Chinese officials announced this week that the world-famous tomb of Emperor Qin Shihuang, also known as the location of the Terracotta Warriors, was recently broken into by robbers. Nine men are being held in connection with the break-in, during which several ancient coffins were damaged and priceless relics removed.
According to reports, robbers dug a 90 foot tunnel leading into the mausoleum complex, complete with electric lights and ventilation fans. Though the robbery was discovered last month, the news has only recently come to light due to the sensitivity of the story. In recent years Xi’an, China, the city that houses the tomb and Warriors, has become an increasingly popular destination for tourists.
The looting of ancient relics is an increasingly profitable business; robbers often sell their finds to collectors on the black market for large sums. The larger question is what do about it: as these priceless artifacts disappear, whether by theft or vandalism, the damage is not so easily replaced.
[Flickr photo by kevinpoh]
In the year that I’ve been writing for Gadling I’ve not once promoted a package tour — until now. China Spree, an agency that offers affordable trips to China, has a new 10-day Golden Triangle Tour starting at just $888, a lucky number in China, that’s a bit too hard to pass up. China Spree has been known as a first-class travel agency that offers trips at bargain prices. While the Golden Triangle may be the lowest-priced tour on the market, it’s also the best-quality, with more included features than any other.
The lucky $888 price includes round-trip non-stop Air China flights from San Francisco to Beijing, all intra-China transfers and transportation, eight nights accommodation with private bath in 4-star hotels, eight American buffet breakfasts, five Chinese lunches, comprehensive private sightseeing tours, entrance fees and professional guides in each city.
While you may be sacrificing all-important independent travel, you’ll have the advantage of having a native guide to show you around for 10 days. The trip begins in Beijing, where participants will discover China’s timeless imperial treasures: the Forbidden City, Summer Palace and Great Wall. Then take an overnight train ride with comfortable soft-sleeper accommodations to Xian to see the fabled First Emperor’s life-sized Army of Terracotta Warriors. Finally, a the group will fly to Shanghai for great shopping and memorable dining in China’s most modern metropolis.
The $888 price is for departures in January and February; thereafter the cost is somewhat higher. For additional information and reservations, visit China Spree’s website and click “China Tours,” then “Super Value” or call the company’s toll-free telephone number #866-652-5656.
Many seasoned backpackers are aware of Bolivia’s “most dangerous road” in the world. If you want that kind of excitement–and perhaps more so since this is a hiking trail–check out China’s Huashan trail, a very doable itinerary if you happen to be in Beijing for the Olympics.
To do justice to the experience, see the pictures here and here. Words can’t describe some of the harrowing sections of the trail–which, again, is suppose to be a hiking trail. That means no climbing gear is available. I can easily see people falling to their deaths, and apparently because of China’s less-than-stellar press freedoms, many deaths are kept quiet.
To get there, fly into Xian, which can take up a whole series of posts by itself (terracotta soldiers are there, for one). Then take the minibuses that run from the train station directly to Huashan. Or you can take the train, which drops you off some 25 km east of the mountain.
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.
(Note: Read Day One of the Xi’an Excursion and some recently announced news about the Terracotta Warriors upcoming visit to the USA!)
After a filling breakfast at the Hyatt’s massive buffet, we piled in the car with Bob and headed out for another full day of sightseeing. The Banpo Museum is on the eastern outskirts of the city, along the way towards the Terracotta Warriors. It is the excavated site of an ancient neolithic village that dates to 4500 BC, over 6,000 years ago!
Discovered in 1953, archaeologists have determined that the village was inhabited by the Yangshao
, and each section of the dig site exhibits different aspects of how they lived. We walked through several rooms full of relics – ceramic bowls, clay pots and ancient tools used for fishing and hunting.
After this quick stop, we drove about an hour to the site of the Terracotta Army. The road was jammed with tour buses and we sat in traffic for awhile. Bob navigated us there as quickly as he could, sometimes using the access lane to pass other vehicles
— our daredevil driver!
A golf cart was our next mode of transport. The Terracotta Army complex of excavated pits is quite far from the parking lot, so we decided to splurge on the round-trip golf cart ride that stops directly in front of the actual museum entrance. A visit to the Terracotta Army costs 90 RMB (about $12 bucks) and the golf cart was an additional six yuan — no big expense.
But be warned!! The ride, although cheap, is advertised as round-trip — which it is NOT.
I’m jumping ahead here for a moment…
After spending several hours walking around the warrior museum, we boarded another golf cart for our ride back to the parking lot. But the return trip only goes a short distance, before passengers are asked to disembark and walk through a huge new pedestrian shopping strip lined with vendors hawking souvenirs. For some reason this really bugged me:
I can’t say I was surprised to see this commercialized exit extravaganza, but I was irked that we were forced to walk through it. We thought we had paid for a ride back to the parking lot…which would have been nice, especially for a four-year-old and his pregnant mommy!
But I digress…
The actual viewing of the warriors was wonderful, so let me get back to that.
This grand army of stone statues was discovered in 1974 by peasants who were digging a well in a field. They uncovered the burial grounds of Emperor Qin Shi Huang, a now famous World Heritage site. There are three main pits and we spent about two hours moving through them. The first building, essentially an airplane hangar, houses the most impressive collection of the life-size soldiers and horses. There are more than 1,000 figures, and amazingly, only one fifth of this site has been excavated:
Archaeologists have determined that no two soldiers are the same. They wear various coats of armor, display different levels of rank, and have unique facial expressions and hairstyles:
The second pit we visited was much smaller, and full of headless warriors and guys in pieces:
And the third pit
is still largely unexcavated and said to possibly hold more warriors than the first two pits combined. In total, estimates predict there may be over 8,000 warrior and horse relics buried in the area. It really is incredible to see them all together like this and thing about what went into the process to create this life-size army. We took time out for a touristy moment in this third building:
And then began the journey back to the parking lot to meet Bob — a short golf cart ride followed by a long walk through the new Terracotta Warriors International Shopping Plaza, full of signs like this one:
An authentic experience — until the end, in my opinion. I’m just not a fan of consumerism shoved down my throat, and after viewing such an ancient and sacred memorial, the barrage of souvenir stands and yells from store clerks just left me feeling grumpy.
Bob next offered to take us to the actual tomb of Qin Shi Huang, located just a short ride from the Terracotta Museum. But we decided to pass, since we’d read that it’s just an artificial hill with not much else to see. We ate our lunch in the car as he drove us to our final stop, the Huaqing Pool:
The hot springs and imperial bathhouses located at the foot of Lishan Mountain were very popular with the emperors, who would spend the winters here keeping warm. There is a lift that goes to the top of the mountain, but there would not have been much to see on such a hazy afternoon. We got a kick out of the restrooms, formerly the site of the Imperial Toilet:
We took another golf cart here, because, well….we were exhausted:
We had hit a wall. And knew that it was time to stop:
Ryan had surely had his fill of “adult things”, as he often referred to our sightseeing adventures. He had the right idea for how to spend the hour ride to the airport:
Beth and I were happy to be done with “adult things” for awhile as well. I felt like a slacker for even admitting that I was tired — she’s about five months pregnant and responsible for an active four-year-old as well. What was my excuse for feeling like a weary road warrior?! We joined Ryan for an afternoon siesta, which gave us just enough energy to make it through the uneventful flight home.
It was a jam-packed journey. I don’t usually travel that “fast” but it wasn’t a horrible way to see the main attractions in a short amount of time. Overall, Xi’an is surely worth a visit, and I’ve read that there are lots of other scenic side trips that can be taken from the city center. For me, what made the trip special was my traveling companions. I’m not sure I would have enjoyed the visit as much if I had done it solo. In fact, I know I wouldn’t have. What’s memorable is that we conquered Xi’an (but not it’s city wall