Xian, China: Guided Tour of the Terracotta Warriors

A dozen out of thousands

Trip Taken: 2008

One of the first things that needed to be done when we arrived in Xian was to get signed up for a tour of the Terracotta Warriors. Since we were too late for the tour on the first day of our trip. We signed up for the tour for the following day. There wasn’t much to it. We didn’t want to try to get to the Terracotta Soldiers by ourselves. Plus, the staff at the front desk of Backpax seemed very nice. It always helps to have nice service in order to sell me on something.

The day starts off with an early morning wake up call. The tour starts at 7am and we have to be ready before that time. We probably woke half of the people in our dorm room, but you really don’t mind those things that much. You try to make as little noise as possible, but having different wake up times is one of the hazards of sharing a hostel room with other travelers. Breakfast consisted of bread, butter, and jam. I had some warm tea to go with my bread. We met our other tour-mates and our guide came right at 7am.

Banpo Neolithic Village

Small entrance for neolithic man.

When we got to our first stop, I had no idea where the hell we were. Banpo Neolithic Village? That was part of the tour? This is a note to all others who are going to go on a guided tour in China. Know what the tour entails. This is an oversight on my part, but it was another tourist stop. I thought we were only going to see the Terracotta soldiers.

From what I remember of the explanation our tour guide gave, this is an archaeological site of ancient Chinese man. Supposedly, they were made these villages and had little straw huts. They must have been extremely small humans as the entrances to their homes were ridiculously small. Only children could have fit into them. On the site, all you see are the holes where the huts would have been. The straw and wood have already decomposed. It is kind of a wonder that this site has not been ravaged by centuries of war.

I walked around for a bit with the group and then wandered off to see the sights of the… souvenir shop! Of course, it’s the same tired knick knacks of terracotta warrior paperweights and panda key chains. Nothing at all to do with the Banpo site. I bought an ice cream bar on the cheap, after haggling with the vendor, and waited until everyone was ready for the next stop.

Terracotta Souvenir Warehouse

Kodak moment, China-style!

Kodak moment, China-style!

Because of the proximity of Banpo to the souvenir warehouse that was part of the tour, we went their next. I was a little miffed because I thought that since we were on an English-speaking tour that we wouldn’t be bombarded with commission stops. Our tour guide was actually very nice, but I didn’t feel like buying a five-foot tall statue. The process is pretty cool and it “looks” like they are all hand made. However, there were hardly any workers there except for the dozen women making silk rugs. That was suspicious to me. The authenticity of everything except the rugs were suspect.

It is cool little tour nonetheless and I would have bought a rug if they were any cheaper. A woman actually just finished a rug and put it up for a sale. I can’t remember the price but it was too expensive for my budget.

Army of Terracotta Warriors

The less photographed dig 2 site

Finally! On to the pièce de résistance of this tour. The terracotta warriors. Alas, the dig site is actually an hour outside of Xian city proper. D’oh! I think I turned on my ipod and played with my DS for the very first part of the journey there. I probably slept the rest of the way there. We had an early wake up call and I was beat. Traveling is tiring.

There were two dig major sites and some minor exhibitions at this landmark. The most impressive is definitely dig 1. There are thousands of soldiers lined up. It was definitely a Neo moment where you say ‘Whoa’. This last the 15 minutes you spend going around the dig site and then all the awe is gone. The second dig site is a little bit more interesting as you can see that there was some structures that were suppose to go along with these soldiers. You take some pictures and again you wonder how something like this can survive the ravages of war.

The original farmer who found the warriors also has a book in the bookstore. From what I gather, he is there everyday to sign photographs. If you buy his book he will sign it. However, you can’t see him unless you buy the book. I hope he gets a pretty penny from all this autographing. From what I know, you haven’t really made it if you are still working.

Chinese Food

After the tour of the dig sites and pushing pass elderly grandmothers trying to sell you knick-knacks (probably just trying to feed themselves), we were led to a secluded restaurant outside of the gates. The restaurant was in what looked like a vacant strip mall. There were store fronts with no stores.

The restaurant was on the second floor and of course we were led past a gift shop before getting to our actual seats. The food was actually decent for food you get on a tour and it was buffet style. There were cold dishes you don’t normally get and actual dessert. On other tours in china I have been on, there is rice some sort of stir-fried vegetable and chicken/pork that is more bone than meat. We also had a choice between soda, tea, and coffee. Now, I wouldn’t say it was a restaurant meal I would return to but it was definitely a step above any corner restaurant near my apartment in Beijing.

After our lunch, we were sent back to the hostel and I decided to go see more of the Muslim quarter. It was a nice enough afternoon before it was time for dinner again. Dinner on this night was probably the most decadent of the trip. We asked the front desk for a really good Chinese restaurant and they led us to a restaurant that is across the South street on the other side of the hostel. Too bad I didn’t bring my camera for this trip but we had some awesome duck, spicy chicken, and deep-fried shrimp. Food was pretty cheap too from what I remember. It’s always a good idea to ask the front desk for recommendations. Especially, when it comes to food or neighborhood cafes.

Parting Words

One of the expectations of a guided tour in China, and most elsewhere in Asia, is that they will take you to places to buy souvenirs. The tour guides make a commission off of everything you buy. Some of the stuff isn’t terribly expensive and usually they will give you a good price. Just don’t expect that replica of a terracotta warrior to be made out of clay. If you’re going to throw down a lot of money, then you had better do your research.

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About the Author

John is always trying to find his way back to the road. He has an affinity for Germany due to his three years studying German at Cal, and a year working as an intern in the Stuttgart area. He also likes chocolate cake and good cheese.