From Beijing we took an overnight train down to the old capital of China: Xi’an.
Here’s what the terminal at the train station looked like:
The train we took was a twelve-hour overnight trip. We paid about $150 AUD for a first class cabin, which means you get a tiny bathroom (no shower), you don’t have to share with strangers, and the bunks are marginally wider.
Xi’an was smothered in smog. Coming from modern Beijing, Xi’an seemed rambling and old, painted in shades of dirt and camouflage. Buses and cars charged down cramped streets, ignoring traffic lights and pedestrians, burping clouds of carbon monoxide. Crowds of urban schoolkids scampered along the sidewalk, pausing to gawk over magazine stalls and food shops. And overlooking the heart of the city, the stony face of the City Wall.
We stayed at the 7 Sages International Youth Hostel, an easy ten-minute walk from the main train station. Again, this is a pretty popular hostel that has got good reviews on TripAdvisor and other sites. The rooms are single-storey stone buildings arranged around miniature courtyards: traditional architecture on the outside, modern wood panelling and glass accents on the inside with blown up movie posters over the bed.
We didn’t get to enjoy the courtyards much during our time there given that the average outdoor temperature was around minus two degrees Celcius, but I’d imagine they’d create a nice atmosphere in the summertime. The staff speak English and are very helpful. There’s wifi in the restaurant/lounge area, which is super comfy and tastefully decorated. The in house food is a bit on the pricey side compared to local fare but there’s a large range.
They had a dumpling making night at the hostel. Free dumplings for meee! I stuffed myself.
We visited the terracotta warriors (one hour bus ride from the main train station) which I enjoyed despite the freezing temperatures. The whole museum complex has been recently renovated and you can get some great views strolling along the well-placed walkways. I would advise bringing your own food/lunch because we were starving by 2pm and despite following the signs pointing towards a “restaurant,” we found that said restaurant proved illusory and were forced to make a measly meal out of a packet of Ritz crackers. Also, the coffees cost like $5. No thanks.
We trekked the several kilometres from the terracotta warriors to the Mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shi Huang only to discover later that there was a free shuttle bus. So yes–take advantage of the free shuttle bus!
We also discovered that you can’t actually go inside the Mausoleum. The Emperor’s grave is under a big hill which has not been opened because it would be bad fengshui (says the BF’s dad, anyway).
The next day we climbed up onto the City Wall and walked from the North to the South Gate. I was surprised by how peaceful and amazing it was up there. I’d imagined it to be crowded and full of people shouting, but the top of the wall was almost completely empty, apart from a few cyclists (tandem bikes are funny), and transported me back several hundred years in time.
I’d also recommend wandering through the Muslim District of Xi’an, where you can try different foods including the famous rou jia mo, which is minced and marinaded lamb, beef or pork pressed between two pieces of pan-fried flatbread. Other foods to try in Xi’an include Biang Biang Mian and Yang Rou Pao Mo, which is a shredded bread and mutton stew. Oh, and if you’re sick of the Chinese fare…grab a banana pie from Maccas :D