For our last day in Xian, we spilt into 2 groups – 1 with a tour agency to hike Mount Huashan and another group to explore the main city sights.
Xian City sights
The most visited sight in the city centre is the ancient city wall of Changan which is the old name of Xian. The first city wall of Changan was begun in 194 BC. The existing wall was started during the Ming Dynasty in 1370. While built the wall, the south and west walls were constructed on the base of the wall of the Tang Dynasty
From our hotel, it was a 5 mins walk to the Yongning Gate, the South Gate, which is among the oldest gates of the Xi’an Ancient City Wall. You will see many of such underpasses in Xian as they will lead you to the various ancient sights. The city is high on road safety so you don’t see many road crossing within the city centre
Within the underpasses, you can just lookout for these signs on the direction to the different sights and you will find that it is very easy to move around the city.
The South Gate – Yongning Gate is the most time-honoured and magnificent one among all the city gates. There are bicycles for rental up to the South Gate so most visitors enter the city wall through this gate. Right in front of the South gate, you can see a pretty U shaped square with nice manicured grass and ancient pillars pathing the way to the gate’s entrance
There are a few different ticket bundles being sold at the ticket office right in front of the Yongning Gate. The city wall only at CNY 54 and CNY 27 for children. The city wall and Beilin Museum for CNY 100. You can also buy the Changan Impression performance ticket here at CNY 260. The performance is a popular performance which happens at night within the city wall areas.
The Yongning Gate is very impressive with 2 strong pillars holding up the watergate which is let down for visitors to the ancient city or pull up as a defensive measure against outsiders. The structure is very well maintained although I believe some parts of it is being reconstructed.
The moment you enter the city walls, you can find the visitor’s centre where you can find out information about the guided tours
There are various clay models of the entire city walls as well as the buildings in the interior of the walls showing the explanation and history of them. There are a total of 18 city gates, but they are not all open for visitors. Visitors can ascend the Wall from the South Gate, Small South Gate, East Gate, West Gate, North Gate, Heping Gate, Wenchang Gate and Hanguang Gate
After going through a few courtyards, you can scale the wall via 2 long flights of steps
Once you ascend the stairs, you will find 2 buildings which used to be the defensive outpost stations of the soldier in ancient times. Not all of the buildings are open to visitors.
There are a few ways to go around the wall, on foot or by bicycle. The entire route around the whole wall will take 2 hours on the bicycle and at least 3-4 hours on foot. The rental of the bike costs CNY50 for 3 hours and requires a deposit of CNY 100. I can actually see my hotel building from the city wall itself. There are hardly any shelter when you are on the wall so do bring sun shades or umbrella if you intend to circle the walls for the entire afternoon. I was on the wall for only 1 hour and I was already 1 shade darker.
To continue my tour of the city, I stopped by a nearby eatery for lunch and it appears to be a popular fast-food chain serving some of the famous local delights. The eatery is very modern and clean and is a self-service style restaurant. Some of the more popular orders include the beef noodles soup, pita bread filled with roasted meat. I wanted a light meal so I ordered the meat pita bread and a pumpkin porridge. The meat in the pita was slightly juicy with flakey pita bread but the overall combination is quite dry so the porridge was a good companion to wash down the flakes. The meal costs me less than CNY 50 and was filling enough for the rest of the afternoon.
The next stop was the bell tower which is right smack in the centre of the city of Xian. To enter the bell tower, the entrance can only be reached from the underpass beneath all the traffic
Once you get to the underpass, you can various maps pointing to the different tourist sights and interests with clear indications of the underpass exits leading to these sights.
You can purchase the tickets to the bell tower or the drum tower at CNY 30 each or a combined ticket of CNY 50. The tower marks the geographical centre of the ancient capital and is the largest and best-preserved of its kind in China since it was built in 1384. Most of the grandeur of the building is in its intricate cravings and colourful paintings. However, I gave it a miss as the place was packed with visitors and instead I decided to move to the next location
From the bell tower, you can also reach the drum tower and Muslim quarters from the underpass. It is an awesome walk as you pass an entire stretch of ancient restored buildings which houses modern shops and cafes. You feel like you have travelled back in time but gets reminded by all the modern departmental stores and structures extending from the restored buildings.
On the way to the drum tower, you will also find many street peddlers selling these popsicles which are resembling ice sticks sold in the past to travellers to quench their thirst. The drum tower is used as a signal tower to inform the city of dangers or timing or even any occasion. The architecture style of the Drum Tower is a combination of the styles of the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and the Qing Dynasty and the unique feature is that there is no nail being used in the entire structure.
On the second floor, there is a drum culture exhibition which can help you know more about drums. There are twenty-four drums in it’s north and south sides. They stand for the Twenty-four Solar Terms which is a kind of weather calendar created by the Chinese ancients in order to guide the agricultural production.
One place to truly experience the local culture and flavours is to visit the Muslim quarters which is a few streets filled with street food, souvenirs as well as restaurants. The Muslim quarters is just next to the drum tower and is an extremely colourful and interesting area.
The Muslim quarter is the hub of the Muslim community in Xi’an City and covers several blocks inhabited by over 20,000 Muslims. There are about ten mosques in the area of Muslim Street, among which the Great Mosque in the Huajue Lane is the most famous and popular. It will take 1 to 2 hours to cover all the streets in-depth as you can find some interesting sights
There are a couple of things I would recommend trying when you are there – this black colour soup plum drink which has been around since ancient China times. For Chinese period drama fanatics, you would have probably heard of this sour plum soup where every tavern sells to passing villagers. Back to modern-day, this drink is still very popular amongst tourist as it is extremely thirst-quenching in the sweltering heat during summer. The drink itself is sweet and sour at the same time to provide that relief to a dry throat.
The night view around Xián City is also extremely beautiful as all the main sights are lit up.
You can also get a view of the city by taking one of their tourist tricycle cars. This is illegal so it is a matter of taking at your own risk and also make sure to bargain for the price quoted by the driver. You will find plenty of these at the Muslim quarter’s area looking around for the next tourist to be their customer.
We decided to throw caution to the wind and took the tricycle back to our hotel as we were too tired to walk and could not find any taxi. Our driver was this old uncle and all of 4 of us was packed into the mini-vehicle although we had originally wanted to grab 2 tricycles. The main vehicle is the motorcycle which is driven by the old uncle and the rest of us was sitting in this metal structure seating which was fragile and also not very comfortable. Some of us had our legs sticking out of the vehicle which was quite dangerous when other vehicles passed us at the main roads. We probably would not do it a 2nd time mainly because of safety and also the cost was relatively similar to taking a proper taxi. That being said, I think it could be a very interesting experience.
For people with more time on hand, one important building to visit is the Giant Goose Pagoda building. Giant Wild Goose Pagoda is rated as a National Key Cultural Relic Preserve as well as an AAAA Tourist Attraction. In addition, it was added to the World Heritage List and is a well-preserved ancient building and a holy place for Buddhists. In addition, there are also the small goose pagoda and a few other ruins from ancient Changan City scattered throughout Xian city. Personally, I would recommend at least 2 days to fully see all the sights in Xian City.
My other group of friends decided to take a tour to hike Mount Huashan which is another very popular and famous sight once you are in Xián. Mount Huashan itself is 120 km away from Xian City and takes over 2 hours by car. You can also take the high-speed train to Huashan North Station and hope onto one of the public buses that service the site.
Mount Huashan is famous for its beautiful view as well as its dangerous plank walk hike. Its five peaks are the representative attractions and each has its distinctive charms: East Peak is the best place to enjoy the sunrise; South Peak has the highest altitude; West Peak is the most elegant; North Peak is famous as the Cloud Terrace Peak and Middle Peak is also called Jade Lady Peak. The entrance fee for the mountain cost between CNY 100 to 160 depending on the period you are visiting.
You can start your way up to the mountain with a cable car ride which will take you up to North Peak of Mount Huashan. For those who would prefer a more adventurous hike can start their ascend by steps and descend only by the cable car. The cable car ride to the North Peak takes about 8 mins while another line which goes to the West Peak takes 20 mins.
There are many different temples and sights scattered throughout the mountain, some more tedious to reach and others easier to hike. It is recommended for visitors to be fit enough to hike the mountain to appreciate the different peaks of the mountain or take it very slowly to ensure your safety. Since it takes 6 hours to hike to some of the peaks, for those who would like to explore all of Huashan is recommended to visit over 2 to 3 days. For those who just want to put a tick to their bucket list can opt for the cable car ride to the West peak since it is a much easier route and has very nice viewing platforms.
My friend who returned from the trip were exhausted and some did not even manage to go very far to see beyond the West Peak after the cable car ride. As I opted to see the city, I missed the hike to Huashan and would like to return when I am also more fit for it. My friend did say it is a sight not to be missed when in Xian.