I’m sitting here writing this whilst stuck in the hot and sweaty Xian train station after our train to Chengdu has been delayed by 5 hours. It was due to leave at 7:01, it is now 9:39, with a now expected departure time of 11:50. Anyway, I digress.
We first had to book tickets for Xian from Beijing. There are two different websites that I would recommend you to use, either: travelchinaguide.com or ctrip.com. We waited until 2 days before we wanted to leave to book tickets and this wasn’t enough time to secure tickets on a sleeper train over night, we were hoping to save on paying for a hostel. However the only tickets left were second class tickets on a high speed bullet train, with the journey only taking 5 hours. These tickets cost us £64, compared to the £30 it would have cost on the slower sleeper train. After choosing your train online, entering your passport number and paying by either debit/credit card or PayPal you are issued with a ticket reference number via e-mail. You will also need to upload a copy of your passport when using travelchinaguide as they wish to check everything you entered is correct. Take a screen shot of the ticket reference number on your phone and go to any main train station ticket desk, along with your passport to pick up your tickets. I would recommend picking them up the day before you plan to leave so you don’t have to queue and push through crowds with your big backpack on and worry about pickpockets. Not that this seems to happen much in China. The day we went to get our tickets it was pouring with rain, and me being taller then most people in China I couldn’t fit under their umbrellas, if anything I got even wetter as the water was pouring off their umbrellas all over me, who said being 6ft tall was fun?! On the day of departure I’d recommend turning up 2 hours early as the queues can be crazy, you go through and get your ticket stamped, head up the stairs in Beijing station and find your train number on the big screen, next to it will be a waiting room number, which is where you head to wait for your train. Simple! (See the pictures in the slideshow at the bottom of the page.) The bullet train itself was quick and comfortable, with a food carriage, clean toilets and lots of leg room. Your bags get scanned before entering the station but they don’t look twice at your insulin injections. Take some food with you from a supermarket as train food isn’t the greatest.
We arrived in Xian after a delay of an hour or so, my experience of Chinese trains hasn’t been great so far. We arrived at Xian North station, not Xian main station but this turned out to be easier to get to our hostel. We stayed at the Han Tang House hostel, which I would highly recommend. It’s conveniently located a 7 minute walk from a subway stop and close enough to the main attractions, it has a bar, a restaurant with good food and really comfortable beds. Every room has an en suite, we were in an 8 bed dorm and paid in the region of £5 per night. Perfect. That night after a day of traveling we went out for dinner in the first restaurant we found the next road down. Our experience of Chinese food so far had been great, yet we found the portion sizes to be very small. We ordered 3 dishes plus 2 portions of rice and the plates were huge! This was the first time we couldn’t eat it all. This was also the first time in China I felt like I’d had enough carbohydrate for my diabetes. It was perfect. I woke up in the morning with a sugar level of 6, rather then the 3 it had been in Beijing. However I had reduced my long acting insulin from 32 to 20, which clearly was helping.
The following day we awoke early to explore the city. We took a stroll to the Drum and Bell towers which are pretty similar to the ones in Beijing but still cool to see. To enter the Bell tower you have to pay money which I personally don’t think is worth it, but still an option. It is situated in the middle of a roundabout so if you wish to go in the entrance is in the subway. You can still get good photos from one of the exits, if you choose not to pay, which you leave to head towards the Muslim quarter. Here you can get mountains of street food, there are alleyways of small market stalls where you can buy some really cool souvenirs. They have everything for sale, Holly got herself a nice set of chopsticks, God knows when she will ever use them! Make sure you haggle when they offer you the first price, you can get the price down by up to 75% so don’t be shy! From here if you carry on through the market you come to the entrance of the Great Mosque. This is well worth going to as there is some fantastic architecture and really is a nice place to visit. After lunch we walked to the ancient city walls that surround inner Xian. It reminds me very much of Chiang Mai in Thailand, just on a much grander scale. You can purchase a ticket to go up on top of the wall, half price with a student card/driving license and on top you can either take a leisurely stroll along, or rent a bike for ¥40 for two hours and bike round the whole thing. It is very hot on top with little to no shade, 38 degrees when we were up there, but you get a nice breeze with the bike. After you can catch the subway down to the Giant Goose Pagoda or save this for another day. For dinner we decided to try our hand at some more Chinese Hot Pot as we thought we were pros after our successful attempt in Beijing. It’s slightly different in Xian but we still managed to work it out. Here you go and pick your own sauce and sticks of food, then at the end they charge you ¥0.7 per stick of food you cook in your own hot pot. It was nice, and good as I got to choose and see the amount of carbohydrate I was having, and after my long acting insulin reduction my sugar level has been steady!
This morning I woke with a sugar level of 6.2, perfect and we decided this was the day to go to the famous terracotta army. We could have booked a tour through the hostel but where is the fun in that, we wanted to do it on our own. We jumped on bus 603, gave the driver ¥1 and 3 stops later we were at the train station ready to get bus 306 to the terracotta army. The 306 leaves from the east square outside the main Xian train station. Head over that way until you see a massive queue, then wait in this queue. It goes down very quickly as the buses turn up 3 at a time and every couple of minutes. There will be Chinese people who look legit, dressed as bus conductors and shouting taking people down the side of the long queue, ignore these people. They are fake and once you get on their big blue bus they charge you a lot of money. The 306 is a white bus and once on board it costs you ¥7 to the terracotta army. You don’t pay straight away, jump on, sit down and wait for the conductor to come and take your money from you. It takes around an hour to get to the terracotta army, depending on traffic. There are 12 stops along the way, including the hot springs if you wish to go there. Get off the bus when everyone gets off, or ask the bus conductor if you’re not sure, but you should know when you’ve arrived. Get off the bus and cross the road, basically follow the crowd and remember where you are, as this will be where you get the same bus back! Tickets to the terracotta army cost ¥150 and only Chinese student cards are accepted for half price tickets. Ignore the people offering a guide service unless you really want a guide, but you don’t really need one. You walk through a lovely park and then enter into the site. There are 4 buildings, pit 1, 2 and 3 and a building to the right which is a museum with some information on the warriors and also Greek and Egyptian mythology, weird! My advice would be to save pit 1 until last as this is the best one. It takes about 2 hours to walk round and after we found some quiet benches away to the right, in the shade, to eat our pack lunch we’d brought the day before. After this we headed back to Xian via the bus, I’d say the whole trip takes 4-5 hours. In the afternoon we headed down to the Giant Goose Pagoda as we missed this the day before. We went in but it wasn’t ready worth it, as it was surrounded by scaffolding and this is all you could see out the windows, we should have noticed this before we went up. Outside is lovely though, with some brilliant architecture.
The next day we were due to get the train I mentioned at the top of this blog post, however after waiting 7 hours the train got cancelled and we’ve had to book flights the following evening to Chengdu. This gave us an extra day in Xian so we took a walk down to ShuYuanMen street, the oldest street in Xian which was really nice and picturesque. There’s a calligraphy museum called Beilin Museum which we didn’t go in but looked cool, so if anyone has been let me know. Tonight we have a flight to Chengdu to see the Pandas, fingers crossed that doesn’t get cancelled!!