Chinese Buffet – Part 17: Xi’an Excursion Day One

Chinese Buffet is a month-long series that chronicles the travels of an American woman who visited China for the first time in July 2007.

One of the places that my friend Beth really wanted to see before leaving China was the historic city of Xi’an, so she invited me to join her and Ryan on an overnight excursion to the home of the Terracotta Army.

We began our trip to this very ancient city by taking the super-modern Maglev train to the Pudong airport. This state-of-the-art magnetic levitation train transports passengers 20 miles in a mere seven minutes. For 50 RMB (one-way ticket), you can get to the airport in a flash, and experience the thrill of going from 0 to 427 km/h in just five minutes:

(It was my poor photography skills – and not the speed of the train – that prevented me from getting a smooth shot on this second picture. But you get the idea, right? It’s a FAST train.)

For travelers arriving in Shanghai via the airport, the Maglev may not be your best option, since it doesn’t run into the central part of the city. It goes only as far as the Longyang Road Station in Pudong, which is still quite a ways from downtown Shanghai. But you can get the metro from there and continue your journey into the city that way.

But getting back to the airport…

We got to Pudong International with plenty of time to catch our China Eastern Airlines flight to Xi’an. The flight was less than two hours, leaving me just enough time to read up a bit on our destination. We were headed to the capital of Shaanxi province, a city of more than five million, that at one time served at the imperial capital of China. We were making the trip, like so many others do, primarily to see the Terracotta Warriors. But we hoped to squeeze in a few other sights as well.

Thanks to our own personal tour guide, we were able to do just that. Bob, a private driver who contracts work through the Hyatt Hotel, picked us up at Xi’an’s airport (40 minutes away from the city) and right away offered us an optional sightseeing stop on the way to into town:

Bob suggested we visit Xianyang, the site of China’s very first dynasty, the Qin. Relics from the former palace of Qin Shi Huang have been gathered into a museum with two main sections. First, we visited a building which housed many of these relics, including a miniature terracotta army:

The uniforms and costumes that the figures had been dressed with are now long gone, leaving these poor little guys naked. (There were a few female figures discovered at this site as well.) The second section of the complex is an underground museum, where we could walk above and around the excavation site, wearing blue scrub slippers they provide:

This was the first of several archaeological dig sites we would visit over the next two days. Since Ryan’s a dinosaur fan, he especially enjoyed seeing these dirt pits full of bones. But no Tyrannosaurus Rex here…

A theme of old vs. new seemed to be running through our adventure. We took the modern Maglev to begin our journey to a historic ancient city full of relics from the past. Yet the city is far from old anymore.

The contrasts continued as Bob drove us through the hectic streets of this booming manufacturing hub:

We passed a Home Depot on the way to the Hyatt, and I marveled once again at the constant boom of construction that defines modern China. I wondered, what would those ancient warriors think of all this growth?

Xi’an’s famous city wall soon came into view. We had read that renovation had recently been completed to the wall so visitors could now walk or bike around the entire top. After a visit to the bell tower, we attempted to gain access to the wall, but were repeatedly unsuccessful. We walked the perimeter of one section where we had been told there was an entrance. But it was smack in the middle of a dangerous roundabout loaded with speeding cars, bikes and buses. Ryan was a trooper, following along during our futile attempt to get on the wall. Eventually, we sat for a drink and felt kinda like the guy at the table behind us:

So we gave up. Some walls are just not meant to be scaled…by us, anyway! We took it as a sign that we should be hunting out some good food instead of access to an ancient wall. Good warriors we’d make, huh?

We’ll be laughing about our adventure mishap for a really long time. And we started over dinner — yummy pizza and a round of darts at the Hyatt’s pub and pizzeria:

Bob was coming back at 8 am to take us to see the Terracotta Army, so we were soon off to bed. Part two of our Xi’an excursion will continue tomorrow…