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Melbourne, Australia

We've confirmed the flight to China leaving on 16th Sept to 30th sept, arriving Beijing and exiting Shanghai. I've been quite busy looking up tour books, hotel bookings and enquiring about train rides between cities. There's a plethora of information out there on the net but who knows which sites are reputable and which ones are the scams! Right now I am trying to stick to the two sites, and also thinking about whether to fly the leg between Luoyang and Shanghai.

I've also bought the lonely planet guide book. It seems to be very useful, with many local maps where we can track down the location of the hotels we've booked and also the relative distances to the sights we want to see. I checked out the eyewitness travel guide, which contains many colourful pictures and intersting general facts, but not as detailed as the lonely planet in describing the sights.

There seems to be so many sights and so little time. We've got two weeks during the school holidays... can't wait! It'd be so exciting.

permalink written by  juliana on June 23, 2006 from Melbourne, Australia
from the travel blog: ~~china historical holiday~~
tagged Shanghai, Beijing, Luoyang, ChinaTripPlanning, Flights and Xian

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Xian Travel Guide

Xi'an, China

Xian, the eternal city, records the great changes of the Chinese nation just like a living history book. Called Chang'an in ancient times, Xian is one of the birthplaces of the ancient civilization in the Yellow River Basin area of the country. During Xian's 3,100 year development, 13 dynasties such as Western Zhou (11th century BC - 771 BC), Qin (221 BC - 206 BC), Western Han (206 BC - 24 AD) and Tang (618 - 907) placed their capitals here. So far, Xian enjoys equal fame with Athens, Cairo, and Rome as one of the four major ancient civilization capitals.

Xian is the capital of Shaanxi province, located in the southern part of the Guanzhong Plain. With the Qinling Mountains to the south and the Weihe River to the north, it is in a favorable geographical location surrounded by water and hills. It has a semi-moist monsoon climate and there is a clear distinction between the four seasons. Except the colder winter, any season is relatively suitable for traveling.

The cultural and historical significance of Xian, as well as the abundant relics and sites, help Shaanxi enjoy the laudatory title of 'Natural History Museum'. The Museum of Terra Cotta Warriors and Horses is praised as 'the eighth major miracle of the world', Mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shi Huang is listed on the World Heritage List, and the City Wall of the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644) is the largest and most intact Ming Dynasty castle in the world. In the city, there is the 3,000 years old Banpo Village Remains from the Neolithic Age (approximately from 8000 BC to 5000 BC), and the Forest of Stone Steles that holds 3,000 stone steles of different periods from the Han Dynasty to the Qing Dynasty. Around Xian, the Famen Temple enjoys the reputation of being the 'forefather of pagodas and temples in Central Shaanxi,' because it holds the finger bones of Sakyamuni -- the founder of Buddhism. The natural landscape around Xian is also marvelous Mt.Huashan one of the five best-known mountains in China, is famous for its breath-taking cliffs and its unique characteristics.

Traditional downtown Xian refers to the area encircled by the city wall, this has now been expanded to encompass the area within the second ring road (Er' huan Lu). The Bell Tower is the geographical center of Xian and the four main streets are respectively Dong Dajie, Xi Dajie, Nan Dajie and Bei Dajie which are also the main commercial streets. Xiao Zhai, the busiest commercial area is in the southern part of the city and is popular with both youths and students since many universities are located here. Shuyuan Men and the still under construction Luoma Shi are must-visit pedestrian streets in the city. Xian is also famous for its quantity of colleges throughout China. The old campuses of many colleges and universities are massed in the southern suburb of Xian, but most have established new campuses in far southern suburb - Chang'an District due to the lack of space within the city.

As tourist development grows in Xian, the hotel industry flourishes more and more. It is very easy to find a hotel in Xian, ranging from 5 star hotels to youth hostels. Of course, it will be any traveler's first choice to stay in the city center due to the superior geographical location and the convenient transportation.

Praised as 'the capital of table delicacies', Xian has been rich in the delicious Shaanxi snack, delicate Guangdong Cuisine, various kinds of fashionable foreign delicacies, and popular Sichuan Cuisine such as the hot pot. Among all the delicacies, the most famous and popular one is the Muslim Snack Street.

Xian is the most important city in northwest China, and so there are a lot of shopping outlets for locals and tourists alike. There are many big shopping centers, department stores and supermarkets in and around Xian city - the biggest and most comprehensive being Kai Yuan Shopping Mall and Century Ginwa Shopping Mall.

The night life in Xian has a unique glamour. Traditional ways include enjoying the night scenery around the Bell Tower, taking part in a Tang Dynasty Dinner Show, strolling on the ancient Big Wild Goose Pagoda Square and watching the music fountain performance. More modern and fashionable ways include singing in the KTV, hanging out in a bar, or dancing in a Disco. All in all, any experience in this ancient city will bring you fun and possibly a little surprise!

permalink written by  beijing2008 on August 20, 2008 from Xi'an, China
from the travel blog: Australia
tagged China, Xian and Tour

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Xi'an, China

As soon as we stepped off our soft sleeper train (which included bunk beds, tea and even slippers which were supposed to be one size fits all but actually were about a size 6) it was clear that Xian was a different world to Beijing. The architecture and markets fill the streets with the charm of traditional China and this picture of Chinese culture is framed within the vast city walls -apparently the last major city walls standing intact dontcha know?

We decided to make the most of our early start and got straight on a tour to see the Terracotta Warriors. They are pretty much as you would imagine them to be (amazing, bit dusty, etc...) but what I was definitely not expecting was to see Mr Wu - the old man who, in 1974, stumbled across the first of the warriors! I gave him my best Ni Hao and got a nod from the legend himself. It was clear that Mr Wu is a bit of an unofficial exhibit himself thesedays - our tour guide was not at all surprised to see him and he had his own chair, table and bucket to spit in. Why not.

We cycled round the city walls on a tandem bike (twas as gay as it sounds) and explored the Muslim quarter at night where lots of barbequed stuff gets eaten. The dumplings are the favourite street food so far. Last night, after a surreal experience of the Xian nightlife which I will come back to, I got 10 steamed dumplings off an old guy with a cart for a 10 rmb (a quid!).

Josh left for Beijing last night so I decided to go to the bar and see what was going on. Our hostel bar is the place to be, lots of locals come and get drunk here too. I ended up going out with an American guy who we'd met the night before and a local Chinese girl who was slightly in love with him, to a nightclub. This was interesting. The Chinese clubs are (from what I could tell) mostly seated and the guys order beers in BULK because it's cheaper. So imagine a club with bars running all around it, all covered with hundreds of bottles of beer. There was even a trough where you can put your beers on ice!

We decided the nightclub scene didn't suit us so we went to a strip of bars near our hostel where the usual kareoke and boybands could be heard. We ended up playing some game with marbles and singing Hey Jude with a guy who didn't know how to play it on the guitar. Good times.

The night train to Shanghai leaves at 9pm and gets there at 11am which means I had one more day to explore Xian. I headed for the popular tourist attractions (maybe I should stop doing that), the Bell Tower and the Drum Tower which are located right in the middle of the city. Guys fly strings of kites and the trees nearby are filled with fluttering tragedies, while the clunking machinery of a nearby contruction site filled the gaps between the "tongs" of the drums as tourists paid to have a go.

Infinitely more tranquil and spectacular is the Great Mosque which I stumbled across while weaving my way through the narrow antique market alleys in the Muslim Quarter. Although, perhaps inevitably, you pay an entrance fee, this is the kind of place that has the power to make people walk very slowly and speak very little.

permalink written by  steve_stamp on April 10, 2009 from Xi'an, China
from the travel blog: The art of being lost
tagged Xian

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Drowning in Humidity

Xi'an, China

I've been in Xi'an for two days now, and to tell you the truth, I don't quite know what to make of it. Getting here, however, was quite an adventure.

The train ride from Beijing to Xi'an took about 10 hours. To get to the train station in Beijing, I hopped on a taxi, which was basically a 3-wheeler motorbike with a metal box on top of it. I sat in the cage facing backward as the driver, missing two fingers and all (and few more teeth), snaked his way thru traffic, honking and cursing non-stop. I didn't know if the missing fingers had anything to do with his complete disregard for braking, but I was running behind on schedule so I didn't mind too much.

We ran into a police check point about half a mile from the station entrance (no vehicles were allowed access), and the driver tried to persuade the police officers to let us pass, and he wasn't shy about leveraging my status as a foreigner to get his way ("our brethren from America" were his exact words). It was an exercise in futility and I was happy to walk the remaining way with my 30lb backpack in 85% humidity instead of risking never been heard from again.

The scene at the train station was caotic, and I made it to the waiting room just when boarding began. I had stopped by a ticketing agency earlier in the day and planned to get a 'Soft Sleeper', but the train was completely sold out and all I could manage was a 'Soft Seat'. At first glance it looked decent; clean, comfortable and plenty of leg rooms compared to airplanes. The seating arrangement was in quartets (2 facing 2, with a table inbetween). That would prove to be a problem, however.

The train moved at a steady pace and I suspect it's to ensure a smoother ride conducive to sleeping. There wasn't much outside the window to see, so soon everyone started dozing off. I tried to sleep but my body can stay contorted for only so long, and the quartet seating took away any meaningful legrooms I was hoping to enjoy. My night was broken up into small naps and muscle spasms. Lessons learned: buy ticket early as possible and get myself a Sleeper the rest of the trip.

The first light at 5am was a welcomed sight; my first encounter with China's countryside. The train traveled along the ridge of a long gorge, with towns located down below in the narrow flat land. Cell phone signal was spotty depending on if the train happened to be traveling by a town (or village?) at that particular time. The train was an express so it whizzed by train stations without stopping.

The gov't in Beijing implemented a 'western mobilization initiative' a few years ago to develop the vast unpopulated area of the region, so it wasn't uncommon to spot huge factories and chimneys, as well as giant construction equipments. For about an hour all I saw were factories, followed by rows of undescript Soviet-era apartment buildings, huge shipping yards, then nothing. Repeat that sequence several times and you get the idea.

The train pulled into Xi'an at about 7:30am and it was quite a scene outside the station. Under the old city wall (train station is right outside of the north wall) hundreds of migrant workers camped out (without tents) waiting for their trains to go wherever they were headed (home or wherever work is waiting). I was told that they do this because they have no money for hotels and want to save a day's room/board, and yet 30 yards away the city folks in their fashionable attires and import cars presented a stark contrast to the inbalance of mildly rich and poor.

Xi'an is a city of roughly 5 million people and a popular tourist destination for both foreigners and Chinese nationals (its economy is largely built on tourism). Xi'an is where 13 dynasties called their capitals, and it's easy to see why: geographically it is surrounded by mountains and two rivers, making it easy to defend against any invaders. The soil is fertile and the area produces many precious minerals, including gold and jade, a favorite of the Chinese people.

Tired and dirty from the long train ride, I spent day one just getting acclimated in city center, and although there were plenty of old stuff around (like the Drum and Bell Towers used to signal dawn and dusk each day for over 1,000 years), they were surrounded by giant shiny shopping malls and residential buildings. It's almost as if Xi'an woke up one day and realized people actually would come to the city to see these old relics they've neglcted for years, so they put up a new coat of paint, slapped on signage, and started selling souvenirs. I checked out a few places on the guidebook, but the best part of the whole day was visiting the Muslim Quarter night market and watched how the locals spent their evenings.

The next day I headed outside of city for the Huaqing Garden, the tomb of the fist emperor of China, and ended at the Terracotta Warriors. My guide, Mr. Sun, a farmer who lives around the Terracotta Warriors, told me his family will eventually be relocated to make further excavation possible. He was not a professional tour guide but anything he could've told me I can read up on my own. I found his view of the country most interesting, such as 'South produces scholars; North produces generals' and many more. He showed very little interest in America. I guess when one hasn't even traveled outside of his own province, a country an ocean away might as well be another planet.

I got back in the city at around 5 to visit the Tang Dynasty Pagoda in the southern part of the city, distinctly newer compare to the city center. The area around the Pagoda had been designated National Heritage Preservation Site, and most of the people there were locals. There were plenty of open spaces for a casual stroll in the evening and street vendors lined the outer perimeter in nicely built stalls. Next to the Pagoda huge recreational spaces and parks were perfect hangouts for families and young lovers. People number in the hundreds were exercising by dancing in unisom to music selections ranging from hip-hop, techno, waltz, to folksongs; and smaller groups to the side doing their best DWTS imitation. This happens every night! Further west were rows of nightclubs and bars, boutqiue stores and a Universal Studio-like theme park. I decided it it was time to head back.

My impression of Xi'an is that it's like any other major cities around the world (minus the subways, which is coming soon). I am glad I can now check it off my list, just be warned that the tourist attractions are packed with people and hot/humid as hell, which made absorbing the information very difficult. Unless you are a history buff, skip the city and your sweat glands will be grateful to you.

By the way, I had to write this note 3 times, once due to power failure at the hostel, which also wiped out all of my photos. That certainly didn't help me form a favorable opinion of the city.

Next stop is Dunhuang and I am very much looking forward to it. After all, the Silk Road can't begin with Audis and BMWs aplenty on the street of Xi'an, in my opinion.

permalink written by  Chihyau on June 22, 2010 from Xi'an, China
from the travel blog: Backpacking in China
tagged China and Xian

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