Lonely Planet insists that the two important things to do in Xi’an are the Terracotta warriors and the Tomb of Emporer Jingdi, which is left off of many tour group itineraries because it’s somewhat inconvenient to get to. I don’t generally ignore their advice and the best tip for getting there is to do it as you enter or depart Xi’an because it’s only 10 minutes from the airport.
And we’ll be near the airport today because we Xi’an on our way to the third city on our China trip, the Gobi desert oasis of Dunhuang. But first we have a sick kid to take care of.
Is it a scam?
Emma still has a fever and a headache today. We decide to start her on a course of antibiotics to be safe. There is a course of Zithromax for each of us in our medical kit and I’m glad we have it. She eats a little bit and seems okay generally, just fatigued.
I’m rolling the luggage down the hall and pass by the travel/business center. Our driver is waiting there with one of the hotel guards and a manager. They all wave me over excitedly in Chinese. But I need to check-out and get the bags downstairs first.
We pay for the hotel, it was about $75 a night and there were no surprises on the bill. Again the guard and the driver seem impatient about something and I try to understand what they are saying. It seems the driver wants money up front for the tickets to the tomb – 480 Yuen ($80). But it seems high to me. According to my guide book it shouldn’t be more than $40 with the kid discounts. Is it a scam? I don’t know, but I keep my money and will buy the tickets myself.
With a language barrier so huge, it’s impossible to know the real prices and costs. There are little scams and tricks everywhere. But who knows? Even on tours, there are gimmicks and deals, it’s not just the independant traveler.
In complete contrast with Qin Shi Huang (the first emporer of China that did the Terracotta warriors.) Emporer Jingdi has a glowing reputation. He was greatly influenced by taoism, and advocated ‘non-interference’ from government.
He lowered taxes, which boosted the economy, reduced the military and increased diplomacy and moderated the penal system’s harsh punishments. If true, this is a very enlightened guy for 150BC.
Unlike all the other places in Xi’an, this museum does not seem to be swarmed by touts and sellers. There is just one woman selling cokes and ice cream which makes it a more pleasant experience. Of course with a monopoly, her prices are double the normal tourist rate – $3.50 for a coke, which is about 10 times the price you can get it for in a store.
I buy the tickets which are cheaper as I thought they would be, and again elect to get a guide, which makes Lily cry again. (Really Lily? Are you going to need years of adult therapy because we got one bad guide in Luxor, Egypt?)
But it’s Emma that needs the attention. I carry her as much as I can. She is light for a kid about to go into Middle School, and I hoist her up on my shoulders so she doesn’t have to walk in the heat, which is already 100 in the morning.
The tomb doesn’t look like much from the outside, just a big hill, but inside are fabulous treasures and examples of life in ancient China. Jingdi decided he didn’t need things to be lifesize, but he also wanted a lot more than just a terracotta army. There are massive pits of excavated pottery representations of daily life, including food, tools and entertainment.
The miniature army is still standing up because grave robbers left a hole in the tomb, which allowed water to rain in, which in turn filled some of the pits with mud. This ‘froze’ the pits in exactly the position it was left 2,200 years ago. Pretty cool.
Trolling the guide
There are eunuchs and concubines. Emma wants to know what a eunuch is, and I mistakenly explain that it was a man that had his penis cut off. Our guide corrects me loudly “No, No, No! BALLS BALLS BALLS” she shouts in a Chinese accent. “What did you say?” I ask impishly only because I want her to say it again. “BALLS, they cut off the BALLS” Heh heh. A few English tourists chuckle.
She did mention something about the Eunichs being castrated so they wouldn’t have affairs with the concubines, which seems effective I guess.
This is one of those museums, where the presentation is as good as the material. The main burial pits are covered in glass and you can walk over them to get a close up view. It’s a fantastic way to curate an on-going archeological dig, and the kids like it a lot. It’s spooky too, which adds to the effect.
It’s lit up like a Star Trek set, with bright red lights everywhere. Emma gets very engaged and seems to have forgottent that she is sick. She’s glad we did it, and I’m appreciative that she toughed it out for this. This was a highlight of Xi’an for us.
With some relief, we are off to the airport to leave Xi’an. We’re glad we went, but I don’t think we will be back. The tombs are fantastic but one only needs to see them once in a lifetime. Otherwise we thoght Xi’an was tough to navigate and a little expensive. Maybe there is a better way to do Xi’an, but I ‘m not sure what it would be.
Xi’an gets us one more time as we leave. Two Cappucino’s and a gatorade are $30! Sigh. This is the flight that was cancelled and resheduled. Travelzen.com called me a few days ago and said to purchase the new tickets and they would ‘apply’ for the refund. And as they promised, I was refunded the money today! I’ve been very impressed with the domestic Chinese airlines so far.
Over the course of the trip, we’ll be taking almost 20 flights. This is number six, and we are going to the Gobi desert city of Dunhuang in the Gansu province of North Western China. It was a major stop on the ancient Silk Road and has some amazing things to do. We are very excited.
We’re even more excited when we get of the plane and it’s cool and dry! After the 101% humidity of Yangshuo and the 101 degree heat of Xi’an, we are ready for some better weather.
It’s a small airport and we get outside quickly. There is a bude to town, but we prefer the taxt of course and try to negotiate a fare. He says 60 and I couter 40, but he doesn’t budge and walks away. He might be the only cab driver here,as far as I can tell. The trip advisor forum china gurus say that you can negotiate for anything, but I have not had nearly as much luck negotiating as they imply I should.
‘Hao de’ I concede (‘okay’) and he says ‘Hao de’ back. The drive is short and we’re surprised at the lack of traffic compared to the other cities. Trucks with oranges drive toward the town from the outskirts. There appear to be grapes growing here too, or something that looks an auful lot like vineyards.
A desert fortress is our home
Rising up from the flat desert is a huge building (pictured at top), which, as we approach looks like a desert fortress. It’s the Silk Road Dunhuang, our hotel for the next 3 nights. I had a little bit of luck getting this hotel. They told me by email that they were full, but I was gently persistent and they figured out a way to get us 3 nights in a double with and extra bed. (Sorry girls, I know you like your own bed, but you’re small and it saves us a lot of money. Plus you two are really cute when you sleep together)
It’s not opulent (nor do we want it to be) but it’s tastefully done with wood and oriental rugs everywhere. A manager comes to greet us and in pretty good english, talks to us about our itinerary for the next two days. She suggests exacctly the sights and activities I wanted to do, and offers the hotel van with water, a driver that speaks a little english and some snacks for 1400 Yuen ($230) for both days.
Again it seems non-negotiable, but she helpfully says that we could do a taxi on our own for maybe 800, a $100 dollar difference. It’s tough to decide, but I go for the hotel van, which I hope is more comfortable and requires less hassle with arrangements. (Altough I second guess myself a few times, it later turns out to be the right choice.)
We go into the little town for diner and eat at ‘Charlie Jhong’s Cafe’ a famous old school backpacker spot that sells a variety of Chinese-simulated western dishes and a decent Chinese menu. The walls are covered in maps and handwirtten options for special trips. This is the place I emailed a few months ago about overnight desert camping trips but we opted to skip it since we did one in the Saraha that was so beautiful we could only be dissapointed with a second attempt.
The kids go to bed after dinner. Emma says she is feeling a lot better, and her temp is back to normal without any tylenol. Yay! We pass byu a huge sign that says “Foot Massage Massage” and I sign Trish and I up for $15 dollar foot massages, which they can do immediately.
I get a good green tea and we have some of the best massages we’ve ever had – for $15 each. I’ve been having trouble with myh back – numb ness and pain down my left arm, so I go for a full body from a woman named Leila that has the most incredible hands.
China is good.