We visit one of China’s greatest discoveries, The Terracotta Warriors, experience the sights and smells of the Muslim Quarters, and view the massive city walls surrounding Xi’an before taking a hard sleeper train to our next city.
Terracotta Warriors Museum
The Terracotta Warriors is one of China’s greatest archaeological discoveries. More than 8,000 clay soldiers, horses, and chariots forced to serve in Emperor Qin Shihuang’s army in his afterlife stand on guard. The Terracotta Warrior Museum consists of three excavation pits, an exhibition of ancient weapons, and a bronze and chariot exhibition room. It’s about an hour drive to the parking lot of the museum.
The overall size of the first pit discovered in 1974 is unbelievable. Endless rows of terracotta statues stand in lines separated by dirt walls streaked with ash.
Many of the soldiers have curved hands once grasping a weapon stolen during the raiding and scorching by Xiang Yu. The soldiers stand facing east at 5 foot and 11 inches high. Molds were used to create the warriors’ heads, arms, hands, legs, and hollow torsos. After the heads were made, artists used clay to create a unique expression for each warrior.
The second vault is still undergoing excavation. Here, cavalry and infantry soldiers, kneeling and standing archers, and chariots were found. The kneeling archer being more compact, was able to withstand the pressure and is the best preserved of the warriors.
Labeled warriors patiently waiting for their head, arms, hands, or legs to be found are scatted throughout the site. Nearby is the third pit, the command post. This is the smallest pit and is also still being excavated. Piles of legs, arms, and torsos lie waiting to become whole again.
Several well preserved warriors are on display for an up close look in the weapons and bronze chariot exhibits. The layered armored sleeves, thin mustaches, a chipped horse hoof, and studded armor carved from clay look almost lifelike through the glass case. At one time, the warriors stood vibrant with color; but as the warriors are excavated the paint reacts to the air vanishing the color almost immediately. Scientists continue to search for an answer to preserving the colors of the past.
Weapons surviving the raid, once clutched by the terracotta warriors, are displayed in the weapons exhibition. Scientists were stumped to find the weapons showing no sign of corrosion. Further discovery revealed the swords contain a protective coating of chromium ten to fifteen microns thick. The chrome plating technology protecting against corrosion was used in China two thousand and twenty years before it was “invented” by the Germans in nineteen thirty-seven, and then again by the Americans in nineteen fifty. We pass through the bronze and chariot exhibition. Most of the bronze has faded to green over time.
After a short drive, we stop for lunch at a local home. Plates of sauteed vegetables, shredded potatoes, white rice, asparagus, spicy pepper relish, and Mandarin pancakes are brought to the table. For dessert, caramel coated potatoes. It must be eaten quickly but carefully before the molten hot caramel cools into a hard, tooth breaking shell around the potatoes. It’s an interesting combination of caramel and French fries. After a filling meal, we walk to the Muslim Quarter, a bustling web of vendors, restaurants, and shops.
The rain doesn’t discourage visitors as we fight through the stream of umbrellas passing vendors selling silk pictures, Chinese dresses, umbrellas, scarves, t-shirts, jewelry, statues, jade, and local food along the stone street. After passing several glass coolers of mouthwatering, brightly colored frozen treats, Mitch purchases a pink strawberry Popsicle.
The aroma of noodles, deep fried crabs, scorpions, and shrimp, lightly fried spirals of potatoes on a stick, pretzels, rice snacks, fruit, soup dumplings, mystery meat, and bread fills the air.
We stop and watch as thick white dough is stretched by hand, and candy is pounded with large mallets.
Xi’an City Walls
On the way to the city walls we pass the Drum and Bell Towers. Similar to Beijing, the Bell and Drum Towers were used to communicate the time to the city with morning bells and evening drums. Small cartoon statues line the steps to the tower. The architecture is so ornate even a hotel looks like a historical attraction.
A moat surrounds the brick city walls. A watch tower is located at each corner of the nearly eight and a half miles long wall surrounding the old city, accessible only by one of the four gates.
Hard Sleeper Train
Tonight, we will spend sixteen hours on a hard sleeper train to Suzhou. We have been dreading this part of our trip. Our guide hands out tickets revealing our bed and cabin arrangements in Chinese symbols. Trying to remember our arrangements, we enter the crowded, chaotic train station. Passengers spill into the main hall from the overcrowded terminals. The station has two stories of restaurants and convenience stores. Many of the restaurants don’t have English menus.
We walk single file down the narrow hallway on the train to cabin six. It takes several attempts to get all of the luggage for six people into the small space. Luckily, there are only two strangers in our cabin and our G Adventures group members were assigned the two bottom beds, the only beds with enough room to sit upright. There are few places to sit with only a small folding table and two seats in the hallway outside each cabin.
Preparing for lights out at 10:00pm, we attempt to make our beds with the provided sheets and blanket. We find two side by side sinks across from a door containing a squat toilet a couple cars away. Mitch assigned the top right bunk and I the middle left bunk, use the small foot holds creating a ladder at the entrance of our cabin to reach our beds. The narrow bed is about twice the width of my backpack. I am glad I brought a Delta blanket from the plane, my Therma-Rest Compressed Pillow, and kindle. I see the dim light from Mitch’s IPad glowing above me. Growing tired, I turn off my kindle and soon the gentle swaying of the cars and rush of the wind rocks me to sleep.
The Traveling Gingerbread note: The hard sleeper train allowed us to travel at a very low cost without wasting any time. We enjoyed sharing snacks and stories with our group members sitting side by side on the small beds. Possibly due to complete exhaustion, we got a great night’s sleep. It is an experience we have many laughs about, saved us some money, and we made some lifelong friends, but next time we’re booking a flight.
*For more information on our tour check out: G Adventures China Express.
- Day 1: Fly into Beijing
- Day 2: Beijing: Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square
- Day 3: Great Wall Mutianyu and travel to Xi’an
- Day 4: Xian: Terracotta Warriors Guided Tour and travel to Suzhou
- Day 5: Suzhou: Master of the Nets Garden Tour and overnight train to Shanghai
- Day 6: Shanghai: Orientation Walk of the Bund
- Day 7: Shanghai: Carte Blanche
- Day 8: Fly out of Shanghai