Visiting Xián has always been on my bucket list mainly because of the Terracotta Warriors but matching the schedule of work and day-offs has been a challenge so when we found an opening in August due to public holidays we jumped on the chanced and booked our tickets immediately. Technically speaking, August is not the most ideal time to visit China as it is their school holiday term which means you will get throngs of local tourist in almost every major tourist site. We decided to brave ahead and just make the best of our time there. The planning started with Xián as the main stop and also fitting in Zhangye since we missed visiting the rainbow mountain in Peru.
Due to limited flights, we arrived in Xián at the wee hours of the morning at 3am and foreseeing this, we booked our accommodation for the night at the airport itself. The nearest hotel was the Regal Airport Hotel which is directly linked to the terminal 3 airports. You can read my review of the hotel here. We booked a private driver with a guide to save the hassle of finding out own guide at the Terracotta Museum. The agency also helped us with our tour in Zhangye as well as booking the train tickets to Zhangye as it was not easy to purchase tickets online outside of China.
Due to the holidays in China, our guide picked us up really early at 8am to avoid the main crowd later in the day. We arrive at the Terracotta museum around 9 am and it is already extremely crowded.
The entire visit took us almost 2.5 hours to complete but we are considerably fast as we walked through some part of it rather quickly. Personally, the whole exhibition is very overwhelming and interesting with the different history and facts shared with us by the guide but after the 1st hour, the statues start looking all the same in the next 2 buildings. You can read up on my full review of the museum visit Terracotta Warriors
Our guide brought us to a local restaurant for an early lunch as our train ride to Zhangye is at 1.30pm. We reached the restaurant at 11.30 am and they were not really opened yet so we were the first customers. Most of the dishes have a slightly spicy taste to them as this is the typical Xian kind of cuisine. At first glance, the dishes look commonly Chinese like stir fry diced chicken with vegetables, fried beancurd with spring onions and sliced pork with onions. The only distinctive flavours are you will get strong cumin and dried chilli and garlic flavours.
After lunch, we were dropped off at the main Xian train station for our train to Zhangye. The train station was huge but at the same time, it is equally crowded and packed. You can hardly find any available seats so we actually stood all the way waiting for our time to board. There are some food outlets on the 2nd floor of the station as well as many small convenience stalls scattered in the station for you to buy snacks, beverages, instant noodles as well as bread to eat on the train. This is crucial and I strongly advise travellers to purchase some items in the station before boarding as I will share why later in the post.
First, you can find out the boarding gate for your train on these big electronic boards. There will be your train number, destination and time on your ticket so look out for those and you can find the gate. Once you know your gate number, you can choose to wait around the gate. At the gate itself, there is also an electronic board that shows which train is ready for boarding. The boarding starts only about 10- 15 mins before departure timing so if you see loads of people queuing, do not worry as the same gate actually caters to multiple trains in the same time slots.
Once you get past the gate, you can board the train but do check that you are boarding the train at the right platform. You can clearly see which train cabin at the door before boarding.
There are a few different classes and since our journey was 8 hours long, we decided to book the first class cabin. The first-class cabin is very spacious and has 4 seats in one row. There is also good leg space for stretching and also a comfortable feet rest for placing your feet. I am 163cm and can hardly reach the back of the seat in front of me. All luggage can be placed on the ledge above your seats and there are 2 hooks per seat where you can hand your belongings. For bigger luggage, you can place them at the luggage bay located by the exit door.
The 2nd class seats are 5 seats in one row and the seats are more narrow and as you go down the normal class seats, the seats and passageway get even more narrow.
The toilet on board is quite spacious and is unisex. Typically, the toilet is cleaner when you start the journey as it has just been cleaned. Throughout the journey, the staff does cleaning every 2 -3 hours so the toilet is basically in an acceptable condition. This is true for the toilet in the first-class cabin but I can’t be sure that the same conditions apply for the other classes.
Throughout the journey, the service staff will sell drinks, fruits, snacks as well as bento meals on their food cart. The only payment methods for the items purchased on board is Alipay, Wechat pay as well as cash. Just like food items on budget flights, the items sold on board are really expensive and is at least 5 times more expensive than the ones sold outside.
We initially brought some bread to munch on board but unfortunately, we had a delay of 2 hours due to an earthquake in one of the areas where the train tracks are located. Our train was stopped at one of the stations with an undetermined arrival timing. Everyone started to get into a small panic and started to grab food from the train staff so items started running out super fast. We bought a bunch of bananas for approximately CNY 35, cup noodles for CNY 30 and a bento box for CNY 45.
The typical bento set has a portion of rice, 1 meat dish, 2 vegetable dish. ( Picture is not the actual bento I bought but similar as I did not take any pictures of the bento) The bento is well heated and steaming hot when you open the vacuum seal. There were actually a few different sets to choose from with different dishes or even noodles instead of rice but when we decided to get one set, everything else is sold out.
I would highly recommend tourists who are planning to take the train in China with a journey more than 4 hours to bring their own food onboard. You can either buy them at the train station or even beforehand at supermarkets as the cost will definitely be much cheaper. I did a comparison of the cup noodles bought on board and at the supermarket and the price difference is 5 times.
We arrived at Zhangye around 11 pm and our driver was waiting for us patiently to bring us to our hotel. I bought cup noodles and bread at the convenience store before heading to the hotel. You can check out my full review of the hotel Holiday Inn Express ZhangYe. We ended the day as we have an early and long day the next day.