Happier in Xi’an

After a long but unexpectedly comfortable and spacious train journey from Beijing to Xi’an, we made our way to our hostel using the metro system (really easy to use). We arrived at the Ancient City Wall and were happy to find our hostel (See Tang Hostel) just around the corner on ‘writers street’. Already I was liking Xi’an far more than Beijing,the smog wasn’t half as bad, the buildings appeared to be more authentically Chinese and the streets seemed cleaner. The heat however was just as intense!

We checked in at the hostel and were told there were no dorms left for our first night and would we be okay with a private twin room for the same price - ermmm, absolutely yes we would!

A bit tired from travelling we ended up going to a fast food restaurant serving cheap Chinese food and pointed at a couple of noodle dishes that looked good and hoped for the best. Turns out I was actually pretty impressed, the noodles were nice and spicy and came with plenty of herbs. We’re still not totally sure what the meat was, James is convinced it was donkey(ergh!) We then returned to our lovely private room with ensuite bathroom and enjoyed a good luxurious sleep before our next few nights of dorm living.

The next morning we woke up feeling good and went to explore the local neighbourhood. There were rows of shops selling traditional Chinese calligraphy tools and artwork and the streets had a really great vibe. We even got to see some pieces being made:

For lunch we stumbled upon a cluster of restaurants just outside the city walls and decided to treat ourselves to a bit more of an expensive meal than usual (it still only cost £11 all in). I am so glad we did as it turned out to be one of my favourite meals of the trip. We ordered caramelised pork in clay pot and spicy beef with peppers. Both dishes were so full of flavour and the pork just melted in your mouth. We’re definitely going to be attempting to recreate them when we get home.

Here’s a photo of the caramelised pork belly although it really doesn’t do it justice:

We went to see the pagoda and ended up walking a really long way to get to it (not enjoyable when it’s 35°c). On the way we stopped to get some bottles of water from a small local supermarket and ended up being chased around the shop by a little yapping dog, intent on nipping our ankles! It took more of a disliking to James who ended up doing several laps of the supermarket as I stood watching in hysterics before the owners finally decided to put the dog in the back room where it couldn’t terrorise us anymore.

When we finally got to the pagoda and I’d finally stopped giggling about what had just happened we found that it was covered in scaffolding and was undergoing maintenance work- great! Despite that, we had arrived just in time to see a rather impressive fountain show just below the pagoda so our long and eventful walk hadn’t been in vain. That evening we had fruit for tea (it had been seriously lacking in our diet) and then went to a trendy bar where James had a cold beer and I enjoyed a sweet brown sugar rose tea.

We’d read that a great thing to do in Xi’an is to cycle or walk along the Ancient City Wall and so we decided we would do that, seeing as it was 5 minutes away. I think we probably chose the hottest day ever to go for a long walk and by the time we got back we were literally dripping and my trusty Chinese fan was working overtime trying to cool me down. It was actually a little bit disappointing and I think the heat of the day had made the smog worse causing all of my photos to look particularly gloomy.

After cool showers and a bit of down time we headed out again to the Tang Dynasty Palace for a dumpling banquet and show. The banquet certainly lived up to its name and we enjoyed an absolute feast-the dumplings just kept coming! In total we shared 12 varieties of steamed dumplings plus 2 types of fried, 2 baked and 2 dessert dumplings. They were really beautifully presented, some in the shape of flowers, others in the shapes of different animals.

We then went through to the theatre for the show and sipped on complimentary cocktails. The show was absolutely stunning and the costumes so beautiful. The accompanying music was performed by a live traditional Chinese orchestra which was fascinating to see and hear. It was a really special evening (we were even treated to soap and paper towels in the toilets!)

Through the hostel we had booked onto the Terracotta Warriors trip costing 280Y each (about £33). The whole trip really could have been a half day excursion but it was annoyingly dragged out. First by being taken to a terracotta factory and shop and having people trying to persuade you to have a life size warrior sent home in the post. No thanks. And secondly by going to a mausoleum which was just a hill in the middle of the countryside with nothing to see. When we did actually finally get to the real museum it was very impressive, for the first half an hour anyway. We had been given 1.5 hours to look round which was a bit too long when you’re fighting through crowds of Chinese tourists and dealing with the stifling heat.

I still managed to get some decent photos nonetheless:

Despite the convenience of going on a planned excursion, I’d probably advise trying to see the warriors on your own, that way you’ll avoid all the unnecessary stops along the way and it will probably be cheaper too.

On our last day in Xi’an we sat in the rooftop restaurant of our hostel to do some much needed planning for the next few weeks and get some flights booked. We also canceled our hostel booking for Hong Kong and instead booked a hotel, saving us £100 (this decision would turn out to be a really bad one).

In the evening we walked over to the popular Muslim quarter, home to a fantastic street market recommended by all the blogs and tourist information. It’s a real hive of activity with stall after stall selling everything from steaming hot pot to toffee sweets to sizzling skewers of meat. You also really need to be on your guard and try to not let your feet get run over by the constant stream of electric scooters silently whizzing up and down the streets.

Soaking up the buzz and the sights and smells of the night market was a great way to end our time in Xi’an. If I were to recommend any of the places we visited in China it would definitely be here.