One of the benefits of living in China are the numerous national holidays spread throughout the year, there are three main national holiday observations in China: Chinese New Year (at the start of the year, usually late January or early February), Spring Festival and Golden Week which takes place during autumn. In addition to the three main national holidays there are a number of one and two day holidays throughout the year, these days off make for a perfect excuse to do a bit of travelling. During the Dragon Boat Festival a couple of friends and I decided to take a trip to Shaanxi province. From Shanghai the flight is only around two hours and internal flights in China can be had for as little as £10 per person.
We flew into the provincial capital of Xi’an which is perhaps the most iconic place in Shaanxi as it was previously the capital of China and is the current location for the world famous Terracotta Warriors which were commissioned to be built by Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China, they were built to be buried with him for protection in the afterlife. Although seeing the Terracotta Army in Xi’an was one of the most amazing things I have ever set my eyes upon, what excites me more is what they ‘protect’, the tomb of Qin Shi Huang which is still yet to be excavated, but ancient writings speak of a city sized mausoleum complete with rivers of mercury flowing through it and a ceiling designed to depict the night sky using pearls for stars.
Xi’an is the oldest of the four ancient great capitals of China and was home to the Zhou, Qin, Han, Sui and Tang dynasties – as such, Xi’an is one of the most culturally significant places in China.
Whether you flick through guidebooks or browse the internet for things to do i Xi’an you’re going to keep coming up with the same attractions and perhaps it’s going to be pretty much the same here but hopefully I can provide a bit more insight into the foods to eat when you’re in Xi’an and something a little more adventurous to do.
1. Terracotta Warriors, as previously stated these were created during the Qin dynasty with the sole purpose of being buried with the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang. These Terracotta Warriors were only discovered fairly recently in 1974 when farmers were digging in the fields and even to this day the whole army has still not been unearthed. This is something the world sees as being one of the most awe inspiring things to be produced by ancient civilisations and I have to agree, it’s pretty damn impressive to see it first hand.
2. Muslim Quarter – I find that the muslim quarter of Xi’an is perhaps the most authentic part of the city. Nestled within the walled part of Xi’an (the old part), the buildings are old, the streets are bustling and you’ll find some of the best food not only in Xi’an but also the whole of China, some of the dishes to come out of Shaanxi are some of China’s favourites.
Look out for Pao Mo (pronounced pow more), this is a rich lamb broth packed full of pieces of chewy ‘mo’ bread, on top you will find tender slices of perfectly cooked lean lamb. Rou Jian Mo is my second favourite food to come out of Shaanxi province, also known as the ‘Chinese hamburger’ due to their resemblance of the western hamburger (although the Chinese hamburger probably came first). Small mo bread rolls are sliced open and filled with pulled or shredded lamb meat and seasoned with spices such as anise and cumin, the meat is mixed with corriander and packed into into the mo bread – these are super delicious and they’re one of my favourite foods in the world. The third recommendation is for a dish called ‘la mian’, in English this is hand pulled noodles, this is a specialty to come out of the western parts of China mainly Xi’an and Xinjiang, these really long, hand stretched noodles are as delicious as the process to make them is impressive, I used to watch the guys in my local place make these almost every day, I particularly used to like the la mian with egg and vegetables (Ji dan qiao la mian).
3. Biking around the city wall, now this is something that we didn’t do, we were rushed on time and thought perhaps it was something we could do without but I have heard a good few people recommending this as one of their favourite things to do in Xi’an. As previously mentioned Xi’an is a walled city and you can walk or cycle around the perimeter of the wall which to this day encapsulates the ancient part of the city. If you do this you will be able to see a number of the fortifications around the city.
4. Bell and Drum Towers – this is something that you won’t be able to miss, they’re both pretty much in the centre of the old city and are the most prominant and well known features of Xi’an. I’ve not got much to say about these other than they look pretty sweet and are well worth a visit, I am pretty sure the bell tower has it’s own metro station.
5. Now, this is something that a lot of people may neglect but I assure you it is well worth the visit, and that it taking a two day trip to Mount Hua (Hua Shan), literally translating to flower mountain. This is one of China’s sacred mountains and the hike to the top isn’t for the faint hearted. If you do it without taking any cable cars then expect the climb to the top to take a minimum of three hours or if you are like us and had to take our 12kg backpacks with us then expect it to take a bit longer. The hike isn’t technical by any means but there are very few low gradient slopes and an unfathomable number of steep stone stops leading to the peak. On our hike to the top the rain was unrelenting forming flowing water that poured over each of staircases turning them into mini waterfalls, but to be honest this all just made the hike even more enjoyable for us.
As you can see from the pictures above the conditions on our hike were not the best and as such some of the walkways at the top were closed, these walkways are made out of nothing but planks of wood fixed to the cliff face, you are harnessed in but it still looks like it would give you a severe case of sweaty palms. The harnesses are a new addition since a number of people in the past have fallen to their deaths. I would love to go back and walk along these walkways, especially now that it is a lot safer.
Hope you’ve enjoyed this post, we’re now in very hot and humid Bali.