time, so in December 2005 when we were in Beijing, we took a side trip to Xi'an, 1,200 km (750 mi) southwest of Beijing. The 12-hour train ride (8:00pm - 8:00am) was surprisingly comfortable, even for Dave :) Since it was off-season, we had the 4-berth soft sleeper to ourselves. We slept fairly good on the train.
With 3100 years of history, Xi'an has a lot to offer for tourists: - The City Wall: A well-preserved defensive wall which was re-constructed in the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644). - The Big Goose Pagoda and Small Goose Pagoda: Both are well over 1000 years old. - The Bell Tower and Drum Tower. - The Stele Forest: Known for its numerous historic inscriptions and stone works. - The Shaanxi History Museum.
1. Drum Tower.
2. Bell Tower.
3. Lamb sate (1 RMB/piece) on the Muslim food street.
4. Street vendor selling hawthorn fruit coated with rock sugar.
5. The Stele Forest.
6. Big Goose Pagoda.
But Xi'an is mostly famous for the Mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang (the first emperor of China) and his Terra Cotta Army, 35 km (22 mi) east of Xi'an. The mausoleum was constructed between 247 BC and 208 BC. To protect him in his after life, Emperor Qin buried an army of 8,000+ life-size terra cotta warriors and horses near his mausoleum. The underground army was discovered in 1974 by local farmers drilling wells for water. When unearthed, none of the figure was intact. It took years to piece some of the fragments together. A museum was built on site and opened to the public in 1979.
First time visit, not knowing if there is enough introduction in the museum, we hired a tour guide. It turned out to be a mistake. Not only could we read plenty of introduction from the signs ourselves, but also the tour guide valued more about how much time we spend in the souvenir shop than helping us to enjoy the museum. So we paid her off early and went back to the main museum building ourselves.
7. Inside the Museum of Terra Cotta Army.
8. Inside the Museum of Terra Cotta Army.
9. Inside the Museum of Terra Cotta Army.
Another lesson learned later: Do not eat at the local restaurant next to the museum. The dining room looked descent but not the bathroom: there was no running water (it was early Dec). The dishes were expensive and tasted bad. And worst of all, the whole time when we were eating, there were two girls standing next to our table, continuously showing us scrolls of Chinese paintings, hoping we would buy something. I repeatedly telling them we came here to eat, not to shop, you don't need to show us anything. It didn't deter them at all. So we had to eat our meal under close watch of some strangers. It is almost funny to think back, but at the time we felt quite uncomfortable.
Despite all these, we had very fond memories of our Xi'an trip. We loved the restaurant (謝合豆漿) near our hotel, where for 20 RMB ($2.5) total, we had authentic Chinese breakfast everyday. We enjoyed the lamb sate on the Muslim food street. We loved the spicy noodle (2 RMB/bowl) sold at a grocery store near the Big Goose Pagoda. We loved the tea house near Big Goose Pagoda, where for 40 RMB ($5), we had some great tasting tea while enjoyed watching people passing by on the street outside. The place was probably considered expensive from local standard, but for weary tourists, to be able to sit and unwind in a clean, peaceful, and friendly environment, it was priceless.