I’ve just spent 3 days in Xian, and now I’m in Chongqing. 3 of us got the train from Chengdu to Xian last Saturday, and naturally it was a stressful start as we’d been out the night before and took time saying goodbyes to the others in the morning. Once we were on the train, we all had top bunks- there 6 beds in each cabin with less room on each bunk. We couldn’t even sit upright on the top bunk but on the plus side we were on the same level as all the luggage so it was easier to get to our stuff, I guess…
We went for dinner which was good and at the time passed some amazing views through the mountains. I feel like Chinese trains use much nicer routes than ours 😦 We were walking back to our cabin when a group of Chinese called us over to sit with them. They were all English teachers so we chatted with them for a while whilst having our photos taken as if it were an interview. The journey wasn’t too bad I guess, but I was happy to get off when we arrived in Xian at 5.40am.
We bundled into a taxi van with all our stuff to the hostel, but we were massively overcharged and this seemed to be a running theme for the rest of our time there. The hostel we stayed at was really nice, on the 4th floor and felt more like a hotel. But some of the staff were a bit moody and didn’t seem overly impressed with us. We had to wait in the common area until 7.30am before the reception opened which was fine, but then we had to wait another 7 hours before we could check in as the beds weren’t free yet- however they didn’t come to tell us when the beds were actually free, we had to go back and ask. To make matters worse they told us we could watch a film but then changed their minds 😦 So we had no choice but to sit there with all our stuff for 7 hours, feeling grubby and disgusting after 17 hours on a train.
Later that day we met Chris and Tony and headed into town to see what was around. We saw the Bell and Drum towers, then visited the Muslim Quarters which was filled with row upon row of tiny stalls selling the weird and wonderful, from jewellery and homeware to Saddam Hussein playing cards and ‘Oba Mao’ t-shirts. We passed a fish pedicure shops and decided to get one as we’d never had it done before. The staff filmed us as we were all screaming, it was such a weird feeling- and before long the shop was filled with other screaming foreigners, with the locals stood outside watching us as if we were some bizzare circus act.
On Tuesday we left the hostel around 9am to visit the Terracotta Army. Although the staff wrote down the address for us, the taxi driver (who we only got after half an hour of waiting) got lost and stopped at a random hotel for help. I tried to help as well but it was all so confusing but in the end we eventually agreed on where it was and how much we’d pay. I don’t understand how he didn’t know, it’s basically what Xian is famous for! We got there around 11am and had been advised to get a tour guide, and I’m glad we used one as he was able to talk us through everything. The Terracotta Army was amazing, it’s so worth the visit. There were 3 pits we visited that had different sections of the army facing certain ways to protect the Emperor who the mausoleum was built for. There are just hundreds of statues and each soldier is individual, no two are the same. We spent a good 4 hours or so there, and the ticket price is 150RMB or 75RMB if you show a student card (I just used my provisional licence). We had been told about the farmer who discovered the site back in the 1970’s and we were stunned as the tour ended in the gift shop and he was just sat there! He was really old and falling asleep, it’s quite sad really because it was as if he was some circus animal they’d shipped in and made to sit in a room all day, but thinking back to it now it’s kind of making me laugh a bit as I think we were just expecting to see a photo of him or something, not actually him in person :’)
Later that evening we’d had a few drinks at the bar and wanted to go to Helen’s. Again, although the address had been written down for us the taxi driver got lost and pulled over. We decided to get out and walk the rest of the way as we’d been driving for about 20 minutes. We asked one couple who told us to go left, and then another who said right. When we checked online we saw it was still 4 major roads away. We decided to give up and head back, and try to forget that this was the third time we’d been scammed by a taxi. This never happened in Chengdu!
On Tuesday we went to the train station first to collect some tickets, then decided we wanted to visit the Wild Goose Pagoda, but once again we were still unorganised and had no clue how to get there! We managed to get the right bus and eventually found ourselves there. We walked up Bar Street which we had been looking for when we first got there, and I know it’s really un-cultural but we spent about 15 minutes taking photos outside the pagoda before we dashed back to Bar Street to an amazing Indian restaurant. By the time we got back to the hostel, Jazz and Nicole had half an hour to get their train, so we literally crammed them into a tuk-tuk with all their suitcases, and before we had a chance to lock the door the driver drove off, I have no idea how they actually got out of the thing as it was completley full! It was all so manic and hectic that all we could do was laugh. Chris and I then realised we didn’t have much time before our train; we had to get 2 buses that would take 2.30 hours. We got the first bus okay, but then the second bus (which was right outside the pagoda again) never arrived. We were really conscious of the time so we started running down the streets looking for taxis and I felt like I was training for the army or something as I was running along in the heavy rain with 3 heavy bags on my back! I eventually managed to stop a taxi, put both feet in an ankle-deep puddle, and handed him my ticket to show where I was going. He then pulled into the pavement but we thought he was driving off with my ticket so we screamed NOOO as we clung onto the car. He constantly laughed and joked about this pretty much the entire journey on the way to the station afterwards! The station was in the middle of the countryside which was really random but I was so glad I wasn’t on my own as it was really eery at night with only a few cars passing by every now and then. I think he felt really proud of himself as he could see we were 2 absolute messes in a stressful rush! He got us there in plenty of time which was perfect so we blew each other kisses as we ran down to the station entrance.
I had a bottom bunk on the Xian-Chongqing train which was like being at the Ritz after my top bunk experience. Chris got chatting to the man in the opposite bunk to me and after Chris left for his cabin, the man offered me a chicken foot- I politely declined but he wasn’t taking no for an answer so it was one of those situations where you had to pretend it was the best thing ever. I was just saying ‘wo xihuan’ (I like) through gritted teeth (literally). Then a physics teacher joined us and we spoke a bit more, before I realised how exhausted I was, and slept away until our train arrived at 7.40am.
What we learnt from Xian was to do more research and be more organised about things, as all we knew was that we were visiting the Terracotta Army but didn’t look into the best ways of getting around. We obviously didn’t enjoy getting scammed by taxi drivers, and some of the hostel staff could’ve been a lot more friendly. We’d only been away from Chengdu for 3 days but we couldn’t stop missing it! It was as if we never really learnt our lesson after each ‘bad’ experience, as it just kept happening again and again… but oh well, we can laugh about it all now I guess…