China: Xi’an

Xi’an is another well known city in central China. One of China’s oldest cities, it’s home to the famous Terracotta Soldiers among other attractions, making it a logical stop for me on my trek back towards the eastern coast of China.

A 345CNY overnight train put me in Xi’an at a convenient time mid-morning, which is when my phone promptly died, leaving me wandering the streets of the ‘Muslim Quarter’ trying to find my hostel. Once I did, though, I was reassured by the fact that I would not have to share my bed with another dude. Good news.

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The heart of Xi’an is surrounded by a huge wall, which has been reconstructed several times since its construction in the 1400’s. Within the wall is the aforementioned Muslim Quarter, a thriving hub of predominately Muslim-owned stores and temples.

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There were several street stalls selling hand-rolled cigarettes, which were bloody good. Tasted like the vanilla cigars we used to buy when we were 18.

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I caught a good day in Xi’an, so decided to take a bus to one of the entrances of the wall where I hired a bike for a few bucks and cycled around the whole thing. I hardly saw anyone else as it’s not a tourist season. It was a pretty cool experience, headphones in, just coasting around the perimeter of the wall and checking out the city from above.

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I felt like I was in the Netherlands, cruising around on a single speed bike eating street food.

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One night, I went out with a couple of guys from the hostel.  We ended up at a high end club (something I didn’t expect Xi’an to have) where we soon realised the price of alcohol did not fit within our backpacker budgets. Not to worry; we soon were invited to a table which was being held by a Chinese bloke and a couple of his friends. This dude ordered 300 bottle of Hoegarden, at a cost of around $5.5k. There was one rule: When a beer was opened, you had to top the whole thing in one go. It didn’t end well.

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I mean, I like drinking beer.. but the volumetric thing becomes a problem after a while.

No trip to Xi’an would be complete without visiting the world-famous Terracotta army. The army depicts the forces of the first emperor of China, and was buried with him in approximately 210 BCE with the intention of protecting him in his afterlife.  The warriors were discovered in 1974 by local farmers, who were digging for a well.

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Excavation work is still being carried out to unearth the find, and you can see people working away in the pits, which have been covered with new buildings and turned into one hell of a tourist attraction.

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Xi’an is a classic example of old meets new. Everywhere you go, there are ancient influences and old buildings and towers that remain from many years ago. The place has a cool vibe to it. It’s much more relaxed than the bigger cities like Guangzhou or Shanghai, and is littered with tasty street food everywhere you look. Worth a visit for sure!

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Tips:

  • Stay in Alley Youth Hostel if you need accommodation. Solid hostel with a sweet social area, right in the middle of the Muslim Quarter.
  • Buses are the main mode of transport here. There’s a subway line but it’s pretty basic.
  • As a general ‘tip’ for China, get used to people spitting everywhere and anywhere. It becomes part of life after a while.
  • If you’re taking a train that isn’t a sleeper, keep an eye on where you are with your GPS because in central China there often isn’t any English at the stations to let you know where you need to get off. With a sleeper train you’re sweet, the conductor will come and wake you up to let you know you’re arriving at your station.

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