The Terracotta Warriors may be visiting Melbourne but it’s only a tiny sample. Once you’ve seen all three of them; no not three hundred or three thousand, just three Terracotta Warrior statues on loan to the National Gallery of Victoria, then you’ll probably want to see the rest. However for that you’ll need to travel to Xi’an, in central China.
In Xi’an, three pits of Terracotta Warriors have been unearthed; the largest stretches 230 metres long, 62 metres wide, and is roughly 6 metres deep which houses over 6000 individual terracotta statues.
Upon entry, you’re guided to start at pit #3, which is the smallest of all the pits and showcases the excavation methods used and some of the earliest statues found.
Pit #2 is larger, and gives you an idea of the monumental task archeologists had in removing the statues. Many were broken and at first the pieces had to be laid out to figure out which parts belonged to what statues, then they had to glue them back together, wrapping them in cling wrap to hold them tight, until they had a chance to set.
Once the statues were set, they then had to be reconstructed in the order in which they were originally buried. Then multiply that thousands of times.
As you could imagine it’s been a monumental task, that is still an active archeological dig. Each year they discover more statues to add to the collection.
Besides the warrior statues there are also horses, dogs, and dozens of workers including chefs, medics and blacksmiths; all crafted from terracotta. An army requires many resources to be effective and no detail was left out from the Terracotta Warriors.
Whilst gazing upon single warriors, up close at the NGV exhibition in Melbourne is fascinating because of the detail involved––each statue features their own unique design including individual facial features, hair style, and clothing, right down to tread marks on the soles of their footwear; it pails in comparison to the original site.
In Xi’an, gazing over almost five olympic sized swimming pools filled with Terracotta Soldiers is an experience you won’t easily forget.
Also in Xi’an can you purchase a life-sized replica to ship home to put in the garden as a souvenir!
Xian is a walled city, and you can walk along the top of the wall. To traverse it’s full length takes a full day, or you can hire a bike, but a short walk from one lookout tower to the next will give you great views over the city, especially at dusk as red lanterns are lit up.
Besides the Terracotta Warriors there’s multiple museums and palaces to see, however on the grounds of a pagoda, in the Jianfu Temple, is a tree that is over 1200 years old! It’s known as the Dragon Scholar Tree and is still healthy and growing and it’s humbling and fascinating, to sit beneath the shade of a tree that has been alive throughout much of human history.
To get to the Terracotta Warriors there’s local buses (#306, #914, #915) departing multiple times daily from the central railway station in Xi’an. They’re clearly labelled in both English and Mandarin. Bus costs 5 Yuan.
There’s also a cute handy guide and map about how to get there.
Entry to the Terracotta Warriors in Xi’an is 120 Yuan (AUD25 / USD17.50 / NZD26.50 / GBP14 / EUR15.50).
Flying to Xi’an
Getting to China is much easier now, as in recent years there’s been dozens of Chinese airlines that have started up, to cater to the rising middle class.
>> Click here to find cheap flights to china, from your departure city, including stopovers and multi-city itineraries.
If you don’t book your flights before you arrive, you can use the trip.com app (or C-Trip) to book flights or trains online, using a foreign credit card.
Otherwise, here’s a few options from Melbourne direct to Xi’an:
>> Air Asia flies from Melbourne (Avalon) to Xi’an via Kuala Lumpur, currently around AUD800 return based on travel in September.
If you fly with Sichuan Airlines, you can have a stopover in Chengdu, home of the Panda Research Base Station (entry 55 Yuan) where you can see dozens of pandas from tiny babies up to full grown adults, eating bamboo and rolling about.
Even if you don’t speak Mandarin, you can easily travel around China independently, without a tour, as long as you have a guidebook, a translation app and a friendly smile.
Accommodation in China is cheap and there are dozens of options in Xi’an. I stayed at the Mahood hotel which was nice, however being closer to town would have been better. Taxi’s in China are cheap but Xi’an has a decent and easy to use Metro system.
Most travellers to China require a visa, which is easily obtainable from the Chinese consulate or visa centre. The form seems complicated, but it’s a matter of dropping your passport off paying the visa fee, and a few days later your passport will be ready to collect, along with your visa.
Google, Facebook and Instagram don’t work in China. Instead it’s WeChat, Weibo and Yahoo. If you wish to book domestic travel in China, I used the trip.com app to book flight and train tickets, and was able to use my Australian credit card. Purchase a global sim-card so you don’t have to worry about finding a local sim and it’s cheap enough for mobile internet, you won’t have to stress.
With more Chinese travellers embarking overseas, this has meant increased capacity to China for the rest of the world. Make the most of the cheap flights and see what China does best, making big things.
Lonely Planet Guidebook: China
If you plan on travelling China without a tour, then the Lonely Planet Guidebook is an essential. It provides sights, maps, fantastic eateries, important numbers like hospitals and supermarkets, most of all, it works on a plane without internet. Includes a language section and also includes free shipping.
Xinran: The Good Women of China
The Good Women of China is a collection of stories of women told to a radio host, collected over many years. They tell the stories of heartache, love, loss and family struggles during different periods of China’s unique history. It provides a fascinating insight into stories that were otherwise untold because they didn’t fit into government policy. Easy read, good book for a plane.
Edward Burman: The Terracotta Warriors
Admittedly I haven’t read this book, but it’s got a 4 star rating and it traces the discovery and excavation of the Terracotta Warriors of Xi’an. Could be useful if you want more information about them. Though there is a good snapshot in the Lonely Planet Guidebook as well.
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Search and compare cheap flights from your city to Xian
Find luxury hotels in Xi’an at discounted prices
Terracotta Warriors Official Website
Chengdu Panda Research Base
Chinese Visa Information