It has been almost 2 weeks since school ended in rural China!! After I finished testing my 550 students, Jess and I began working our way out of China. It was a long couple weeks of grading exams and talking to every student for 1-2 minutes in English and I was definitely ready for a break from teaching and rural China! Jess and I were both eager to get back to the comforts and civility of larger cities, so we began our trek out of China by traveling by train to Xi’an (home of the Terracotta Warriors).
On a side-note, I am writing this in a coffee shop next to the beach in Hua Hin, Thailand! In many ways Thailand really does feel like some version of paradise and I will be eagerly writing about our Thai adventures shortly … but for now, this post will finish our 10-month China chapter:
– Xi’an –
Xi’an is a massive tourist destination and I was surprised at how well adapted the city was in dealing with foreigners. We stayed at a hostel so it wasn’t that surprising to see other foreigners. It was comforting that no one stared at us obsessively in Xi’an and a welcome change from our life in rural China. Xi’an has tons of Western Style bars, English is spoken commonly and casually. The flip side to being in a big [tourist] city though, is that prices are much higher for things like food, drinks, and transportation… regardless, we were back to living the city life!
We were obviously excited to see Xi’an and the Terracotta Warriors, but more than anything I was excited to be done with school and to be back on the road. After life in slow rural China, Jess and I found that Xi’an was almost excessively touristy with vendors, restaurants, cabs, and tourist traps eagerly waiting to take our money. We didn’t really feel like doing anything unless it involved a drink in our hand and not thinking. Our primary goal was just to relax and acclimate back to normal living. (Below is a video of a street vendor in the Muslim Quarter of Xi’an; captured during a lazy walk through Xi’an at night).
All in all, we only spent a few days in Xi’an and didn’t really do a whole lot. It didn’t matter though … every once and awhile traveling demands that you stop for a bit, take a break, and stop worrying about doing every little tourist thing. Sometimes just lounging around your hostel or hotel room is necessary in order to regain your sanity and recharge your batteries … our last few days in China fell into that category.
Obviously, Xi’an attracts tourists from all over the world so they can catch a glimpse of Emperor Qin’s massive army that was constructed (and then buried) to protect him in the afterlife. Despite our lackadaisical approach to Xi’an, Jess and I did manage to drag ourselves out to see the Soldiers; but they didn’t exactly blow us away. There is no doubt that they are impressive, but the massive amount of lives, labor and money to construct them was a bit of a let down for me. I couldn’t help but look at the statues and think, “what a waste of life, money, and labor.” The emperor started the project when he was 13, only to have all the laborers killed after decades of construction, in order to keep it a secret. Now that China has dug them up and turned them into a profitable tourist destination; I feel like some of the allure has been lost.
I don’t like writing about places with a negative perspective, but we just never had one those “oh man!” moments with the Terracotta Soldiers. Instead, we had more of a, “hmm … well that’s kind of neat!” moments. We didn’t pay for a tour because they are fairly expensive and I think that that may have made our experience better because someone could have explained more about what we were looking at. Perhaps getting a tour group is the best way to maximize your experience.
To end on a more positive note, below is a video of the impressive Water and Light Show at the Wild Goose Pagoda in Xi’an!
Top 4 Things to do in Xi’an:
Get a tour group. It will cost a lot extra, but the tourist site is an hour outside of the city and it is massive. There’s a lot of information about getting around and the history surrounding the site … so a tour group should ensure you get the most out of it.
2. Musical Fountain Show:
This fountain is huge and it is located just North of the Wild Goose Pagoda. Whether you go to the musical fountain show or not, check out the Pagoda and surrounding area. It is an awesome spot to just walk around, shop, hang out or eat! The fountain show itself is huge, but it is nothing compared to the Magic Fountain in Barcelona or the show at the Bellagio in Vegas. Click here for everything you need to know about the Wild Goose Pagoda fountain show!
Xi’an is a walled city. The ancient walls are really cool and Xi’an today has coffee shops, restaurants, and bus stations that work themselves in and around the wall and moat throughout the city. The wall completely separates inner Xi’an from outer Xi’an and you can ride bikes on top of the wall if you want.
4. Muslim Quarter
The Muslim Quarter is basically a long street packed with street vendors, lights, entertainment, and local food. Go to the street after dark to get the full experience and bring your appetite! In the muslim Quarter you can experience some of China’s most unique (and sometimes daunting) foods, but don’t expect to pay street food prices … this place is very popular and it’s mostly tourists who are willing to pay full meal prices for street food.
For the 7 Best Things to do in Xi’an check out this CNN article… they provide an outstanding summary of what to do in Xi’an.