I recall watching a Chinese movie when I was really young about a love story between a celebrity and a Terracotta warrior statue that came alive. Ever since that fictional movie, I have always wanted to visit the Terracotta Warriors exhibition; not to find my warrior lover, but because I am extremely intrigued by the notion of an entire army of clay soldiers and animals and the story behind it.
We took a half-day tour with a local agency to visit the Terracotta Warriors museum with a guide to explain the mystery behind the statues.
Our guide picked us up really early around 8 am as we were travelling during the Chinese school holiday period and tourist sites can be packed to the brim during such periods. To help us avoid the crowd, he suggested that we go really early. When we reached the entrance, it was close to 9 am and there was already crazy loads of people. This is the ticket counters selling the entrance tickets. At this same area, you will find many licensed tour guides sourcing single tourists or small groups tourist for business. So if you haven’t got a guide, you can easily find one here
From the entrance, we had to pass 2 security and tickets checking counters and gantry. There are bag checks as well so it can get chaotic with the crowd. To reach the first exhibition building, you will need to walk close to 20 – 30 mins across the park. There is also buggy available for those who prefer not to walk but the queues for them is crazily long. Unless you are visiting during a lull period, I would suggest walking instead.
This is the first building and also the biggest site where the warriors are so most of the groups will visit this first building first before proceeding to the others. There are a total of 3 sites where the warriors are found and also the main building where other items found in the sites are displayed
After entering the first building, you will be greeted by this gigantic LED map which shows a top view location of where all the sites are found, as well as the burial site of the Qin emperor. There are at least 10 or more sites found around the whole area. At this point, our guide gave us a short explanation of history, the different sites discovered and also some very interesting insights.
The moment we enter, you can see this familiar view. The building itself is built on top of the original excavation site of the warriors and it is as huge as 5 – 6 soccer fields combined. From the entrance, you will reach the highest ground of the site where you get the aerial view of the site.
Once you manage to squeeze through the crowd and get your perfect picture, you can walk down one level to see the site closer at both sides with a designated walking path. From this picture, you can see loads of people on the higher platform trying to get the frontal view of the warriors
From the sides, you can get a closer view at every single warrior and with the explanation from the guide, you will realise that every single one looks different. There can be differences in their age, expression, height, shoes, clothes and even their body shape and sizes. The details of each statue are amazingly intricate and we were told the sculptors were making them based on people they actually know which is why every single warrior has a different character or identity.
The restoration work on the warriors is still ongoing in all the sites so you can also see the workers at work whether they are excavating for new pieces or fixing up broken pieces of the soldiers.
Most of the warriors are not complete as they have some parts broken due to the weight of the sand or corrosion due to time so it is an ongoing and long journey to fully restore everything. According to our guide, it might take them another 10-20 years to fully restore and consider the project completed.
The subsequent 2nd and 3rd buildings were smaller sites with lesser warriors. Instead, some of them were sites where warriors still lie below the dirt and mud.
The reason why they did not excavate them out is that they discovered the warriors actually have colours on them and the moment they excavate them out, the colours disappear due to the oxidisation from the air. It is an ongoing project to improve the techniques and technology to fully restore and maintain the warriors to their early intended glory
In one of the building, they do have some warriors on display inside air-conditioned glass showcases to prevent oxidisation. You can see from here the red strips on the armour of the warrior. According to our guide, the warriors were discovered to be multi-coloured including red, green and blue. However, at present, they have only managed to restore and retain the red colour for display.
The last main building we visited was the bronze and copper exhibition. This exhibition carried items found within the Terracotta warriors site
There are 2 main showcases in this exhibition which is the bronze chariot 1 and chariot 2 which is on display. This clearly displays how war chariots looked like in ancient Qin dynasty.
There were other smaller showcases displaying bronze jewellery, containers, bowls and more which were also discovered from the sites. After this exhibition, you can also visit the gift shop which sells fake Terracotta warriors, magnets, mini figurines, books etc. The price, however, is at least 5 times higher than those you can find in downtown Xian or even at the shops outside the museum itself.
As we exit the museum, we realised that the entire area surrounding the museum has actually been built into a resort or cultural village of some sorts. You can easily spend an entire day here shopping for souvenirs at the shops or sample some of the local food at the many food stalls and restaurants around the area.
Overall, the visit to the museum took around 3 hours to complete and after the 1st building, everything starts to look the same except the colour statues on display in the 2nd building and the bronze chariots in the main building. Despite that, I have to say the back story of why the Terracotta Warriors are created is still very interesting and looking at them up close is still very intriguing. The amount of skilful detailed work that went into this never fails to amaze me for an era so ancient just like how the Great Wall is equally impressive. This should definitely be on your bucket list.
- Do visit during lull periods – avoid China holiday period as the crazy amount of people might somehow dampen the experience from the visit.
- Do get a guide so you can hear about the stories of the warriors as well as gain some proper historic insights of the sites and warriors
- Take your time to look at the warriors carefully to discover the secrets of the army
Address: Lintong, Xi’an, Shaanxi, China, 710612
Operating hours: 8.30 am to 5 pm
Entrance Fee: CNY¥ 120 per person. Recommended purchasing on-site with cash as the online site might not except foreign credit cards.