Except for its old city wall, Xi'an, China, (pronounced SHE-on) looks like any other large industrial city. It was once the capital of 13 dynasties within China, but is now one of dozens of major cities within the country. Xi'an is located southwest of Beijing and was the end point of the great Silk Road, giving the city rich historic relevance. While it is known primarily as the gateway for tourists to visit the terra cotta warriors, it has much more to offer, making it one of China's must-visit destinations.
Tours to see the terra-cotta troops often include stops at the tumulus (ancient grave mound) of the first emperor. There's not much to see there—basically, you walk to the top of a small hill. The unexcavated tomb lies below and is thought to contain fantastic riches. (Among the treasures rumored to be buried there are gold ducks floating on a river of mercury beneath a sky laden with pearl stars.)
Sights—The Great Mosque; Drum Tower; the Big Wild Goose Pagoda.
Museums—The Qin Army Vault Museum; the Banno Museum; Shanxi History Museum.
Late Night—The night markets, especially the Bahui Market and Muslim Market.
Especially for Kids—The evening music-and-water show at the Big Wild Goose Pagoda.
The Shanxi province has numerous delicacies known to the area. Hardly as spicy as food found in western regions, the cuisine is still quite unique. Special dishes include a broth with wide noodles known as biang biang mian topped with vegetables, egg or meat. In fact, the area is known for more than 30 individual kinds of noodles, which are eaten at every meal of the day.
A variety of local steamed dumplings and buns are unique to the province, each stuffed with savory sauces or meat. The deep-fried persimmon buns stuffed with a variety of sauces are particularly unique to this area. Cubed green bean cakes, common within the region, are especially popular in Xi'an, served with sauces such as savory sesame.
Many restaurateurs may not speak a word of English, but menus may feature photos. If not, do not feel awkward about pointing to dishes that other guests are eating if something catches your eye. Even translation apps can be misleading, so pointing is not always a bad idea.
Street food may look tempting, but it is not for everyone, and sensitive stomachs should know that the water used to prepare many of these dishes is most certainly not from a bottle. Foreigners are advised to stick to recommended restaurants, although a few adventurous souls will always swear by their favorite street vendor.
Passport/Visa Requirements: Thanks to new regulations, travelers from the U.S. are now allowed a visa-free 72-hour stay in Xi'an. In order to take advantage of this policy, visitors must meet all three of the following requirements: They must be citizens of one of the 51 countries (with valid traveling documents), in transit to a third country or region (with a layover in Xi'an) and must have the respective tickets to show officials at the Xi'an International Airport before exiting the airport. It is difficult to meet all three of these requirements, and you must fly into and out of the same airport to take advantage of the 72-hour rule.
Time Zone: Daylight Saving Time is not observed.
Getting from the airport into and around town is easier now that Uber has arrived on the scene. However, it is important to note that most drivers do not speak English, and the app will not recognize English language addresses easily. Even if it does, connecting with a driver can be tough via text or phone. It is best to have the address written in Chinese before getting in any taxi or Uber. If using Uber, have your hotel contact the driver's phone number (given via the app) so that any communication barriers are worked out before leaving for your destination.
This same advice is also advisable for taxis, as few drivers speak English and the local industry is unregulated. Always have your origin and destination written in Chinese, just in case. Taxis from the airport can range between 150-300 yuan, but tourists are almost always quoted a higher price. Uber can be a better proposition with proper planning.
With taxis and Uber so plentiful and cheap, it is not recommended to rent a car; signs are not in English and traffic can be hectic.
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Courtesy of: Darla Logsdon
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