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Terracotta Warriors
A short summary
This is a travelogue about the trip that my wife, Nikki, and I took to China (Beijing, Xi’an and Hong Kong) in the period from March 15th to March 29th 2003. We first spent 7 days in Beijing and we got to see the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, the Summer Palace and so on. From Beijing we took an overnight train to Xi’an and our main goal there was to see the Terra-Cotta Warriors but we also got to see a few other things. And from Xi’an we flew to the city of Shenzhen and from there we took the boat to Hong Kong (HK), where we stayed for about 5 days. In HK we visited Ocean Park, Victoria Peak, the Space Museum and so on.

We first stayed in Beijing for a few days (see seperate review). But time went fast in Beijing and all of a sudden we had reached Saturday March 22nd. We had decided to take the train to get to our destination and we bought our train tickets at the hotel for 417 RMB each (+ 40 RMB fee to the hotel). There are several trains going to Xi’an each day and we went for a train that departed at about 5.15 PM. The train went from the western train station and even though the train station is big it was quite easy to get around. Once you get in there is a big board announcing the departure times and destinations and from here you go to a waiting hall. In the waiting area the departing trains were announced in both Chinese and English.

The train itself was OK. We had bought tickets for a soft sleeper and we shared our little cabin with two Chinese ladies. The toilet and wash room were decent and boiled water was also available if we wanted to make tea or make a noodle dinner :-) But even if we hadn’t brought anything along we wouldn’t have starved. From time to time someone would walk by selling hot food, snacks, drinks and so on. I always get bored on trains and this time was no different. To start with it was nice to just look out the window and see a bit of the ”real” China. It looked like the living standard was considerably lower once we got out of the city compared to Beijing itself. We could see children play around on the dirt roads, people working the soil with simple tools, cattle being kept near the houses, people looking after sheep and so on. But soon it got dark and there was not much to do on the train apart from reading.

Hanging in the passage on the train I found a little book in Chinese and I looked at it a little bit. A man walked past me and he asked me if I knew what it was and I said no. He told me that this was the book where you could give feedback to the train company about the service on board and so on. But in the end he also added that he didn’t see the point of using it because they didn’t take the advice anyway :-)

It seems like the authorities likes to keep an eye on the movement of people because we had to present our passports on board the train and information was scribbled into a record book – the same was true for all the other passengers. I’m wondering if this is being used for something or are they just doing it due to old habits.

Arriving in Xi’an
After a restless night we arrived in Xi’an at about 7 am. Outside the train station we found the most un-organized line of taxi’s that I have ever come across. People were just jumping into cars no matter where they were in line so it was hard for us to find a vacant taxi. We kept showing our little note where we had ”Please take us to Xi’an hotel” written in Mandarin but most of the drivers just frowned and said no to us. In the end we found one guy that would drive us but he didn’t want to use the meter of course. But by then I was fed up and we agreed on paying him 20 RMB to get to the hotel. The only problem was that he drove us to Xian Hotel China and we were supposed to stay at Xi’an Hotel. After a bit of a fuss we did realized the error got back into the same taxi – he charged us another 15 RMB!

We booked the hotel using by the way. When we first made our booking we wanted to stay at the Bell Tower Hotel but this was fully booked so we switched to Xi’an hotel. I’m not sure that the room was worth the $65. I have posted a lot of information about the hotel here:

The Terracotta Warriors
The first thing on our minds when we got to Xi’an was to try to organize a trip to the Terracotta Warriors. This was after all our main reason for coming to Xi’an in the first place. Lucky enough we found CITS (China International Travel Service) right next to the hotel and there we bought a full day tour for about 350 RMB pr person and we were picked up 10 minutes later. The first 45 minutes were spent picking up other people from surrounding hotels.

Our guide Susan spoke very good English and gave us quite a lot of information. But she did not seem very keen on answering questions…I’m not sure why. Our tour started at the Big Wild Goose Pagoda but frankly we didn’t really enjoy it that much. It might have something to do with the fact that I was starving (my breakfast that day turned out to be a Coke and some Oreo’s :-) and we were pretty tired after the train ride. After about ½ hour we moved on to the Banpo Museum. On this site they found the remains of a 6000 year old village when they were planning to build a power plant. The power plant was moved and they built a museum around the archaeological site where the primitive tools and household utensils were found. From there we moved on to a terra-cotta factory where we got some more information in the process of making things in terra-cotta. They did of course have stuff for sale there and we bought 4 little warriors. The price was 140 RMB (a very special price since it was Sunday :-). We got back in the mini bus again and this time we drove of to the Huaqing Hot Springs which is a former resort area for the emperors and the royal family. It was a sunny day and walking around the little Nine-Dragon Pool was really nice. Nikki was particularly thrilled to see that the trees were in blossom because it is a sign of spring’s onset and that the summer is near. But we were soon yanked back to reality when we saw that the flowers on the trees were fake!! Lunch was included in this tour package and soon we headed of to a place near by to get some lunch. The most interesting dish was sweet potatoes covered in caramel. I have never tried that combination before.

After lunch it was finally time to go to see the Terracotta Warriors. The Terracotta Warriors were found by accident in 1974 when some peasants were digging a well. It soon turned out that they had found a real treasure. The army of Terracotta Warriors was built to protect the tomb of Emperor Qing. Today there are 3 pits that have been excavated and pit 1 is the largest one with its 6000 soldiers. Unfortunately, a general went berserk here at one time and smashed up most of the warriors and took their weapons. The archaeologists have done a great job puzzling the warriors back together and the result is quite amazing. The first place we went into was pit 1 – with an interior of 210 meter by 68 meter it is like a ”hangar”. Not all of them have been reassembled yet but it is still an amazing sight. You don’t get to come too near them as you are lead around the edges of the building but it is still an awesome sight.

From there we walked through pit number 3 which is really small compared to pit 1. This is the headquarters for the army itself. And from here we moved into pit 2 which is something like half the size of pit 1. They are still working on the excavation in here so some areas are covered with tarp and lit with floodlights. Some of the warriors found intact have been placed in glass display cases so you can get really close and look at all the details. They say that all the warriors have a unique face. We also stopped by the exhibition hall to take a look at the magnificent bronze chariots that has been found here.

To get back to the tour bus we had to walk about 100 meters. On our way out we experienced a throng of locals literally in our faces trying to sell us stuff. It was more or less like seeing a pop star trying to break through a crowd of fans :-) And they were all selling small terra-cotta warriors for … 5 RMB. Maybe the expensive ones we bought were of better quality but I have my doubts. They looked more or less the same and they also came in similar boxes. I guess we will never know but we felt that we could have maybe gotten some advice from our tour guide Susan. After all she was right there when we bought the stuff at the factory :-). There is a lot of information on the net about the warriors.

Leaving Xi’an by plane
The Terracotta Warriors were great but I didn’t think the city really had that much else to offer. Maybe we should have taken the time to look at the city wall around Xi’an and the bell tower but we decided to leave. So when we got up the next day we had to start the working on getting tickets to get to Hong Kong. We soon found out that if we wanted to take a flight directly to HK it would be expensive because it was considered an international flight. The option was to take a plane to the city of Shenzhen (located right next to HK) and then take a train or boat from there. The price difference between these two options were pretty big (1000 RMB to get to Shenzhen and about 2500-3000 RMB to get to HK). So we bought the tickets to Shenzhen (at the business centre at the hotel) and got into a taxi and drove out to the airport and that cost us 150 RMB (fixed price). The driving in Beijing was peanuts compared to Xi’an. On our way to the airport I think we were closed to crashing like 5 times. The guy drove like a maniac: he drove fast, close to the car in front of him and he ”shaved” past bikers and pedestrians.

The airport in Xi’an is not that big and checking in was pretty fast. Nikki had forgotten her Swiss army knife in her bag so that was taken from her when going through the safety check. We were more ”worried” about the quality of the plane because people have mentioned that the standard is not that high. But we had nothing to worry about because our plane was a fairly new Airbus 320 (bought from Swissair maybe). On the 2 hour flight to Shenzhen we got a meal and some drinks and it was a very comfortable trip.
Comments (1)add comment

mickey said:

A must see!
very impressive when i was there. great atmosphere.
2008-11-07 18:32:47
Votes: +0

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