Even though there is so much to see in Xi’an, we only spent one day there. We had planned all of the attractions that we’d like to see, and it worked really well.
The flight from Beijing to Xi’an was short. We landed around noon, took a taxi straight to the Sofitel Xian on Renmin Square (5-star rated hotel, about $100 per night), but because it was too early for check-in, we dropped off our bags and went out. The hotel was located inside the City Wall and near many historical sites.
To start, we took a taxi to the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, a fabulous construction built in 652 AD during the Tang Dynasty. It is a peaceful, holy place for Buddhists, three miles from the center of downtown. We paid 50 yuan ($8) to enter the Temple. Inside, payed an extra 30 yuan ($5) to climb the Pagoda’s twisted stairs to get a panoramic view of the city. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen due to poor air quality.
Our final stop that day was the City Wall. Although city walls are common in China, Xi’an’s city wall is the only completely surviving wall. It is an impressive construction about 40 feet tall, 60 feet thick at the bottom, and 8 ½ miles around. The entrance fees are 54 yuan ($8) per adult and, interestingly, tickets for children are valued by their height: 27 yuan ($4) between 1.2 to 1.4 meters and free when your child is below 1.2 meters.
We got there around 5 pm and knew we didn’t have a lot of time, even though the South Gate wouldn’t close until 10 pm. We love biking, so we rented bikes to explore and add more fun to our adventure. Plus, we could see more of the wall and its surroundings in a shorter period. We got our bikes from a stall near the South Gate, but there are other locations along the wall. The price is very reasonable with 20 yuan ($3) for a single and 40 yuan ($6) for a tandem – for 100 minutes. A deposit of 100 yuan ($15) was required (cash is preferred). At the end, we could return the bikes at any stall located at the top of the wall. Very convenient!
It was a very easy ride, a bit bumpy at times, but very enjoyable. We biked for about 90 minutes, stopping at various places for pictures, and to appreciate the city below.
Although we didn’t bike the whole 8 ½ miles of the ancient City Wall, we still got to see a lot of the ancient construction. In Xi’an, old and new sit side by side. Old-style streets and aged architecture are preserved inside the City Wall, while modern skyscrapers stand outside, contrasting the two sections. It’s almost as if the Wall is protecting the inner city from modernization.
The air quality was as bad as Beijing, making it impossible to see any blue sky.
Because we had a flight to catch to Zhangjiajie in the late afternoon, we checked out of the hotel before heading to the Terracotta Warriors Museum. To be safe, we had a private tour to make things easy for us. Again, our guide was very knowledgeable, efficient and friendly.
Following her advice, we started early to ensure arrival before large bus tour groups. We left the hotel at 8 am and drove about 20 miles east of Xi’an to the Terracotta Army excavations. From the parking lot, we walked to the main entrance, then through a beautiful autumn-colored open area.
We walked around the three pits while our guide was telling us historic facts about that amazing place. It seems unreal to hear that an Emperor ordered such a massive project – a mausoleum complex for himself with an army of more than 6,000 life-size terracotta soldiers. I was very impressed! The first and largest pit we visited contained 6,000 soldiers and horses. The second pit, smaller, had more warriors and horses, war chariots, and bronze weapons. The third pit, the smallest, contained high-ranking officers and chariots.
The Rare and Elusive Westerner
There is one thing to our trip in China which I have not yet mentioned: our daughter attracted a kind of attention like Chinese paparazzi! It happened especially in Xi’an and in Zhangjiajie when women would come over and ask to take a picture with her. Other times, they would clearly try to take a picture of themselves, but making sure our daughter was in the background, or worse, they would just stand next to her while one of their relatives or friends snapped a picture. No permission requested, of course.
While we were at the Buddha Temple at Jingshan Park in Beijing, a group of young Chinese girls asked us to sing happy birthday in English to a friend while they were recording it. Very funny.
According to our guide, these women are from remote Chinese areas where white children have rarely been seen. Ah, the elusive Westerner!
It didn’t bother me at all, but my daughter started feeling a little bit annoyed. Sometimes we would ask her to throw something in the trash can, for example, and she would refuse to leave our side.