We arrived in Xi'an after our first journey on a long distance sleeper train. It took around 18 hours to travel from Hangzhou to Xi'an, we had bought hard sleeper tickets and were unsure how comfortable this night would be - however, we were pleasantly surprised. We had a pretty good night sleep and were sharing the room with a really nice Chinese family (there are six beds in the room and no space at all for much else.. so who you are sharing a room with could greatly affect your night on the sleeper train).
Our first impression of Xi'an frankly, was not great. The pollution was dire - the worst i've ever experienced in China. This is the only time in our whole trip to China that upon arrival we were totally swamped by taxi drivers/tour guides and the like who were desperately trying to rip us off (one taxi driver offered to take us to our hostel, which was a 15minute drive away, for 100RMB).
Thankfully, after this bad start, things quickly improved. We arrived at our hostel See Tang, which was unbelievably lovely, more of a boutique hotel than a hostel. We were staying in a four bed dorm room for a mere 30RMB (£3) a night, which was the most comfortable bed I slept in, possibly in the whole trip. Ben scared off a girl who would have been sharing with us (she didn't realise it was a mixed dorm), so we had the room to ourselves. We actually met the owner of the hostel that night when we went up to the wonderfully chic rooftop for a drink. He told us that this hostel is also his home, his enthusiasm for making his home a nice environment for travellers was evident. It had only been open for three months at the time we stayed, I have no doubt that it will become a highly rated place to stay in Xi'an across booking platforms in no time.
See Tang's chic, cosy rooftop amidst the ancient buidings.
We only had one night, two days to spend in Xi'an as we had arranged to meet a friend in Chendgu, so we spent the first day walking around and getting a feel for the ancient city.
Xi'an is everything you classically imagine China to be. Interesting doorways, classic architecture, red lanterns, pagodas everywhere. It's steeped in history and cultural diversity.
We eventually made our way to the infamous Muslim Quarter, a fascinating area filled with delicious aromas and intriguing sights. Don't eat before you go to the Muslim Quarter, there is an array of tantalising, authentic, Islamic snacks of which you can certainly put together a great lunch or dinner from.
After spending many hours roaming around the Muslim Quarter, we headed back to See Tang where we decided to book tickets to the Tang Dynasty show. While this kind of thing isn't usually our cup of tea, as this is rated one of the top things to do in Xi'an we thought we may as well - we needed to maximise our short amount of time in Xi'an. The show was, as we expected, not hugely our thing. We appeared to be among be the only few people who where not there as part of a tour group. There were no Chinese tourists to speak of, all 'gweilo's'. Aside from the tour group vibes, the show was alright. I was amazed by the intricacy of the costumes, which alone kept my interest throughout the show.
Of course, a trip to Xi'an, and arguably China, wouldn't be complete without a visit to see the ancient warriors. A remarkable legacy left behind by the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang. I was amazed by the overwhelming scale of the pits, it is one extraordinarily grand legacy to leave behind. I also didn't realise that each warrior was modelled on a different member of Huang's actual army, meaning each warrior has a different face.
You could easily spend much longer than we did exploring China's ancient capital, next time I am in this area I would love to combine a Xi'an visit with a trip to Mount HuaShan. For now, a long journey on a hard seat (eek!), to Chengdu awaited.