Having done the terrifying Plank Walk of Huashan, seen the Terracotta Warriors lined up in massive pits, and biked the entirety of the ancient wall surrounding Xi'an, you'd think that there'd be nothing left to see. That's where you're wrong because on our last day we were able to squeeze in a little more that really rounded out our amazing time in what used to be Silk Road’s eastern end.
Wrapping Up Xi'an – A Visual Journey
Tomb of Emperor Jingdi (Hanyangling)
You've probably never heard of this place and I wouldn't blame you because I only found it after doing a little research on TripAdvisor. What most people don't realize is that this idea of the afterlife lived on for dynasties beyond the Qin Dynasty. The Hanyang Mausoleum is actually a joint tomb between the fourth Emperor Jing and his queen in the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC – 24 AD).
In contrast to Emperor Qin's mausoleum (Terracotta Warriors) this is by far a much less developed excavation site. What makes it unique though is that it's the only fully underground museum in all of China. One of the advantages of being lesser known is that there are less people that go there (yay to smaller crowds).
What's most startling is the massive reduction in scale of the terracotta people and animals unearthed. The biggest “oh what that's crazy” moments came when we learned through our guide, Michael, that the reason why there seemed to be a regression in sculpture craftsmanship was the fact that Emperor Qin pretty much killed off every single craftsman that was involved in the building of his tomb to keep it a secret. In essence he pretty much set the art of clay moulding back a few hundred years and when it came to the Western Han Dynasty, it meant that they had to re-learn it all over again. That's why the figures accompanying the Emperor aren't as impressive.
Side note: The figurines weren't originally nude. They were all dressed in silk but of course that has all rotted away. They are also armless because those were made of wood instead of clay.
Yuan Jia Cun
North of the city is a village known as Yuan Jia Cun. We asked to have this included because we wanted to experience traditional culture and customs while also being mindful of the available time we had on our last day. Fitting this into the itinerary was a great choice because we got to learn from locals about long forgotten crafts and there was so much delicious foods to try.
Overnight Train Back to Shanghai
I should probably write a separate post for this but for continuity and laziness reasons, I figured I'd keep it all here since this did happen on the same day.
Overall I'll be honest in saying that the train ride back to Shanghai wasn't the greatest experience. Coming from the bullet train experience, this was a far cry away from any sort of modern comforts. Luckily we booked the soft seat sleeper car which perfectly fit our group of 4 in a room but overall everything was in desperate need of an overhaul.
The boarding process is pretty straight forward. Since we had “soft seat” tickets we were allowed to sit in a more exclusive area of the old Xi'an train station.
Lost in Translation
Some of my favourite discoveries I just had to share.
Know Before You Go
- Tomb of Emperor Jingdi
- Mar – Nov: – 8:30AM – 7PM (tickets available from 8:30AM to 5:30 PM)
- Dec – Feb: 8:30AM – 6PM (tickets available from 8:30AM to 5PM)
- 90 RMB (Mar -Nov) and 65 RMB (Dec – Feb)
- This tomb is located extremely close to the airport so this is great to schedule at the end of your time in Xi'an
- This is not a particularly big site so you can easily finish it in 1.5 hours
- Yuan Jia Cun
- I couldn't find any information about this but since this is a village with real locals living there and running the shops, it'd be open early morning to early evening.
- No admission
- There's really not a whole lot of information about Yuan Jia Cun at all but for anyone that can fit it in, I'd highly recommend it. There is a ton of food to try (especially the adventurous ones) and if you know where to go, you can see locals performing their special crafts which includes everything from spinning fabric to pressing oil and traditional print
- I'd recommend going with a guide (details of our guide Michael) because they're able to take you to all the special houses along the street that have demonstrations of traditional crafts and explain what's going on.
- Z94 soft seat (sleeper car) – 2016 RMB for 4 (504 RMB per person) + 20 RMB service charge
- Purchasing Tickets
- As a foreigner, buying train tickets in advance is more or less impossible. We tried to book tickets through Ctrip but even there we were stonewalled when they realized we weren't Chinese citizens.
- We ended up getting our guide to book the tickets for us and we simply paid him back (another incredible benefit of having a guide). I'm still amazed at the fact he trusted us enough to book it with his own money before even meeting us.
- If a local is going to purchase tickets for you, they will need scans of your passport photo page. Note that there is a 20 RMB service charge added on top.
- A great place to search for train schedules is through Travel China Guide and Ctrip.
- The total trip time from Xi'an to Shanghai is 15 hours
- Departs at 5PM and arrives in Shanghai at 8AM
- Bullet Train vs. Non Bullet Trains
- Bullet trains are of course a lot faster but they don't operate on all routes so you need to do your research beforehand.
- As far as I know there isn't a bullet train from Xi'an to Shanghai but I could be wrong.
- Bullet trains are much newer and also much more comfortable as I experienced from Luoyang to Xi'an.
- Overnight trains are going to be on the older trains from the 1980's. They're not disastrous like some of the outdated trains from the 60's that I've been on but they're not modern by any stretch.
- If you look early enough, flying may be cheaper than taking the train so never rule that out
- Having gone through this overnight train experience, I would personally recommend flying over taking the train. Next to that, I'd look at finding a bullet train that wouldn't require any overnight
- If you do end up taking an overnight, I wouldn't book it with any class less than the “Soft Seat” which simply means you have a bed in a room of 4 instead of the economy sitting seats.
- Use the bathrooms very early on in the trip because it only gets worse throughout the trip
- For meals, head to the food car early as well because the locals in Economy know that the seating there is way more comfortable so they'll end up loitering there for hours.
- Tomb of Emperor Jingdi (9-10:30AM)
- Yuan Jia Cun (with lunch/random snacking in the village)
- Overnight train to Shanghai (Z94 @ 5PM ->8AM)
If you haven't seen the rest of my journey throughout China, make sure you see the full itinerary that is packed with details about places like Mount Hua, Luoyang, Shanghai, Terracotta Warriors, Shaolin Temple, and Yuntai Mountain.