May 25, 2013, by Daisy Peak

Visiting China’s ancient capital Xi’an


Xi’an is China’s ancient capital, and the third most popular tourist destination after Beijing and Shanghai. So it was without hesitation that after Spring Festival’s homestay, I hopped onto the next cheap flight. A shuttle bus between the airport and the city centre operates from first til last arriving planes, costing just 26 yuan. It dropped me off almost directly outside Bell Tower International Youth Hostel, adjacent Xi’an’s iconic Bell Tower.

If you ever go to Bell Tower Hostel, try to get a room which faces the Bell Tower (around half the rooms do). I was was stunned by the view outside. A completely silent late-night Xi’an, with the Tower lit up in all its glory. The room was comfy and had everything you’d need, lots of space, light, and at least for the first couple nights great wifi. I made use of that to decide on what to do over the next couple days in one of China’s oldest cities.

I went exploring first thing the next day. My sense of direction, despite having a clearly printed map, failed me entirely when trying to find the Muslim quarter and instead I ended up in the calligraphy area. Which was still really cool! After retracing my steps, and speaking to some Hui Chinese, I was pointed in the right direction. The Muslim quarter offered a side to China I’d not yet experienced. I loved all the new smells of sweets and breads – although not those of raw, bloodied fresh meat carcasses. Queues of people piled out of the most popular restaurants, eagerly awaiting a seat.

Another unmissable Xi’an tourist attraction is its city wall. The day turned as clear as it ever would – Xi’an, as with most all Chinese metropolises, is heavily polluted – and hiring a bike cost just a couple of £’s (with a £20 deposit). You are given an 100 minute time limit, which is not that long if you’re wanting to take breaks along the way and admire the scenery a little. Cycling around the wall, despite it being an enclosed area, was not only relaxing but also gave an enormous sense of the freedom and sociability that can be felt in China. It was a really lovely experience, with tourists both Chinese and foreign having a good time admiring Xi’an on their holidays.xianbike

The infamous Terracotta Warriors took up next morning’s exploration. The whole morning, including entrance and all travel travel costs, came to just under £7.50. Unless you are desperate for a tour guide, don’t be tricked into the hostel’s £20+ tour deals. They go on for a lot longer, and you can get there by yourself easily enough. Firstly, take a public bus to the train station, for just 1 yuan (10p). Then another public tour bus, the number 5 tour bus, which goes past two stops (Huaqing Hotspring and Qin Shihuang’s Mausoleum) before terminating at the Terracotta Warriors. That bus is only 7 yuan. Then, with a student card, it’s 60 yuan to enter the site. If you’re not a student it’s double the price which I thought was a bit steep… But then it is one of the greatest UNESCO heritage sites in the world. In other words: it’s worth the money. After admiring the immense scale and intricacy of the Terracotta Army, you can learn more about the site in its attached museum.

The afternoon was spent with Kayleigh, her Xi’an homestay partner Ruiqi, and Ruiqi’s friend Yikou. We went to a hotpot restaurant, visited the starting point of the Silk Road, and stocked up on some supplies before the start of our epic trek into the deep dark depths of Gansu the following day. All in all, Xi’an was an exciting place to spend a few days with a huge array of things to do and places to see. I would highly recommend taking the chance to go!

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