Remembering earlier this year, I wanted to explore more places within China that’s away from Shanghai, and I finally fulfilled this wish this year by visiting Xi’an! A place rich with ancient China history, Xi’an is a must visit if you’re intending to visit and explore around China. Formally known as Chang’an, Xi’an marks the Silk Road’s eastern end and was home to the Zhou, Qin, Han and Tang dynasties’ ruling houses.
Based on a local tour guide’s experience: tourists usually spend 3-5 days in Xi’an and that would be more than sufficient. Having spent 3 days in this city, here’s a quick list of 5 things NOT to miss when you’re headed to Xi’an.
1. EAT AT THE MUSLIM QUARTER
The hub of the Muslim community in Xi’an, the Muslim Quarter is a must visit if you haven’t heard/learnt about the Hui people (ethnic muslims) in China. Their cuisine is really special (nothing like what I had in mind) and resembles nothing of the typical Malay Muslim food that we commonly have in Southeast Asia. Definitely an eye-opener!
Also, here you’d find Xi’an’s famous Biáng Biáng noodles (面) which you can’t find anywhere else in the world, is labelled as one of the strange wonders of Shaanxi. The word itself with 56 strokes is one character you can’t find in the typical Chinese dictionary, and known as one of the most complex word used in the contemporary world.
Address: West of Bell Drum Towers Square , Beilin District, Xi’an 710000, China (near Bell Tower metro station)
2. CYCLING AROUND THE XI’AN CITY WALL
The best way to explore and see the City Wall would be via cycling. You can easily rent a bicycle to go around, and that would be way faster than walking. This City Wall is the most complete city wall that has remained in China, and one of the largest ancient military defensive systems in the world. You’d feel yourself going back in time when you cycle around and read the stories of those walls and towers. One point to note though, their flooring is not well maintained (well, it has already survived a big deal), so the cycling path will not be smooth and always be careful of the potholes!
Address: There are 4 walls (NSEW), as it forms one complete circle. Enter any part and start your adventure!
3. CATCH A TANG DYNASTY DANCE SHOW
Another history reliving moment – catch a proper Tang Dynasty dance show. You could even have a feast in the auditorium with proper tables while the show is ongoing. For someone who is pretty clueless about the ancient Chinese culture, this is a good place to start! I personally went for their dumpling feast and the show, which was cheaper than eating at the auditorium per se, but I love their dumplings!
Point to note: do purchase the tickets from a government operated tour agency or office, if not you may not get the real deal. Alternatively, you may purchase directly from them. See more on their website here. The venue should be The Tang Dynasty Palace (Tang Yue Gong).
Address: No.75, North Chang’an Road (nearest subways are Nanshao Gate Station and Shaanxi Stadium Station)
4. HUAQING HOT SPRINGS PALACE
Situated at Mount Lishan, Huaqing Hot Springs is famous for the love story of Emperor Xuanzong (685-762) and his concubine Yang Guifei in the Tang Dynasty (618-907). Ranked as one of China’s top gardens, this palace has a history of 3000 years and the hot springs has a history of 6000 years! It’s well preserved and definitely worth a day’s visit from Xi’an. If you’re interested to go for some hot spring, then you may want a book a night’s stay at one of its nearby hotels.
5. TERRACOTTA ARMY MUSEUM
After all, what’s visiting Xi’an without seeing the UNESCO world cultural heritage site – the Terracotta Warriors and Horses right? You’d be surprised that work is still ongoing in this place and much has yet to be uncovered. Nevertheless, given the huge landmass (Pit 1, 2 and 3), it’s best if you could find a guide to bring you around to talk you through each pit. The pits are ranked according to their order of discovery, so Pit 1 is the first and largest.
Tip: If you’re not following any tour group, a trick is to randomly join some tour groups and listen while their guide talks! If not a proper guide costs about CNY200.
Tip 2: Most people visit this after going to the Huaqing Hot Springs as they’re situated not too far from each other. So you could plan a day trip to go Huaqing Hot Springs and Terracotta Army Museum together. You may also want to check out Lintong Museum and Mt Lishan as well.
You’d realised I didn’t include any museums in this list. Given the rich history of this city, I would strongly recommend you to experience the sites per se i.e. Huaqing Palace, Terracotta Army, City Wall than actually walking around the museum and just reading them off the boards. Of course, this is not to say you shouldn’t visit them. If you do actually have time to spare, the Shaanxi History Museum is a great start and would help you understand the province better before you go around.
Hope this list is of help, and I hope you have a great time breathing history in Xi’an!