I was a sort of unwilling participant on the trip to XiAn. I’d wanted - begged and demanded - to go to inner Mongolia. But at the insistence of relatives whom I haven’t seen in decades, I found myself in XiAn for a week. Maybe it was this sort of unwillingness and dissatisfaction that initially clouded my judgement and lowered expectations that made me fall in love with XiAn. Whatever the cause or the catalyst, XiAn was my favorite part of this trip to China.
A far less crowded and dense version of Bejing, XiAn has many resembles to the current Chinese capital. Indeed, the city was once the capital of the country until the Tang Dynasty. Today, XiAn is a perfectly moderate combination of ancient history, muslim culture, street food, and religious sights. As I write this post, some 1 month after I’d left the city, I remember XiAn in humble colours of red lanterns, brown bricks, and grey rooftop tiles. I recall the smoky street stalls cooking Muslim delight. I remember clear skies that followed thundershowers. I remember the smell of sweetness in the air.
My suggested itinerary for a perfect three days in XiAn:
Morning: make the 1 hr journey out of the city to see the amazing Terracotta warriers. It’s worth the trip. A UNESCO World Heritage Site displaying more than 8,000 terracotta warriors from the Qin Dynasty, many come to XiAn for this attraction alone.
Afternoon: come back into the city and spend your afternoon touring the Bell Tower & Drum Tower. Serving practical significance in the historical era, the Towers give you a glimpse into how people used to live back in the day when ringing the city bell performed the task of a clock and drums reminded people of the calendar year.
Evening: spend your evening sampling the delicious food in the Muslim District, right off of the Drum Tower. The Muslim Quarter houses more than 20,000 Hui inhabitants, a Muslim ethnic group living in China. You’ll want to go light on portions so you can eat at a few different street stalls.
Morning: you get to sleep in this morning, but make it to the Old City Wall by mid-morning to catch some performances there like the changing of the guards. Next, hike up the city wall and rent a bike so you can bike all around the wall. From the wall, you get a nice view of the city.
Afternoon: get away from the high noon weather by hiding out in the Shaanxi History Museum. There are a few hundred thousand cultural relics on exhibit here, dating all the way back to the stone age. It’s free to visit although it only allows 4,000 visitors per day.
Evening: tonight, you’ll visit the Big Wild Goose Pagoda. Constructed in the Tang Dynasty, when XiAn was the capital of China, the Pagoda is to XiAn as the Statue of Liberty is to New York City. The area around the Pagoda is home to lively entertainment and you can observe how the locals spend their evenings. Stay until 9pm to enjoy a musical water fountain show.
Today, go east and make the trip out of the city to Hushan, one of the five famous mountains in China. Huashan is known for its steep slopes. For the truly adventurous, you can walk on the wooden trail built along a mountain cliff more than 1,000 meters above ground. The 50 meter walk is all supported by wooden blanks 50 centimeters wide. Enjoy the adventure!