Friday, February 26, 2010

Xi'an: Silk Road's Eastern Terminus

There's more to Xi'an than the Terracotta Warriors. As the eastern terminus of the Silk Road, it keeps a lot of surprises up its sleeve - waiting to be unravelled. This, we discovered on our first day in the city.

Kebabs and Arabic bread sold on the streets of the Muslim Quarter.

Xi'an by the way is the capital of Shaanxi. Shaanxi Province is part of Northwest China, though on the map it looks like it's somewhat in the middle of the country.

The moment we hopped off the Beiing-Xi'an train, a Chinese guy in a suit approached us and offered a hotel. Shervin dealt with the tout while I dreamily watched the falling snow. The guy walked with us until we exited the station and handed us over to a fellow Chinese, a lady this time. I didn't pay attention to their conversation because I was contemplating the whole time whether to dig out my SLR or not. Well, I opted not to. I thought it was risky, it might just get wet from the snow.

I asked Shervin what was going on and he said that the guy was also trying to sell us plane tickets to Guangzhou (it was our next destination). He said that flights are very cheap during winter. The lady will be helping us inquire about the train schedule and fare at the counter (so we can compare the prices). The train ticket, at ¥430 still turned out to be a bit cheaper. Sure the plane will take us to Guangzhou faster (as opposed to a 27-hour trip!), but that means we'd need to check in a hostel to spend the night instead of sleeping in our train cabin.

We politely declined the plane tickets, but we agreed to book the accommodation they suggested. I asked if hotel pick up is included and she nodded.

Foggy morning, post-snow. Following our 'hotel pick-up''.

The three of us crossed the parking lot in front of the train station. We continued walking toward a busy bus stop. She motioned us to get on a bus. Great. Our hotel pick up was her and that bus. She swiped her smart card three times (at least she paid for our fare!) and sat behind the driver. Our bus looked like it can get sardine-packed at rush hour. It only had one row of seats on the left and another on the right. Plenty of standing room, it can even be converted to a dance floor!

Even in slow traffic, we arrived at our designated stop in less than 20 minutes. We walked for about a few meters and finally reached the Bell Tower Youth Hostel. A double bed/twin room costs ¥160, triple ¥220, and dorms at about ¥50 per person (prices are higher at peak season).

We chose the double bed room. For the first time, we were willing to pay more because it was our honeymoon. A great excuse for splurging.

And what a room it was!

Okay, maybe it ain't that special. But believe me, for uber cheapskate backpackers like us, we define it as luxury. The room comes with TV, (drinkable) water heater, complimentary tea, hot shower of course, shampoo, toothbrush, shower cap, the works.

The best part, an unobstructed view of the Bell Tower just outside our window! We loved our room so much we decided to rest for a while and check out the cable channels before walking around Xi'an metro.

Muslim Quarter and the Great Mosque coming up next.

Bell Tower Youth Hostel
www.xianhostel.con (in Chinese characters though)
3rd Floor Post Office Building, 1 Bei Dajie
Just across the Bell Tower roundabout.

To get there: Xi'an's train station is outside the northern city wall. If you don't have a hotel pick up, the bus stop is in front of the parking lot of the station, take bus 603 ¥2. Make sure you got the exact amount before getting on, you insert your money in a box beside the driver, you will not be given any change.

Xi'an taxis are painted green. Flag-down rate is ¥6 for the first 2 kilometers and ¥1.5 for every kilometer further.

If you're coming from the airport. Ask for the shuttle, ¥25 to the city (Xian Xianyang International Airport is about 40km away) 1 hour max.


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Manlalakbay said...
March 20, 2010 at 2:08 PM

napanood ko ang terracotta warriors sa natgeo. i am looking forward to the blog. natawa ako sa hotel pick up nyo. onga naman buti binayaran nya pamasahe. hehe.

pinoy boy journals said...
March 20, 2010 at 9:41 PM

the hotel looks very comfortable plus i like the style, very basic but very neat looking! how did you hold up with the freezing cold?

Happy Trails said...
March 21, 2010 at 4:06 AM

wow not the usual touristy place to explore, nice feature of Xi'an. I am very fascinated with Silk Road, particularly in Kashgar. looking forward to more silk road posts =) oh do take care on the road =)

☮Pinay Travel Junkie☮ said...
March 21, 2010 at 12:49 PM

Jerik, I was not feeling too cold any more in Xi'an, probably cause I was already getting used to the temperature. So long as it ain't windy, I'll get by.

☮Pinay Travel Junkie☮ said...
March 21, 2010 at 12:57 PM

Ooohh... Kashgar! Me likey also, Happy Trails! Now that's a place that sees even less tourists. I dream of crossing the Karakoram highway (tough luck).

Thanks for dropping by, more Xi'an posts soon :)

JODYxBUFFY said...
March 30, 2010 at 11:03 PM

Anyone aspiring to travel the Silk Road should take the Southern Route. This will take you DEEP into the Uyghur culture. I found the Friday night market at Hetian to be much more appealing than the Sunday market at Kashgar (less touristy, authentic stalls, etc.).

JODYxBUFFY said...
March 30, 2010 at 11:09 PM

While you were in X'ian, did you happen to visit the Silk Road Memorial (a small park with statues of a camel train). During my backpack trek through the Silk Road, a number of Chinese that I had spoken to do not revere the Silk Road as deeply as the Westerners. They told me that the Silk Road was much more beneficial to the Western traders than the Chinese traders; i.e., the Chinese gained little but the West certainly gained alot. Interesting viewpoint, no?

☮Pinay Travel Junkie☮ said...
March 31, 2010 at 2:00 PM

Sadly, we did not have time any more to visit the memorial park. And yeah, the Chinese may have gained little from the trade but they may be getting a lot of benefits today too just by being a part of the ancient Silk Road - tourism wise. Kashgar and Xi'an sounds interesting (at least for me) because their culture 'seems' more diverse than in other parts of China.

JODYxBUFFY said...
April 8, 2010 at 1:54 PM

That is a good point. The Chinese do profit from Silk Road tourism. In regard to the diversity of Kashgar and the Xinjiang Autonomous Region, they are certainly the most uncharacteristically Chinese. I found it that part of China to be the most fascinating for me. Some of the young Chinese students, after I had told them that I was heading westward toward Xinjiang, looked at me with surprise and asked why I wanted to go to the desert, that there was nothing there of interest. How wrong they are...

☮Pinay Travel Junkie☮ said...
April 8, 2010 at 4:25 PM

So true! I really hope I can visit Xinjiang also. Perhaps young Chinese students today are just interested in other things. Shopping and partying maybe?

Thanks so much for the insights you've shared!

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