Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Xi'an, China

With its close proximity to Beijing via the high-speed train and the Terracotta Army, we couldn't look past Xi'an on our first trip to China.

Fast Five Favorites:

  • Terracotta Army- Dubbed the archeological find of the century, it is absolutely mindblowing to see 100s of the perfectly crafted warriors that make up the Terracotta Army (8000 have been recovered to date).
  • Mount Huashan- We didn't originally plan to visit the mountains here but a well-traveled friend said that it was one of the most beautiful places he has ever traveled to. We were not disappointed. It is spectacular!
  • City Walls- Perhaps one of the most underrated places we have visited. The ancient city wall of Xi'an is a whopping 14 km long. A unique and amazing way to experience the city.
  • Muslim Quarter- Xi'an was one endpoint of the historic Silk Road. Muslims have settled here for generations. Their influence can be seen in the architecture and the goods being sold in the markets.
  • Street Markets- Visiting on a Saturday night, the markets here were some of the liveliest we have visited. We really enjoyed the atmosphere and the food was delicious.


  • The Terracotta Army is a premier attraction in China. With over a billion people living in China, it’s important to get to these places early. We were there around 8:30 am and were able to enjoy it before the wave of tour groups (there are a lot!). It was easy to take a taxi and purchase our tickets at the entrance (I can imagine long lines in peak season, or at midday). We went to the main pit first to enjoy it with only a few people around. If you’re there early enough it might be worth visiting the less popular pits and the museum before seeing the most famous and best pit.
  • We booked our high-speed train to Beijing prior to our trip with China DIY Travel. They were excellent to deal with and we were comfortable knowing we had our seats booked (it’s not easy to book trains in China over the internet). The small commission was worth it.
  • Mount Huashan can be a big day trip so we made it as convenient as possible. We took the subway to Xi’an North station and then purchased a high-speed train ticket to Huashan (about 30 minutes). You can take a shuttle bus to the mountain entrance, but for convenience, we took a local taxi (20 RMB). He also got all of our tickets at the agent near the train station (by the way it’s quite expensive to visit!). A short ride and we were at the entrance. From here we took a bus to the west peak cable car (about 90 minutes) and the cable car to the top (about 30 minutes). From here we hiked to the South Peak, East Peak, and then North Peak (where there’s a shorter cable car ride to the bottom and a 30-minute bus ride back to the entrance). It is a lot steeper beginning from the North Peak if you fancy it! We went back to the train station and we purchased a high-speed train to Xi’an. The trains are frequent so it’s probably best to book when you get there as it’s not easy to know what time you will need it. All up we were on the mountain by 11am and left around 2:30pm. This was enough time to do the route and have lunch/enjoy the views (We did not go to the top of the East peak). Of course, take some water and snacks, but there are places to eat.
  • You can even stay on the mountain and watch the sunrise! Or walk the plank along the side of the cliff (get there early for this as the line forms quite quickly).
  • The south entrance of the city walls is the most convenient to get to by subway. The entrance is just above the station. From here you can bike the entire wall or leave your bike at one of the other main entrances.
  • The street markets at night had a lively vibe and atmosphere. You can also see the Bell and Drum towers lit up. They are the symbols of Xi’an and quite a sight. The beef inside small buns at the markets were amazing!
  • It’s easy to get around Xi’an by subway.
  • Keep an eye on the air pollution. It’s best to download an app or check a site like AQICN. We did notice it at times and one evening we decided to stay in with Lilah.
  • VPN - if you didn’t know China blocks a lot of sites like Google, Instagram, and Facebook. They can be important when traveling for various reasons so it might be a good idea to download a VPN before visiting. We asked our friend who lives there and he recommended ExpressVPN which we found to be good.
  • We found 3 nights was okay for us to do what we wanted to do, but wouldn’t have minded another day just to explore. October was also a nice time to visit temperature wise.
  • We stayed just out of the city walls at the Sheraton. The best thing was that it was right next to a subway station. 
  • Not many places would accept our cards and we found that we needed more cash than we are used to carrying while traveling.

Baby on Board:

  • Huashan was a big day trip that we had to think a lot about. Taking the most convenient transport meant it was fine with Lilah. Having a good carry pack is important (we use the Phil and Teds carrier) as well as lots of snacks and water.
  • There are no baby bikes on the city walls. We improvised having Lilah in her carrier with Riki biking. It worked fine for us and was a good workout!
  • Apart from booking the high-speed train beforehand, everything else we booked on the day.
  • We had read on Instagram someone recommending a stroller for the Terracotta warriors and were glad we took ours. It’s quite a walk from the entrance and back through different paths and shops.
  • We had masks but we were very lucky with the air pollution during our stay. We would recommend taking one just in case.

Five things the photos do not show:

  • Lilah explored a lot in her pajamas. This was the best way to visit the night markets as she could go straight home to bed. She loved it as she’s not often out at night.
  • The cliffside hiking on Mount Huashan was something else! Some of the paths are along sheer drop-offs and it’s known as the scariest hike in the world. It’s actually fine if you stay on the intended routes and we never felt unsafe with Lilah. We were feeling a little nervous being up that high in the cable car.
  • Our taxi driver to the Terracotta Warriors dropped us at a point quite a distance from the main entrance as he was trying to get some commission from a friend who was a guide. It would be fair to say we were pretty annoyed at having to walk back to the entrance with Lilah. 
  • When we arrived at the city entrances, we realized we did not have enough cash to purchase entry tickets. Riki went to find an ATM and by the time he got back, they had decided to close that entrance for some time (exact time could not be communicated). We needed to walk 25 minutes to the next entrance and it was stressful because we were worried we would be too late to enter or rent bikes. We were happy to get on our bikes!
  • The look on people's faces was hilarious as Riki rode past on the city walls with Lilah on his back in the carrier. We tried to video their reactions but it was too tricky and Sonita was a hazard trying to capture while biking!


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