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A Short Guide to Xi'an

By Leah Eades

January 19, 2011


Xi’an, China, is best known for being the epicentre from which one visits the famous Terracotta Army... but in fact it’s so much more than that. One of the Four Great Ancient Capitals, the walled city offers enough delights on its own to satisfy the budget traveller needing a break from simple sightseeing. Upon arrival, your first port of call must be to take a stroll above the rooftops along the 8 ½ miles of wall that encompass the Old Town, on which regular and tandem bicycles and golf carts are available for hire. The Drum and Bell Towers are also worth a visit, but on your way to them don’t forget to take in the sometimes baffling but always delicious street food- from sweet potatoes freshly baked to a glutinous sweet rice pudding, you’ll never go hungry in Xi’an. Another gastronomical gem is the city’s Muslim Quarter- you never really expect to see headscarves and halal in China!

The highlight of any stay, however, must be the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, nestled just outside of the town walls. Arrive at around 8pm to be greeted by a majestic water fountain show accompanied by booming classical music, and a fairground atmosphere of families eating candy floss, local choirs doing their thing and an enormous town dance session just around the corner.  Afterwards return to the Xi’an Shuyuan International Youth Hostel; nestled up against the city wall, they offer a free pick-up service, have relaxing courtyards (complete with a pet terrapin), a pleasant cafe with one of the best cups of tea a Brit in Asia could ever dream of, and a lively bar decorated with an array of Terracotta Warriors, which, should you go at St. Patrick’s Day, you shall find bedecked with shamrocks and all-round Irish cheer- this hostel will put on a celebration with any excuse, and attracts an engaging mix of travellers, expats and locals. The hostel will also happily organise for you day trips to nearby panda sanctuaries and, of course, the Warriors themselves- but this is an unnecessary luxury for those who want to pinch those pennies and go it alone.

A short bus ride at a local price from the East Square, opposite Xi’an’s central station, will take you to the Warriors... but first stop off en route at the Huaquing Springs, where the Emperor Xuanzong caused outrage by “frolicking” around with his saucy concubine Yang Guifei back in the Tang Dynasty. Today the gardens are a place of quiet beauty which one can admire from the heights above by taking a reasonably-priced cable car. The coolness and calm will be much appreciated afterwards in the hectic tourist bustle you’ll find shuffling between the three pits containing over 7,000 life-size models of warriors and horses arranged in battle formation, one of the most astounding archaeological discoveries of all time... whether or not it will be these that form your impression of Xi’an, or the charming vitality of the city, I’ll leave it to you to judge!

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