ShuYuan International Youth Hostel Xian, the former capital of the Chinese Empire and home of Terracotta Warriors
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Xian - City of the Terracotta Warriors


Xian or Xi'an is the capital of Shaanxi province in central China. It was once the capital of the Chinese Empire. The reason why most people visit Xian are the Terracotta Warriors which were by accident found in 1974.

Terracotta Warriors Xian
The Terracotta Warriors Xian, one of the wonders of China

The warriors are indeed worth a visit (although I was a bit shocked to see the whole tourist trick at the entrance of the main hall.

However there's much more to visit in the city. And apart of the Terracotta Warriors there is a lot more to explore in the vicinity

Xi'an is a good place to go around on bicycle. Although the city is big, it's fine to go around in the city center. Walking is also an option but some of the sights are quite far from each other.

Some find it a tourist trap but think about it!. An emperor so powerful (and so mad!) to build him a terracotta army of thousands of unique soldiers and horses, all man sized, this must be something different. And to me it was different. Plus, there are more excavations being under way in the area as archaeologist believe there are more armies to be found! Tourist trick or not, it is a magic place to visit.

Xian in the evening

Cycling to and from Xian

When I was cycling to Xian I came from the legendary cave city Luoyang. By now the road should be complete upgraded.

When I cycled it long parts of the road where in a mess. Parts I had to walk in the mud, bicycle with half wheels in the mud. It wasn't fun. However, the good parts were new and excellent.

Some kilometers before the city I passed the Museum of Qin, better known as the Terracotta Army or the Tomb of Qin Shihuang. It was my second time to visit the Terracotta Warriors.

Xian Terracotta warriors museum
Entrance ticket for the Terracotta Warriors Museum

Going out of the city was the usual hassle. Busy streets, little info where to go but I had me a city map. This gave me enough ideas to get out of the city. Once out of the city I followed the direction to the airport. It's a big motorway which eventually lead your to Lanzhou, many days cycling from here.

You can follow the smaller road to Xingping and from there to Wugong and Zhouzhi. I stayed in Zhouzi before I went south into Sichuan.

The Great Mosque of Xi'an Great Mosque of Xian
The Great Mosque of Xi'an

Accommodation in Xian

Xian has a wide range of hotels available. Finding the rock bottom cheap ones can be a problem but there plenty of really nice and affordable hotels in Xian. Some can be cheap, others are in the mid range section, for everyone there's something:

Searching for low budget? Good news, there's plenty too. I would recommend the Han Tang Inn,  convenient located close to Metro and Bell Tower. The inn has excellent service and day tours available, clean rooms. It's the disputable first choice for budget travelers to Xian. Rooms are about US $12. I've xstayed here once and thought it was an excellent deal.

Xian is a big city, you may want to check out other possibilities to stay. It can be a tiring experience to go through the city not knowing where exactly you have to be:

Wild Goose Pagoda
Big Goose Pagoda, now most of the surrounding buildings destroyed.

Bicycle shops

Near Dong Wu Lu you will find a couple of reasonable good bicycle shops. Do not expect tip top material but they certainly will be able to help you out with your eventual problems.

Places of interest

Xian itself has a few excellent places to visit.

The Great Mosque of Xian
The Great Mosque of Xian

The Great Mosque of Xian

Drum tower in XianProbably the most famous place to visit is the beautiful Great Mosque of Xi''an in the north west corner of the city. It's a great place to be away from the crowds. The origins of the mosque date back to the 7th century. The mosque is completely Chinese in architecture, it doesn't even have minarets and apart of some Arabic writing everything is completely Chinese.

As Xian has a considerable Muslim population the Mosque is still in use. You pay an entrance fee to enter the complex but it's worth the money. Around the mosque there are plenty of small streets with even smaller tourist shops.

Drum Tower and Bell Tower

Drum Tower and Bell Tower dominate the face of central Xian. Both are located right in the middle of the city center.

Both towers are in short walking distance to be found and nowadays a major shopping promenade in the heart of Xian. Drum tower and Bell Tower were build in the 14th century. Originally Drum Tower stood next to Bell tower but about 100 years later it was removed to it's present place.

Bell tower stands right in the original center of Xian's city center, the capital of the empire of China in the 14th century. These days Dong Da Jie, the road going east houses many shopping centers and some excellent restaurants.

Love or hate it, Xian has a big buzzling center. However, it's easy to get away from the crowds. Even on the promenade of the towers you an get some space to breath.

Bell Tower Xian

Wild Goose Pagodas

There are two tower pagoda's just outside the city center walls. Big and Little Goose Pagoda. Both are usually visited by tour groups but seldom by individual travelers.

Little Goose Pagoda Xian Little Goose Pagoda Xian
Wild Goose Pagoda. All the surrounding buildings are gone now.
(photo made in 1997)

It's unclear to me why because both towers are beautiful, a place of peace and tranquility. However, to improve visits, many of the surrounding old buildings have been destroyed to make space for shops and McDonalds, a real shame.

You can climb up the tower and, on a good day, see a significant part of the city.

The Dayan pagoda as it's official name is, is located in the southern suburb of Xian City, about 4 kilometers from the heart of the city.

The City Walls

Almost all along the city the old city walls are still standing. Only in the area of the railway and bus station some of the walls are gone. When walking through the city the walls are almost everywhere visible.

city gate XianThese days there are no more guards on the city walls but you can go up at certain parts and watch the life passing by. To me it was an intriguing site.

As said, the northern walls are gone now but the other parts are all in excellent condition.

Xi'an is of all big Chinese cities probably the best to visit on bicycle (though many will disagree for many different reasons). As the city plan is widespread you need time to go from one to the other site.

Storing bicycles goes as always in guarded parking areas where you pay a few jiao for parking. However, take all belongings with you and lock the bike proper as bicycle theft in big cities is quite common.

And if you are tired of the masses in the city center, visit one of the three parks in the city center: Children's Park, Lianhu Park or Geming Park. The Xinqinggong park is on the south east park of the city, just outside the city walls and is a popular exit for many of the citizens in Xian.

More about the road from Xi'an to Chengdu, you can read here. It took me two weeks to cycle this distance and despite it's a relative unknown area for tourism, it is a very nice road to do.

Going east is also ok It's a three or four days ride to Luoyang. Most of the road will be in good condition though it may be busy.

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The road from Xian to Chengdu

The road from Xian to Chengdu is totally overlooked by tourist. Even cyclist tend to skip this road as "there's nothing to see". Now that is not true. Read my report about this road:

Xian to Chengdu


Entrance tickets

Cycling in China visiting tourist sites means collecting entrance tickets. It seem the Chinese do want to give you value for your money. And I admit ... many are very nice:

Famen Si Entrance Ticket
Entrance ticket for Famen Si, north west of Xi'an

Entrance tickets

and

more entrance tickets

Ticket for the Terracotta Warriors Museum
Ticket for the Terracotta Warriors Museum, like a metro ticket