Day 9 on our grand Chinese adventure and our last day in Xi’an before flying to Chengdu/Panda land.
Today was somewhat a day of additional new activities that weren’t things we had planned to come to China specifically for but were added on during my extensive planning stage with some help of our guide.
First up was the Drum and Bell towers. The Bell tower (originally built in 1384) is a building which was built in the geographical centre of Xi’an in ancient times, you can see North, East, South and West streets radiating out from the square in each direction. The road connected the tower with the city wall gates.
It’s a wooden structure built on top of a brick base and is the best preserved kind of wooden building in China and is 36 meters high.
We made our way around and were treated to a musical bell show. It was novel but entertaining all the same – especially when they started playing “Auld Lang Syne” which is definitely a Scottish song and not a traditional Chinese song as we were told by our guide!!!! Some creative retelling of history there.
We then walked over to the Drum Tower, again in time for a drum show! No Auld Lang Syne this time though. The Drum Tower was originally built in 1380 when the drums were used to signal different times or to sound an alarm.
Perhaps the most impressive part of the tower is that there are no nails or screws used in it anywhere!
On our way round we ended up seeing China’s largest drum which was made in 1996 and is covered by one whole piece of cowhide – cue one half of the non backpackers for scale!
Xi’an is full of mysteries and for a “small” city by China’s standards it appeals to everyone. What is also interesting about the city, especially as we were at the epicentre of the Silk Road only a few months before (read about that here) was that Xi’an is also on the route. Due to that there is a big mixture of people, food and traditions.
We walked along what’s called “Muslim Street” and saw many of the same sites Uzbekistan treated us to. It was perhaps my favourite area of Xi’an and I wish we had more time to explore all the small side streets and alleyways. The mixture of faces here was also interesting, certainly more central Asian then the rest of China had been. Kind faces all the same.
We made our way to Xi’an Great Mosque which was not like any other Mosque I had seen. It was beautiful and very very Chinese in its architecture. There had been an event on so we didn’t get the best view of the actual Mosque but it was HUGE! Especially as to find it you have to walk down the smallest of alleyways.
We did have rain while we were walking around this area of Xi’an which was a shame but really the only bad weather we had the whole trip.
Jim then pointed out a few good food stalls and advised he would meet us in an hour or so allowing us to grab some lunch and wander around. We tried firstly a “Chinese Hamburg” not Hamburger, which was essentially minced meat of some kind, spring onions deep fried in a bread thing which looked like a mix between tortilla and a pitta. It was really really tasty and I could have eaten 10 more!!!
Next up was a lamb kebab off a stick. Nothing more the say on that really. Super yummy!!
Our last escapade into street food was a persimmon cake. Well, we think that’s what it was, it was made of rice I believe, had a sweet fruit topping and was rolled in sugar. Not as tasty as our savoury items but interesting all the same.
While we were waiting for our guide to pick us up we were approached by a group of students who wanted us to complete a quiz. Neither our Chinese or there English was good enough to really complete any of it but I think they just wanted to speak to the strange English people who were standing there looking very out of place.
Our last stop before our flight was Hanyangling. This was something I had read about in my Lonely Planet guide book so was keen to check it out as it was hailed as the second Terracotta Warriors. It’s 12 miles from Xi’an and located near the airport so it’s handy to visit before/after a flight.
The site is the tomb on a Han Dynasty emperor Lui Qi and his empress Wang. Originally built in 153 AD it cover 20 square kilometres so is a pretty big site!
It was an utterly surreal experience. The site was pretty empty, which was good as we got it mostly to ourselves but also a shame as the obviously need the tourists for the money. It was pitch black in the museum which again was good as it allowed you to see into the pits better but it was almost too dark and reminded me of our trip to Afrosyiab in Uzbekistan where they had a “power cut” which actually meant they didn’t want to turn the lights on as it cost money.
The other annoying thing about low light is that you weren’t allowed to use flash (rightly so) but this meant that our pictures weren’t the best. But trips are for the experience rather than the photographs anyway right!?
Two interesting things about Hanyangling, first was that the pits were covered in glass which meant you could walk over them giving you a view right down into the pits. Second, the terracotta people which were made to defend and supply the Emperor with whatever he needed in the afterlife were tiny! Their arms had disintegrated as they were made from wood and their costume too as they were made of silk.
There were a strange range of male and female figures alongside eunuch’s.
Not only were there people but row upon row of animals ready to feed the Emperor from sheep to pigs and dogs. It was a bizarre sight but interesting all the same.
We spent about an hour in the sight walking around and making our way down to some of the other outside tombs which were now covered in grass but it does show how big the site was.
Our flight loomed so we headed to the airport for our final internal flight to our final city of Chengdu. The airport and flight was pretty painless, what was not painless was the taxi ride to the hotel the other side. Traffic in Chengdu was awful, not quite as bad as Beijing but in a close second. It took well over an hour and a half to go 12 miles. Not so fun.
But when we arrived it was at The Ritz Carlton Chengdu. Yup – The Ritz! Coming from England when The Ritz in London is the epitome of posh hotels we were pretty excited. What the reception staff thought when two travel weary tourists turned up with bags you have to carry rather than wheeled suitcases in trainers and fleeces I do not know. But – it did lead to us getting a surprise upgrade on our room!
The room was lovely, the view was lovely, in fact the whole hotel was pretty great. It’s suited starting on the 27th floor I believe which gave a great view out over the city.
We dined in their Flair restaurant which was an exciting mix of Chinese food and really wasn’t that expensive. After filling our boots (and there still being loads left, Chinese have no sense of portions) we headed for bed, excited to wake in a brand new city tomorrow.