During our volunteer project with pandas in Louguantai, we ventured back to the nearby city, Xi’an, at the weekends. In total, we spent 3 days exploring this fascinating city, which held a lot more history and culture than I expected. It seems that Xi’an is not particularly well known to much of the Western world, as tourists tend to head to Beijing or Shanghai; this is evident from the fact that all the locals wanted photos with us as they were shocked to see us there! Xi’an is the capital of the Shaanxi province, located in the northwest of China, and currently holds the status of my favourite city I’ve ever travelled to so far. So, what did I get up to?
Jianfu Temple and Small Wild Goose Pagoda
On our first day in the city, we took a visit to Jianfu temple, which was constructed during the Tang Dynasty after the death of Emperor Gaozong in 684. The temple contains beautiful ponds and fountains, as well as a copy of the Morning Bell, which was rung every morning to pray for happiness during 1644-1911. Tourists are able to toll this replica, as the original bell is displayed in the bell tower.
Also inside Jianfu Temple is the famous Small Wild Goose Pagoda, constructed between 707 and 709, and standing at 141ft (apparently the pagoda used to stand at 147ft but was damaged by an earthquake). You can climb the pagoda via the winding stairwell inside and admire the impressive view from the top, which provides a 360 view of the temple. We spent a good few hours exploring this large temple complex, and then headed to find some Chinese food (which, by the way, is quite different to the “Chinese food” we eat in the West).
Giant Wild Goose Pagoda
After a lunch of dumplings and soup, we headed to the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda, which was originally built during the reign of Emperor Gaozong (649-683), but has been renovated many times since and currently stands at 210ft. The walk here from Jianfu Temple took about an hour and a half, which we didn’t mind as it meant we got to see quite a lot of Xi’an and pop into any shops that seemed interesting. The pagoda and its surrounding squares and gardens are beautiful, and when we returned to the pagoda the next evening, we found it was teeming with life and people having a good time. The squares are draped with lights which are lit up beautifully and there are markets full of street food and knick knacks.
On our second day, we decided to go visit a market to try some street food and perhaps pick up some souvenirs, and so we headed to the Muslim Quarter, which holds the Beiyuanmen Muslim Market. It took us a couple of hours to get here as we got quite lost (very few people spoke English, we couldn’t speak Mandarin, and all maps and road signs were in Mandarin). Once there, we spent a good few hours exploring the quarter and having a go at bargaining for products- I managed to snatch up an intricate Chinese jewellery box for the equivalent of £3. We also grabbed some street food from a road side stall, and as we had to do due to the language barrier, we pointed at anything on the menu and hoped for the best! I’m lucky in that I like all food and am not squeamish about trying anything foreign, so felt confident in doing this. I was presented with a broth of some kind, and have to admit, it did not sit well with me..
The Terracotta Warriors
On our third day in the city, we decided to travel out of Xi’an a little way to visit the Terracotta Army. The site was easily accessible from Xi’an as there were hundreds of coaches and buses with “Terracotta Army” written on the side of them- we just picked one and jumped on, and the journey took about 40 minutes. The army is a collection of terracotta sculptures, built to protect the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, in his afterlife. The army was buried with the emperor in approximately third century BC, and was discovered by local farmers in 1974. There is thought to be about 9000 sculptures in all, making the collection the largest pottery figurine group ever found in China; absolutely crazy how they were carved to this number without machinery. In fact, the army is thought of as one of the 8th wonders of the world- up there with Machu Picchu and The Taj Mahal. As soon as we arrived at the site, we noticed that we were no longer the only Westerners- a change from being in the city where we were a total minority. It was very busy, and we had to queue for quite some time to get into the buildings where the army is housed, so try to get there early if you ever go to visit.
Hot Pot Restaurant
That evening, we went to a hot pot restaurant for dinner, as our volunteer coordinator said it was really nice there. I couldn’t tell you what it was called if I tried (sorry), as it was written in Chinese symbols. A hotpot is basically a big metal pot of stock sat in the centre of the table, and you cook your meat and vegetables at the table by putting in the ingredients yourself. We sat down and pointed at pictures on the menu to choose what to order, as again, the language barrier made ordering difficult. We were presented with raw meat, which, naively, I didn’t expect and had no idea how long to cook it for, as we didn’t have a clue what meat it was. At that moment, a man sitting behind us starting violently throwing up onto the floor and then fell asleep (or passed out) with his head on the table. This really didn’t fill us with confidence in cooking our meal. Anyway, it was a memorable experience, especially when the waitresses bought out a plate of fruit, which spelled out “welcome hot pot” in English- how sweet of them.