Xi’an, one of the first capitals of China, was our second stop during our journey through this impressive country. It has the air of a young, easy-going city compared to Beijing, with somewhat friendlier locals.

Now, why would I give you a few reasons not to visit Xi’an? Because, as I found out over the two days I spent here, this city is simply not for everyone. However, Xi’an is a treasure, with numerous surprises for those patient enough to discover what it has to offer.

1If you want to eat the same food you eat back home, over and over

Dumplings

Xi’an is the “mother” of all Chinese dumplings, with more than 44 traditional recipes. During our first dinner, we enjoyed no less than 8 types, which opened our appetite for more. It would be a shame to miss this type of experience.

Dumplings
Dumplings
Dumplings
Dumplings

2If you dislike the fusion between the modern and the traditional

One of the city gates in the Xi’an fortified wall

Does it irk you when you visit a city and you notice a fabulous ancient fortification a few meters away from skyscrapers, in a weaving of the modern with the traditional? Then Xi’an is not for you: the centre of the city is surrounded by an impressive defensive wall, built more than 6 centuries ago. Around it, as far as the eye can see, apartment buildings with tens of floors are rising, bearing witness to the continuous expansion of the city, a good chunk of it generated by the explosion of tourism around the Terracotta Army. Such panoramas are a treat for the seasoned traveller wanting to take the pulse of the modern day China.

Xi'an fortified defensive wall
Xi’an fortified defensive wall
Fusion between the old and new
Fusion between the old and new
Xi'an actively expanding, view from the fortified wall
Xi’an actively expanding, view from the fortified wall

3If you want to see and feel the famous pollution from the Chinese cities

Remember the numerous news and videos popping up on the Internet around 2016, with locals being able to see the sun only on large mounted screens in city plazas? Sucks, right? This phenomenon called pollution is a sad reality and we were directly affected by it during our stay in Beijing. Eventually, we didn’t use our breathing masks, even though we had brought the most paranoid awesome model, an M3 mask that is also used in construction works. Xi’an surprised us with fairly clean air and normal rain clouds and I feel I would be taking something away from it if I didn’t mention the calmer traffic. Our guide said we missed on some really good weather- it was sunny the day before and the clouds would go away right after our leave.

4If, for you, trying new food means trying a new type of bruschettas

Street food in Xi’an

Do you enjoy romantic and quiet restaurant dinners, with a carefully picked menu? You might have a problem in Xi’an. Did you visit all street food markets in Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia and told yourself there can’t be any more awesome markets out there? I’ll give you another chance to think about it. In the Muslim Quarter in Xi’an, we spent an entire afternoon surrounded by colour, joy, noise and various enticing aromas with as diverse people as you can imagine.

And some of the happiest I’ve seen so far! Even the most paranoid person who thinks street food is yuck, or that only the one picked from a restaurant menu is safe, can’t refrain from enjoying at least a pomegranate juice from this market.

Street food in Xi'An
Street food in Xi’an
Street food in Xi'An
Street food in Xi’an
Pomegranate in Xi'An
Pomegranate in Xi’an

5If you dislike visiting amazing temples

Mosque garden in the Xi’an Muslim Quarter

Does it feel boring, useless and time consuming this whole visiting temples thing? Go on, there’s probably a restaurant somewhere that still accepts last-moment reservations. In the Muslim Quarter in Xi’an, we came across a hidden gem – the Great Mosque of Xi’an. This oasis of peace and quiet was a godsend and an excellent break from the frantic food market and bazaar surrounding it. The entrance is just a few yuan, but once inside you understand why they call this the most beautiful mosque (and largest) in China. And another tip, a visit to the pagoda nearby the Xi’an musical fountain is a must do!

Mosque garden in the Xi'an Muslim Quarter
Mosque garden in the Xi’an Muslim Quarter
Mosque garden in the Xi'an Muslim Quarter
Mosque garden in the Xi’an Muslim Quarter
Mosque garden in the Xi'an Muslim Quarter
Mosque garden in the Xi’an Muslim Quarter
Bell Tower in Xi'An
Bell Tower in Xi’an
Drum Tower in Xi'An
Drum Tower in Xi’an
Pagoda in Xi'An
Pagoda in Xi’an

6If you always pay the asking price, without trying to negotiate

Let me guess: you are the type of person that feels embarrassed at just the thought of having to negotiate a price in the bazaar? Do you subtly extricate yourself and almost start running when you see others negotiating in the market?

Hmm, maybe you should leave me an email because I want to build an empire might have something to sell you. The locals love to negotiate! More than that, they’ll look at you with disdain and consider you unworthy to wear/use what they’re selling if you don’t at least try to negotiate.

Legend says that the negotiation should start at half the asking price. Don’t be shy! If you feel generous, start the negotiation from the 6th part of the price. They’ll probably raise their voice a bit, paint themselves as victims (What? It’s not enough. Where would be my profit? This is a ridiculous price, etc), maybe ask for even 20 yuan more just so they don’t sell to you at your price. Don’t give in! It’s harder when you start doing it, but the rule of thumb is once you settle in your mind on a price, don’t ever go over it.

My strategy:

  1. I did not show myself interested in the item, although sometimes I needed it like crazy;
  2. Begin the negotiation at a ridiculously low price, so I could negotiate towards the price that I considered the product was worth;
  3. If the seller wouldn’t budge, I would put the product back and leave – 9 times out of 10 the seller would call me back and offer the product at the price I asked.

But let’s not confuse negotiation in a bazaar in the middle of the city with the negotiation of a tea in the middle of nowhere, like the Himalayas. Use your common sense based on the situation, because, in case of the latter, you’ll see what it means to Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.

7If you don’t fancy unique monuments, unseen anywhere else in the world

A terracotta soldier modelled out of clay by an artisan

Do you remember when your city was included in the UNESCO Heritage? Yeah? Me neither. So leave your envy aside, read a few things about the Terracotta Army and head over to Xi’an. This kind of experience will teach you all there is to know about unique monuments, some probably older than the country you are coming from, that you can’t find anywhere else in the world.

Since its discovery in 1974 Xi’an’s famous terracotta army of Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China brings value to both the country and the world. The place is brim with tourists, Chinese and foreign, and you could say that the place might have become a victim of its own success through over-tourism, but the fact that you can see the soldiers “live”, in the very same spot that the emperor placed them more than two millennia ago, stays with you forever.

Here’s a little-known fun fact: the terracotta soldiers were, in their original looks, painted in various colours. However, as they are excavated, the colour quickly fades away as it comes into contact with the air.

The terracotta soldiers were initially painted in various colors, this archer still exhibits the red stripes.
The terracotta soldiers were initially painted in various colours, this archer still exhibits the red stripes.
The terracotta soldiers were initially painted in various colors, this archer still exhibits the red stripes.
The terracotta soldiers were initially painted in various colours, this archer still exhibits the red stripes.
Terracotta horses and cart. In the cart, the emperor.
Terracotta horses and cart. In the cart, the emperor.

I think the sweetest thing about this army is that the caretakers set up a terracotta soldier hospital, equipped with all kinds of scanners, treatment beds and a ton of various technologies which allow the archaeologists to study and somewhat bring back to life broken down statues, the only palpable proof of an era long gone.

Terracotta soldier "hospital"
Terracotta soldier “hospital”
Heartbroken terracotta soldier.
Heartbroken terracotta soldier.
Terracotta soldiers patiently waiting for admission in the "hospital"
Terracotta soldiers patiently waiting for admission in the “hospital”
Terracotta soldiers patiently waiting for admission in the "hospital"
Terracotta soldiers patiently waiting for admission in the “hospital”
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