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Traveling Back in Time: Xi’an

by Margaux Schreurs   - Oct 12, 2015

Xi’an is a wonderful city full of history and culture as it used to be China’s capital city, and also is not too far from Beijing. The new high-speed train connection meant that we were able to get to Xi’an in only five-six hours from Beijing West Railway Station – its main high-speed railway station.

The train ride was super comfortable as the trains are very new and clean, and six hours is not that hard to kill when you’ve got things to look through the window and people to chat to in the cabin. Do bring a book though if you are easily bored, and bring some snacks too, as the food wasn’t too good in the train’s restaurant cabin.

Arriving in Xi’an, we had booked a hostel in advance to make things easier, as we only had two days and planned on spending the first day checking out the Terra Cotta Warriors. Following checking in and quickly showering, we were out the door to get to the Terra Cotta Warriors.

Getting to the warriors was pretty easy, as it is one of the main sights in the city. We got tourism bus 5 from the east square of Xi’an Station, which only took about an hour. The bus only cost 10 RMB, and we were able to take the same bus back to the city afterwards from the same bus stop we were dropped off at.

The Terra Cotta Warriors, considered to be the most significant archeological excavation of the 20th century, is extremely impressive and was worth the visit (even though there are a lot of people there, as we had been warned by friends who had traveled to Xi’an previously).

The Terra Cotta Warriors

The rows and rows of warriors were built by Emperor Qin Shihuang during the Qin Dynasty, replicating what the imperial guard looked like during this century. Besides warriors there are also horses and other military set-ups, all made out of pottery over 2,000 years ago.

The Terra Cotta Warriors

We walked around here for about an hour, and also checked out the other halls where other archeological finds were displayed proudly. Including transport back and forth, we spent most of the day here, but it was totally worth it.

The day was pretty exhausting, so we decided to spend the rest of the day at the hostel in the bar. We made lots of friends here, and decided to set out to visit the Big Wild Goose Pagoda together the next day, as well as the Muslim Quarter for shopping and snacking later on. Xi’an is so full of foreigners, many of them have been traveling through China for a long time and are really interesting to talk to, especially if you want to make further travel plans.

In the morning we got up, had breakfast in the hostel, and went to the Big Wild Goose Pagoda by taxi, known as Dayan Pagoda in Chinese, is well preserved and located in the south of Xi’an City.  It was pretty easy to get to by taxi, and only cost 50 RMB to enter.

The Courtyard at the Big Wild Goose Pagoda

Burning incense at the Big Wild Goose Pagoda

The Big Wild Goose Pagoda is an original Tang Dynasty structure, and its original function was to collect Buddhist materials that were taken from India. You can still see this, as many of the artifacts are still on display.

We enjoyed wandering around here and also burned some incense. Lots of the monks were very friendly and helped us, teaching us how to pray properly, apparently it was quite clear that we really didn’t know what we were doing!

The pagoda itself is 60 meters tall and had five stories, which we couldn’t climb up at the time of our visit. The reason it is called the Big Wild Goose Pagoda is because, according to legend, some Buddhist monks (those who did not believe that eating meat is taboo) couldn’t find any meat to buy. Upon seeing a group of big wild geese flying by, a monk said to himself, “Today we have no meat, I hope the merciful Bodhisattva will give us some.” Exactly at that moment, a goose broke its wings and fell to the ground, and the monks all believed that this bird was sent to them by Bodhisattva.

In response, they built the pagoda on the spot where the bird died and they stopped eating meat following the incident, too.

The pond at the Big Wild Goose Pagoda

The second half of our second day was spent in the Muslim Quarter where the street food is just incredible. We tried ruojiamo (肉夹馍), also known as the Chinese version of the hamburger, which tasted much better than any we had eaten in Beijing. We also had noodles here that tasted really good, and the people around were very friendly suggesting dishes for us to try.

All in all, it would be good to come back here next time I am in Xi’an, as I’d like to explore more, but there are so many other things that we didn’t get to see because we were only here for such a short amount of time. Thankfully the transport connection between Beijing and Xi’an is good so I have no doubt that I will come to visit China’s ancient capital again, soon.


About Writer

Margaux Schreurs is a translator, editor and writer living in Beijing. She was born in the Netherlands, and became interested in China and Chinese culture after her first Chinese language class while living in Singapore. She holds an MSc in the anthropology of China from the London School of Economics, and since then has written for several publications throughout the world about her travels and about current affairs, in print and digital media.

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