Original Post: August 9, 2007
Xian is a small city near the middle of China, and its big draw is the Terracotta Warriors – literally an army made from clay that was buried more than two thousand years ago! We wanted to take an overnight train from Beijing, but it was completely full – a lesson in booking in advance – so we had to scramble for some last minute plane tickets. We arrived late at night and basically just crashed at our hotel – The Bell Tower Hotel – right in the center of the old town. You could see the actual bell tower from our hotel room. Since we only had one full day to spend in Xian, we decided to hire a driver to take us around because the busses are slow and the tours cost more total for three people than splitting the cost of the driver.
Our first stop was some sort of museum about an ancient group of people called the Banpo. It was interesting, if small, but in retrospect we should have skipped that and gone straight for the main site. We rushed through the next stop – one of the places where they make all the terra-cotta figures that you can buy in the stores/on the streets. This was a bit more interesting because you can buy ones that are life-size so they show you how they make it in 8 separate pieces and fit it all together just before they fire it. Surprisingly there wasn’t a lot of pressure to buy their wildly overpriced merchandise. You can however do the very very touristy thing of pretending to be a warrior. Which of course we did.
At last we made it to the site of the warriors! The ‘tunnels’ where the warriors were uncovered are still being excavated and they claim that they expect to find at least 8000 total pieces in the first section alone. Essentially, the place is a mausoleum for Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China as a united whole. He had thousands of life-size figures, with real weapons, and horses created and placed into a battle formation to ‘guard’ his tomb. The thing is, after it was all done and buried a bunch of thieves broke in and stole most of the weapons and broke a lot of the pieces. It was forgotten about and not rediscovered until the 1970s when some peasants stumbled upon it! The site is decidedly impressive, they’ve managed to repair a lot of the warriors, but they left some as they found them so you can see what it looked like untouched. All of them are supposed to have unique facial expressions and there are something like 12 different kinds of warriors – archers, foot soldiers, generals, etc. We spent about 4 hours wandering around and honestly, I could have spent at least a few hours more if we’d had the time.
The next day we had a few hours before our flight so we squeezed in the Big Goose Pagoda (another temple…starting to be templed out at this point…) and then headed back to the center to see the Drum and Bell towers. These were quite interesting, and we had missed seeing the towers in Beijing so we wanted to make sure we saw them here.
The drums are HUGE, maybe 15 feet tall for the biggest ones, and there are dozens of them that circle the whole top of the square tower. They have a drum show every few hours where performers come out and perform traditional dancing and music. We were lucky to be able to catch one of the shows and it was so loud it made my stomach vibrate. The Bell Tower is basically the same, only with bells.
I paid the 5Y to gong the biggest bell three times – also super loud, very fun, highly recommended!
At this point our time was up and we headed off to Guilin to spend a few days in the mountains.