We have returned from our first real traveling adventure!
Last Thursday Lauren and I bought train tickets to meet up with Brittany, Drew, and Alden in the northern city of Xi’an for the weekend.
Traveling in China is the coolest. And it’s much easier than I expected! We caught Bus 45 near the South Gate of USC for a 30 min bus ride to the fast train station in Hengyang. The train stations all have English written underneath the Chinese words that made finding our train really easy. From there, it was a 6.5 hour train ride to the ancient city of Xi’an!
So why Xi’an? Let me tell ya. Xi’an is a beautiful city in the Shaanxi Province! It was home to the first Chinese Dynasty (The Qing Dynasty) and the place the first Chinese Emperor built the world famous Terra Cotta Warriors. There’s an ancient wall that surrounds part of the city and countless other historical temples, bell towers, pagotas, and museums that remember the Qing Dynasty and it’s old splendor.
Lauren and I arrived in Xi’an around 7:30pm and took the metro from the train station to the Yongning Men stop. Once we stepped outside and saw the city wall in front of us it was like wow we’re, like, really in China. Of course we’ve been in Hengyang for over two months, but Xi’an has a completely different feeling to it. Because we had extra time to kill while waiting for Brittany, Drew, and Alden, we started exploring.
One of my students recommended trying a “Chinese burger”, a famous food in the Shaanxi province and we found one after walking a little ways into the city! It was like a pulled pork sandwich and very good.
We went to H&M (It’s been a long time since we’ve seen American clothes we can buy!) and a scarf shop and then stopped at the beautiful bright Bell Tower in the center of the city wall.
We headed to our hostel after walking a little longer – it was called the Shuyuan Hostel and it was one of the coolest hostels I’ve seen. It was right inside the city wall also, a short walking distance from a lot of attractions, so the location was perfect. Brittany, Drew, and Alden arrived shortly after we checked in and we made a game plan for the next day.
After buying a “western breakfast” the hostel’s cafe served, we hopped in a tour bus at 9am to see the Terra Cotta Warriors. Our hostel conveniently had a tour guide deal for 268 RMB that included transportation and the admission price, so it was a pretty good deal. (The admission is normally about 150 RMB anyways) On the way we picked up more travelers from another hostel, people from England, Switzerland, and Peru. Our tour guide, this cute little Chinese woman, introduced herself as ‘Jaja’ and said “My English name is Lady Jaja!” which made us all laugh.
The site is actually an hour away from the heart of Xi’an so Lady Jaja told us a little about the Terra Cotta Warriors and then told us to rest. I never knew there were three pits found of these terracotta people, and that digging and restoring more of these warriors is still ongoing. What I pictured, and what most people probably think of, is Pit 1. Pit 1 is the biggest Terra Cotta warrior site and contains the most pieced together warriors – it’s the one you see in history books and travel websites.
We started with Pits 2 and 3 first. It was chilly outside and drizzling on and off, so it was nice to be inside the Pit buildings! Pit 2 was ‘U’ shaped, Lady Jaja told us, with a meeting place on one side, and an animal sacrifice place on the other side.
Pit 1 was definitely the coolest.
After wandering the last Pit, we watched a 20 minute film about the history of the Qing Dynasty, and how the terracotta warriors were destroyed when the emperor died. Lady Jaja made lunch reservations for us at a restaurant nearby, so around 2pm we joined our new international friends for noodles, tofu, vegetables, rice, pork, and beef. One of the British girls sat beside me and it was very interesting to talk to her about her travels and where she was headed next on her Uni gap year!
We arrived back at our hostel around 5pm, dried off a little bit, and then headed back out to explore the Muslim Quarter. Okay, if you ever visit Xi’an you absolutely must visit the Muslim Quarter. It’s a street behind the bell tower filled with Muslim street vendors selling the most delicious foods. You can buy meat on skewers, Chinese hamburgers, all kinds of noodles, fried bananas, peanut brittle, cakes and candies, roasted and spiced potatoes, pomegranate juice. There are hundreds of people in the streets waiting in line, looking at the shops nearby, listening to the music in the streets.
I read that there are over 20,000 Muslims that live in the area, with ten mosques there. We didn’t have time to visit any of the mosques sadly, but I can attest to the deliciousness of their food. It was awesome and probably my favorite part of the entire trip.
After wandering for a time, I found a side street selling backpacks. I’ve been looking for a bigger hiking backpack to use on longer travels here in China and asked the lady working the shop how much one of the Northface bags would cost. She told me 180 RMB, which in all honesty is a great price for a bag that would normally be over $100. I asked her if I could think about it and come back and she said, “Okay okay, how much will you pay?” “150.” “No, no 170.” “160.” “Deal.” So it felt pretty good to bargain with her and get a nice hiking back pack for $25!
We went back to the Bell Tower, then H&M and the scarf shop, and then Starbucks for awhile. Back at the Hostel we stayed up until 2am playing spades and awkwardly watching/avoiding people in the hostel who wouldn’t stop kissing downstairs (there was a bar next door to the hostel so we weren’t that surprised).
The next morning we went up to the wall. For 54 RMB you can walk around the ancient city wall, and for an extra 45 RMB you can rent a bike on the top. We didn’t have enough time for biking, so one day I would love to come back and bike the whole wall! It was very beautiful though, and a great scenic spot to look at more of the city.
Lauren and I had to catch the metro and make it back to the train station by 12:35pm for our train – we both had to teach the next day and didn’t want to get back super late. It was so sad saying goodbye to Xi’an! It was such a wonderful opportunity to see a bigger and older city and see what the world outside Hengyang looks like!
I’ve definitely caught the travel bug though and can’t wait to start planning another trip somewhere. I want to see Beijing and Shanghai, of course, and also Sichuan Province, Guangzhou, Shangrila, Changsha, Wuhan, and other cities in the Hunan Province. Hopefully soon!!