Trip to China - March
Going to Xi’an by train
Time went fast in Beijing and all of a sudden we had reached Saturday March 22nd. We had decided to take the train to get to our destination and we bought our train tickets at the hotel for 417 RMB each (+ 40 RMB fee to the hotel). There are several trains going to Xi’an each day and we went for a train that departed at about 5.15 PM. The train went from the western train station and even though the train station is big it was quite easy to get around. Once you get in there is a big board announcing the departure times and destinations and from here you go to a waiting hall. In the waiting area the departing trains were announced in both Chinese and English.
The train itself was OK. We had bought tickets for a soft sleeper and we shared our little cabin with two Chinese ladies. The toilet and wash room were decent and boiled water was also available if we wanted to make tea or make a noodle dinner :-) But even if we hadn’t brought anything along we wouldn’t have starved. From time to time someone would walk by selling hot food, snacks, drinks and so on. I always get bored on trains and this time was no different. To start with it was nice to just look out the window and see a bit of the ”real” China. It looked like the living standard was considerably lower once we got out of the city compared to Beijing itself. We could see children play around on the dirt roads, people working the soil with simple tools, cattle being kept near the houses, people looking after sheep and so on. But soon it got dark and there was not much to do on the train apart from reading.
Hanging in the passage on the train I found a little book in Chinese and I looked at it a little bit. A man walked past me and he asked me if I knew what it was and I said no. He told me that this was the book where you could give feedback to the train company about the service on board and so on. But in the end he also added that he didn’t see the point of using it because they didn’t take the advice anyway :-)
It seems like the authorities likes to keep an eye on the movement of people because we had to present our passports on board the train and information was scribbled into a record book – the same was true for all the other passengers. I’m wondering if this is being used for something or are they just doing it due to old habits.
Arriving in Xi’an
We booked the hotel using www.planetholiday.com by the way. When we first made our booking we wanted to stay at the Bell Tower Hotel but this was fully booked so we switched to Xi’an hotel. I’m not sure that the room was worth the $65 but you can read more details about the hotel itself here.
The Terracotta Warriors
Our guide Susan spoke very good English and gave us quite a lot of information. But she did not seem very keen on answering questions…I’m not sure why. Our tour started at the Big Wild Goose Pagoda but frankly we didn’t really enjoy it that much. It might have something to do with the fact that I was starving (my breakfast that day turned out to be a Coke and some Oreo’s :-) and we were pretty tired after the train ride. After about ½ hour we moved on to the Banpo Museum. On this site they found the remains of a 6000 year old village when they were planning to build a power plant. The power plant was moved and they built a museum around the archaeological site where the primitive tools and household utensils were found. From there we moved on to a terra-cotta factory where we got some more information in the process of making things in terra-cotta. They did of course have stuff for sale there and we bought 4 little warriors. The price was 140 RMB (a very special price since it was Sunday :-). We got back in the mini bus again and this time we drove of to the Huaqing Hot Springs which is a former resort area for the emperors and the royal family. It was a sunny day and walking around the little Nine-Dragon Pool was really nice. Nikki was particularly thrilled to see that the trees were in blossom because it is a sign of spring’s onset and that the summer is near. But we were soon yanked back to reality when we saw that the flowers on the trees were fake!! Lunch was included in this tour package and soon we headed of to a place near by to get some lunch. The most interesting dish was sweet potatoes covered in caramel. I have never tried that combination before.
After lunch it was finally time to go to see the Terracotta Warriors. The Terracotta Warriors were found by accident in 1974 when some peasants were digging a well. It soon turned out that they had found a real treasure. The army of Terracotta Warriors was built to protect the tomb of Emperor Qing. Today there are 3 pits that have been excavated and pit 1 is the largest one with its 6000 soldiers. Unfortunately, a general went berserk here at one time and smashed up most of the warriors and took their weapons. The archaeologists have done a great job puzzling the warriors back together and the result is quite amazing. The first place we went into was pit 1 – with an interior of 210 meter by 68 meter it is like a ”hangar”. Not all of them have been reassembled yet but it is still an amazing sight. You don’t get to come too near them as you are lead around the edges of the building but it is still an awesome sight.
From there we walked through pit number 3 which is really small compared to pit 1. This is the headquarters for the army itself. And from here we moved into pit 2 which is something like half the size of pit 1. They are still working on the excavation in here so some areas are covered with tarp and lit with floodlights. Some of the warriors found intact have been placed in glass display cases so you can get really close and look at all the details. They say that all the warriors have a unique face. We also stopped by the exhibition hall to take a look at the magnificent bronze chariots that has been found here.
To get back to the tour bus we had to walk about 100 meters. On our way out we experienced a throng of locals literally in our faces trying to sell us stuff. It was more or less like seeing a pop star trying to break through a crowd of fans :-) And they were all selling small terra-cotta warriors for … 5 RMB. Maybe the expensive ones we bought were of better quality but I have my doubts. They looked more or less the same and they also came in similar boxes. I guess we will never know but we felt that we could have maybe gotten some advice from our tour guide Susan. After all she was right there when we bought the stuff at the factory :-). There is a lot of information on the net about the warriors. Here is one page.
Leaving Xi’an by plane
The airport in Xi’an is not that big and checking in was pretty fast. Nikki had forgotten her Swiss army knife in her bag so that was taken from her when going through the safety check. We were more ”worried” about the quality of the plane because people have mentioned that the standard is not that high. But we had nothing to worry about because our plane was a fairly new Airbus 320 (bought from Swissair maybe). On the 2 hour flight to Shenzhen we got a meal and some drinks and it was a very comfortable trip.
Arriving in Shenzhen - and going to Hong Kong
After filling out a departure card we got on board the TurboJet boat. For Norwegians this will be a pretty common sight because the boat is like most fast boats that traffic Norwegian fjords. The only thing that disappointed me was that I could not go outside to take a look at HK as we were approaching it. The boat trip only takes about 1 hour and the boat docked at the Ocean terminal/Harbour City. Arriving here is almost like arriving at an airport: you have to go through immigration and then you pick up your suitcase to go through customs.
The Ocean terminal is more or less in the heart of Kowloon so the taxi trip to Kowloon hotel only took like 5 minutes. The Kowloon hotel was booked once again by using www.planetholiday.com. It was nice to come to the hotel by the way. All of a sudden we had access to news again so that we could see what had happened in the Iraq war. If you want more information about the hotel please press here. In short the hotel is nice, the location is great (Tsim Sha Tsui) but the rooms are kinda small.
The first thing we did was to take a walk along Nathan road. It is quite amazing to see how many neon boards it is possible to put up in one street *grin* The street looked very different in daylight by the way. One thing that is quite annoying is the people that are constantly offering you fake watches and tailor services. I kept trying new methods to avoid them but I ended up saying ”no thanks” quite a lot.
Walking around in Hong Kong
We tried to go to Hong Kong space museum on the first day but it is closed on Tuesdays so we decided to just walk around that day. We took the subway from Kowloon over to HK Island and we picked up some brochures from the Hong Kong Tourist Board at The Centre. Walking around in the streets on the HK Island is pretty fascinating. It is a strange combination between new and old. Here you’ll find modern concrete buildings next to a meat or live fish market. Another thing that amazed me was the use of bamboo as scaffolding material. I have seen it in movies but I didn’t really think much about it. But bamboo is still being used to put up scaffolding on pretty tall buildings. It seems like the city wakes up pretty late but I can understand it because everything seems to be open late at night.
How to get around in HK
HK space museum and science museum
Temple street market
It was great to walk through the Atoll Reef and the shark aquarium in marine land. In the Atoll reef you start at the top and you work your way down. According to the website there are more than 2000 fish in this aquarium. And they range from tiny small fish to a 7 feet long grouper. And in the shark aquarium you go through a tunnel were you can take a pretty close look at the 70 sharks that swim around. It is pretty interesting to get this close to the shark :-)
And the roller coaster The Dragon was not great but it had some pretty nice loops. The park layout is a bit strange by the way because you have to take a cable car to get from one section of the park to another (from Lowland Gardens to Headland Rides). But hey, it didn’t really matter much because this was more or less just like a ride :-) The view was great from the little cable car gondola. In the Lowland gardens we finally got to see a giant Panda by the way. While we were in Beijing we were thinking about going to the zoo. But we had read some negative things about it so we decided to skip it. But at the Ocean Park we got to see it in the giant Panda habitat. Another cool attraction in the Lowland gardens is the dinosaur walk and the butterfly house. I’m not used to big butterflies from back home so it was nice to walk through the butterfly house and look at ”giant” butterflies. If you stand really still you’ll even experience that they come and land on you…I think that the trick is wearing bright colours :-)
Time to go home
Xi'an was just a stop on the way for us and we got what we came for: the Terracotta Warriors. Even though we went through quite a lot to see the warriors I still think that it was worth it. It is quite amazing to see what humans can achieve if they have the power and money to do something.
Hong Kong was a bit disappointing in my opinion. Or maybe disappointing is not the right word…but I didn’t enjoy HK as much as I thought I would. First of all I was not feeling well during our stay in HK after I caught some sort of cold in China. And hence I was not really feeling up to anything. And while we were there, there were more and more talk about the SARS virus and people started wearing face masks. Of course we started to worry a little bit if it was safe to move around in the city. And last but not least I think that I had too high expectations for the city itself. I have read and seen so much from this city but when we came there we didn’t really think that the city had that much to offer.
So when did I say ”Yes, this is truly China”? I guess it could have been said when seeing Chinese people doing their exercise in the parks in the morning … or when seeing people walking around with the big cups of green tea on different attractions in Beijing. But I think that I would have to go for the Great Wall. Since I was a child I have read about it and seen pictures of it. So when I finally got to climb it, it was just an amazing experience.
China is a big country and we only got to see a little bit of it. But I think that we experienced quite a lot and I hope that you have gotten some useful information by reading it. Get in touch on firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions.