A Travellerspoint blog

The Xi’muda triangle

Eggs, bacon and terracotta warriors

So after a decent nights sleep (probably due to the fact that our legs had almost fallen off walking the Xi’an wall the day before) we got up and joined the group for our day out to see what everybody comes to see in Xi’an; the Terracotta Warriors.

We should probably mention that in Xi’an is something of a misnomer. Two hours after we had set off we were strolling up to the ticket office and after a quick scan of the price boards almost had a heart failure. Being such tight arses we’d already worked out, according to the Lonely Planet guide, how much money we would need to get in. Unfortunately in the time after the book had gone to print the asking price had almost doubled! The only way that we could get in would be to fake it as students. So our hearts in our mouths we queued up with our very out of date student IDs praying for the best.

It seemed that luck was with us that day as we managed to con our way in on our student IDs and so we started out on the warriors. Luckily Joy our tour guide is amazing and so we did everything in the right order. Instead of rushing off and seeing the most impressive thing first she made us leave the best till last and so we discovered more about the warriors that way and also it meant that the big wow was left until the end. Sadly for Alex though just before stepping into the final viewpoint of the warriors one of his contact lenses split in his eye. He then had to spend half the time that we had in there trying to fish it out. Just before the ambulances were called and after pinching the skin of his eyeball several times he finally managed to get it out and so we were able to make our way around and marvel at the sight of the silent and ever watchful ranks of warriors. It was amazing just how many warriors were lined up and of so many different ranks. There were horsemen, archers, generals and infantry just to name a few.

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After having taken our fill of the seemingly never ending hordes of soldiers all put there, as everyone knows, in place of the sacrifice of thousands of actual warriors to serve the Emperor Qin Shi Huang, the first ruler to unite China, in the afterlife, we then set off for the long dusty trek back. We really enjoyed seeing them although the distance from Xi’an meant most of the day was taken up so we decided on an early night before a day set to be filled with museums.

Our sights were at first set on the Shaanxi History Museum. Sadly it was not shown on the maps in our Lonely Planet and so we asked at the hotel for directions. They very kindly gave us a sheet with the route we’d need to take to get there. So after a hearty breakfast of bacon, eggs, sausage, lettuce and sauce all wrapped up in bun we set off on our way. Sadly it was the wrong route. Wildly wrong. It was like the museum had vanished into thin air, or the Xi'muda triangle! After having stumbled about for most of the day trying to find the place we eventually gave up and after a quick bit of research found that it was actually about twenty kilometres in the opposite direction to the way that we had gone! Still it was an interesting day and we got to see a lot of the city that we would have otherwise missed. Crossing a six lane motorway was definitely one of the nerve wrecking highlights! Now we’re just waiting for the joy of our fourth overnight train. We cannot wait!

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Rex’s Rules of the Road

  • If you go to see the Terracotta Army in Xi’an make sure that you do the halls in reverse order. Start with the cinema then do hall three, then two and last but by no means least; one.
  • Beware of rising prices wherever you go and make sure to carry some extra cash to cover all eventualities.
  • If you are stuck for directions in China ask. And then check online just to make sure!
  • Check out Rach's review of the warriors.

Posted by rexontheroad 18:29 Archived in China Comments (0)

Don’t mess with the Xi’an

The Muslim quarter, the city walls and the Werewolf game

Our train journey from Shanghai to Xi’an was definitely a lot more exciting than our other train journeys. This train had open cabins so there was nothing separating the beds from the corridor, which meant that we were able to sit as a group with four on each of the two bottom bunks and others on the seats in the corridors. We’d all gotten some beers and were up for some fun so our guide, Joy, got out a game called the Werewolf game. Each person playing is a certain character, whether it’s a werewolf, village person, seer or witch and the werewolves aim is to kill off as many of the others as they can, whilst the others are trying to find and kill off the werewolves. It was such a fun game and one we’ll be looking for back in the UK. We still had a few beers left so next came Ring of Fire. The rules became a mish-mash of English, Dutch and Chinese rules and included a lot of dares. All of them seemed to be aimed at making fools of ourselves in front of the rest of the train as we had to perform dances for them, hop all the way down the carriage and Erik had to hug and tell a random Chinese woman that he loved her (in Chinese). Only when the lights went out did we finally stop.

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We got into Xi’an pretty early and had a couple of hours rest in our hotel before Joy took us out to show us the local area. One of the main attractions is the Muslim Quarter, where there is a huge market, one of the cheapest in China. We spent a while stalking the stalls, trying to persuade ourselves not to buy junk we don’t need. It was tough but each time our hands strayed to our wallet we’d remember our budget and pull ourselves away much to the dismay of the market workers. We were however both tempted by a bamboo wall hanging. It was really beautiful and something we would appreciate when we got back. Alex worked hard at the haggling but after a long period we got it down to ¥80 from ¥480 which we were reasonably happy with. Now just to squash it in the rucksack!

After lunch we met up with Joy and the group to go and see the City Walls. The walls are the most complete city walls to have survived in China as well as being one of the largest ancient military defences in the world. Joy gave us a brief talk about the use of the wall, when building started and when it was completed, before excitedly finding an appropriate spot to perform the Gangnam style dance once again, much to the amusement of the passing Chinese. After that almost everyone else elected to pay the ¥50 for bike hire, whilst a few of us chose to walk it. By a few we mean us and two other guys from the group. It didn’t seem that far to begin with, being only a measly 13.57km-and after all the travelling we were used to walking long distances. However with all the talking and sight-seeing it took us around three hours, finally getting back to our starting point just as they were shutting the gate. It was well worth the walk though, particularly as we’d started it during the day it meant that as the sky darkened we got the chance to watch as the wall and surrounding city gradually light up around us. With a brief stop at Walmart for our customary pot-noodle we headed on back to the hotel.

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Rex’s Rules of the Road

  • If you can get your hands on it, the Werewolf game is brilliant with to play with lots of people.
  • The Muslim quarter market is apparently one of the cheapest in China so when you get there haggle well- you’ll come away with a bargain.
  • If you plan on walking the whole of the City wall then make sure you leave yourself enough time and don’t get locked in.
  • If you don’t fancy the walk there are single and tandem bikes available for hourly hire.

Posted by rexontheroad 16:22 Archived in China Comments (0)

Alex gets excited by pottery

Dancing, queuing and some Faberge eggs

Our second visit to Shanghai has proven to be much more pleasant. We arrived after a fairly rubbish nights sleep on the trains and so, after we'd braved the crazy taxi driving on the way to the hotel, we had to have a quick nap to recover. After our beauty sleep we headed off to see some of the sights of Shanghai with the group.

We first went to the Yuyuan Gardens, something that we had not seen on our first visit. The gardens were absolutely stunning and gave some insight into the splendour that China once had, at least amongst the rich since these were where they went to relax. There are several different halls throughout and some stunning rock gardens and pools. It was a really interesting walk and the alleyways surrounding it are full of shops and stalls that sell any kind of souvenir you could possibly wish for and many that you wouldn’t. We had a great time wandering through and even managed to find some dice so that we can teach our fellow tourers the three man game (Awkward Auckland).

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After our tour of the gardens we set off for the Bund a sight that we had seen on our previous visit to Shanghai (Stranded in Shanghai) but a sight well worth seeing again. Another reason for going along was to do the Gangnam style dance that our tour leader has got us doing in different locations around China. We proved quite the spectacle and there were quite a few Chinese with their phones and cameras out taking videos of the ridiculous Westerners doing a funny dance. Sadly the day had to come to an end and so we dragged ourselves to our beds for a good nights sleep that wasn’t disturbed by snorers!

Our last two days in Shanghai were taken up almost exclusively by the Shanghai Museum located in the Peoples Park. There were some great permanent exhibitions there on Chinese pottery that Alex absolutely loved. Our joint fav however was an odd one to find in China, an exhibition covering Russian jewellery over the last two centuries. It was astounding the richness of some of the pieces especially the royal creations and perhaps the highlight was the Faberge eggs which were amazing. There were quite a few guards around telling people off for using their cameras, but lucky for you guys we’re quite subtle and so we managed a sneaky few. The best of the eggs is below!

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In betwixt the two days of museum sight-seeing we also managed to squeeze in a real Chinese restaurant experience. We picked one out at random and strolled on in. After sitting down we had to spend about half an hour looking over the menu as there was so much to choose from. We are not joking when we say that there was every possible kind of meat on the menu either; Noah’s ark would have been a good starting point for these guys. We had a nice enough meal although it was very fatty and poor Alex had very little meat. The sauces were terrific to make up for this though and we left with our taste buds satisfied if not our stomachs.

All-in-all our second visit to Shanghai was better, although whether this is because the city suddenly improved in our four days absence is debatable. Far more likely is that we have simply gotten used to navigating and being on our own in China, and are generally enjoying China more for what it is as opposed to what we expected it to be.

Rex’s Rules of the Road

  • If you do go to any stall in China haggle and haggle hard. And remember if the price isn’t right just walk away. Chances are you can buy something almost exactly the same for the price you want two stalls along.
  • Check out Shanghai museum if you get the chance, although beware of the queues at the weekend. We had a half an hour wait on the Saturday.
  • Speaking of queues, the museum queue was the best we’ve yet seen. The Chinese don’t queue well at all and you’ll often be waiting in line patiently and some guy will push past you to the front. If you’ve got your rucksack on you can usually block them.

Posted by rexontheroad 13:54 Archived in China Comments (0)

Mushu and other tales of the Forbidden City

Snoring, Mulan and guessing grisly stories

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Our last two days in Beijing have not been filled with as much wow factor as when we visited the Great Wall (There are nine million security checks in Beijing). None the less it has been impressive. Two days ago we stopped off at the Forbidden City and, for those who don’t know it, this is the place that Mulan meets the emperor. For those who don’t know who Mulan is you need your head checking! So with Alex pretending to be Mushu we set off on our first whistle stop tour of the palaces and its gardens.

We had such a brilliant time that we left our tour group to stay behind and explore its alleyways, courtyards and gardens much more thoroughly. Not having a map left us at a bit of a disadvantage and so with no real plan we dived straight in and tried to make the best of it. Most of the signs on the buildings have English on and so it was relatively easy to quickly get an idea of what had been going on in most of the rooms. It seems that the palace was actually that big for a reason and not just to show off. At most points during Chinese Imperial rule the emperor had somewhere in the range of one to three hundred concubines. Boy did they know how to live. The buildings themselves were stunning and many held some beautiful works of art and sculptures and we even stumbled across a calligraphy demo being held in one of the rooms which was cool.

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After an obligatory evening meal of pot noodles and a good nights sleep we woke up refreshed and ready to see what has so far proved to be one of our favourite attractions in other countries that we have visited (Browsing in Brissie, Pretendy surfing on Bondi) the police museum. It took a little while to find the Beijing Police Museum as our guide book wasn’t exactly spot on but once we were there we paid the ridiculously low admission fee and passed through the by now standard security check and x-ray scanner. It seemed we had the place to ourselves and we took it at a leisurely pace. We read about the formation of the police after the Cultural Revolution in China and how it went about its business during the Olympics. It took ages to get through but we persevered knowing that the next section was our fav.

The stories section has always been the best for us as we’re both a little geeky when it gets to history and we both love to see the real side of things and put what has already been learnt into perspective. However much to our eternal disappointment the entire section was in Chinese only and so we only got to look longingly at the photos of drug busts and kidnappings knowing that we would never truly understand what we were seeing. So disgruntled we didn’t spend a huge amount of time covering the rest of the museum which concerned traffic policing, weapons and uniforms which was a bit boring in all honesty anyway. We probably would have had to cut short our time in museum had we not rushed as we had to back at the hotel for two in the afternoon to catch our overnight transport onto our next destination.

Morning has broken and we are currently still on the train bound once more for Shanghai after an incredibly bad nights sleep. This time we were in the hard sleeper section, so as opposed to our first hellish experience (The train ride from hell) we had the luxury of beds. The night started out well with everyone from the group chatting away but when it came to lights out at ten things started to go downhill and before long the situation was in freefall. Picture the scene. We are both in a cabin with one other group member and three random Chinese people on the three bunks on the other side. As we climbed into bed we thought we could make out a storm of some sort assailing the train but it soon became plain that the three gentlemen we were sharing with were setting up a snoring racquet that would have roused the dead from their slumber. Imagine three large, wild animals trapped in a cage growling at one another as you are trying to fall asleep. Now multiply that by a jet engine and throw in a couple of random squeaks and snorts and you have what we had to contest with. Needless to say none of us slept and so now face a bleary day in Shanghai.

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Rex’s Rules of the Road

  • Take ear plugs for the sleeper train.
  • If you are on a tour don’t be afraid to split and go and do your own thing. Remember it is you who is paying for it.
  • The Beijing Police Museum is good, provided you can read Chinese.

Posted by rexontheroad 08:52 Archived in China Comments (0)

There are nine million security checks in Beijing

The Great wall, Tiananmen square and a dance routine

We’ve never had to pass through so many security checks before Beijing. Before entering the train station, the museums and even just to cross under the subway you have to have your bags scanned. We even have to take a swig of our water each time to prove it’s nothing dangerous. It’s time consuming and annoying (particularly when your suncream is checked as a weapon and you have to mime what it actually is) but unfortunately it’s got to be done.

Before you wonder, we did get up to other stuff in Beijing other than being searched although our first day was spent huddled in the corner trying to deal with our awful train journey the night before (The train ride from hell). We managed to recover enough to meet our tour group that we’d be with for the next eighteen days. It’s a real mix of nationalities with English, Welsh, American, Canadian, Swiss, Dutch and Russian. We introduced ourselves then headed out for a welcome meal to get to know each other a bit better. A few hours later Rach and the boys went for a late night stroll around the area before heading back.

We’d agreed last night with two guys on the tour, Erik and Ben, to get up at 5.30am to see the Changing of the Guard at Tiananmen Square. Bleary eyed, yawning and cold we got there and awaited dawn. At around 6.45 music suddenly emitted from the lamp-post speakers and we watched what turned out to be more of a flag-raising ceremony than a changing of the guard. It was interesting to watch but was over very quickly and we had a bad experience of a Chinese woman shoving her camera into Alex’s face. We put our hands up in front of the camera and she apologised but it does happen and we are still trying to get used to it!

Sadly we didn’t have time for a nap as we met with the rest of the group for our trip to see the Great Wall. Joy, our guide, had organised a private bus for us and all of our active, excited, raring to go group fell promptly asleep. We reached the Mùtiānyù section, which is two hours from Beijing, an area chosen by Joy for its beauty and the fact that it wouldn’t be crowded by pesky tourists (oh the irony!).

In our naivety we assumed we’d just pull up and the wall would be right there in front of us but no. It turned out there was a gauntlet of souvenir stalls (one dollar, one dollar!) then the 1,103 steps (yes we counted) to get on to the wall. 1,103 doesn’t sound like too many but trust us it is exhausting! They are quite steep and the sun was out so we were sweating but thanks to our many treks in New Zealand we’re pretty fit and we were some of the first to make it up.

After we’d picked ourselves up off the floor we had a quick look around, admiring the beautiful views, Joy found a large space for us to dance in. She’s given herself a mission to get the tour group to do the Gangnam style dance in various locations in China and she’s going to record them and create a video. After teaching us the moves we gave an embarrassed performance in front of a growing crowd.

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We then had free time to go explore, which was code for Alex to take hundreds and hundreds of “arty” pictures of the same section of wall. When Rach finally dragged him away we walked as far along the wall as we physically could and it was brilliant. The wall crowned the hills for as far as the eye could see, snaking its way down into the valleys and scaling the slopes. It was incredible to see in autumn as the trees all around had started to change their colours giving the forest the look of a multicoloured carpet with browns, oranges, yellows and gold of every hue imaginable. Every corner made for a great photo opportunity and at various points you could go up the watch towers for an even more spectacular view. Most of the walk was easy going, however the further on we got the steeper it became and one set of stairs nearly defeated us as we were reduced to scrambling up on our hands and knees. The view from the top made it worth it and it was stunning looking down on to the wall.

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We made a speedy return as Rach wanted, in classic cheesy style, an ‘I climbed the Great Wall’ t-shirt. It took a few stalls, with some vendors chasing us down the street and much haggling from Alex but she finally got one! After Joy had rounded up the group we had a brilliant drive back (aka slept) and relaxed for the evening by lying down and refusing to move our legs.

Rex’s Rules of the Road

  • Be prepared to be checked by security- a lot!
  • Tiananmen Square had two ceremonies, the flag raising at dawn and flag lowering at dusk. It’s cool to see but not a must-do.
  • The Mùtiānyù section is less touristy but no less beautiful- a great place to go.
  • If you see blonde kids, follow them. They’ll divert attention away from you and means they’ll be asked for photos instead.

Posted by rexontheroad 20:56 Archived in China Comments (0)

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