CHINA :: Xi’an – Great Mosque, City Wall Bike Ride and the Terracotta Warriors

”I was over that in about 15 minutes, to be honest…”
– Jess, about the Terracotta Warriors

The Terracotta Warriors were on my bucket list and when Rachel, Jess, Nero and I ended up planning a trip to Xi’an together during the one holiday we got from our teaching job, it was primarily to see them. At least for me. It never dawned on me that it might not be as interesting to the others *lol*

A German, A Norwegian, A Brit and an Australian walk in to an airport…The German has a pocket knife in their bag and the Australian and Brit freak out a bit.

The airport in Hohhot had “Take a Nap”-boxes and cow benches. That’s pretty much all I remember from our time there, we goofed about a bit, but mainly were pretty impatient for our plane to start boarding.

We managed to pack so much into our three days in Xi’an, I’m still impressed with us. It had been some time since I’d felt the freedom of travel again, the crushing weight of extreme work weekends, navigating work life and social culture in China had been pretty hard, all the while I tried not to complain because 1) I had chosen this myself and 2) it was a pretty awesome cultural experience. Xi’an turned out to be the breather we all needed though.

We headed to the airport super early in the morning after standing a fair bit of time by the side of the road next to campus hoping a taxi would find us and stop for four white guys looking slightly disheveled. A quick trip through security and check in and we were off to Xi’an. A little further south we were hoping for good weather and summer vibes.

Arriving in Xi’an we checked in to “Xian 7 Sages Youth Hostel International” and I can really recommend them. The location was really good, 30 min walk to the Great Mosque and 15 min walk to the city wall and their bike rental. The staff was super and the area within the hostel was really cosy. I regret not taking more photos of it, it reminded me of a stone garden with lovely one storey buildings around and it just felt serene and cozy. Rooms were good too, comfy beds. We stayed in a room just us four the first night before being joined by two other tourists the next two, but the rooms were small enough so we didn’t feel crowded. The only mishap we had was when Jess closed Nero’s locker door and we realized right afterwards that the keys were inside the locker… Well done, Jess *lol*

Great Mosque of Xi’an

“The Great Mosque of Xi’an is one of the largest premodern mosques in China. Although the mosque was allegedly first built in the year 742 AD, its current form was largely constructed in 1384 AD during Emperor Hongwu’s reign of the Ming dynasty, as recorded by the Records of Xi’an Municipality. An active place of worship within Xi’an Muslim Quarter, this courtyard complex is also a popular tourist site. It now houses more than twenty buildings in its five courtyards, and covers 12 km² (4.63 mi²).”

I had read about the Great Mosque of Xi’an before we got there and mentioned it and we sort of stumbled our way towards it while discovering the city. On the way we enjoyed the super nice weather, the ice cream making stalls, street food and the incredible signage in the touristy bits… I mean… What even IS this one:

Cat Uncle Explosion Cheese Durian Pie

Sorry, I had to repeat that one.. It’s too good.

The mosque itself was another lovely, sunny garden with stone statues and one story buildings in a sort of complex… I enjoyed the cherry blossoms the most really, but it had some cool, Chinese architecture and the way there had a large market all along a street so I could buy stuff. That makes me happy because I am a simple person. I got a small, ornate box allegedly made of bone material, painted with a miniature of two women in traditional dresses. i got that for my mum, it’s right up her alley.

“The mosque is a walled complex of four courtyards, with the prayer hall located in the fourth and also the westmost courtyard. The first and second courtyards are mostly traditional Chinese gardens, while the third and fourth courtyards are where the main structures of the mosques are located”

Jess ended up making a few, new friends during our stay at the mosque (there’s always someone wanting a picture with the white tourists and she is blonde and blue eyed as well, so…) – and a couple of other Chinese guys talked smack about her in Mandarin because she wore a short skirt. Little did they know Jess’ Mandarin was pretty good at this point. Not that she made a big deal about it, but we commented a little about them between us. Maybe they heard, maybe not, our eyes shot daggers, I think they got the point.


The next day we got ourselves up to the Terracotta Warriors site opting for a tour because even though it takes about 45 minutes to drive, we didn’t have a car and taking the metro and standard buses takes about 3 hours from Xi’an. An air conditioned bus taking us directly to and from is sometimes just the best option.

“The Terracotta Army is a collection of terracotta sculptures depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China. It is a form of funerary art buried with the emperor in 210–209 BCE with the purpose of protecting the emperor in his afterlife”

UNESCO World Heritage Site here we cooooome! I was super excited to finally see the Terracotta Warriors of Xi’an – a bucket list item for me. We got the audio guide and headed in, deciding on a time to meet and where if we got separated (which we did, who am I kidding, I was in deep here).

It. Was. Amazing.

There are more than 8000 statues of men and horses found in three different pits and they are not done excavating. Several of the statues were wrapped in plastic to preserve them while they had yet to be catalogued and registered and more and more are dug out each day. The huge hall area where you can go in and walk across on the side was breathtaking. The details on the statues were less caricatured than I expected, they looked really good. It’s amazing that they were buried from around 210 BC until their discovery in 1974(!) by some local farmers in the area(!).

I mean, look at this!

The whole necropolis is thought to be approximately 98 square kilometers (38 square miles) and is allegedly “constructed as a microcosm of the emperor’s imperial palace or compound” and covers a large area around the tomb of this first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang (the sexy dude in the picture below):

Apparently this dude ascended the throne at the ripe, old age of 13 and immediately started building this mausoleum in preparation for his own afterlife. Taking a page out of the books of the pharaohs… But I get leaving a legacy and not wanting to be forgotten, so who am I to judge. I’ll leave that up to the 700,000 conscripted workers on the “project” (I bet they judged a bit… Maybe just a little… Or maybe they thought he was a semi God, what do I know, really).

Anyway, the necropolis is amazing and awe inspiring and I highly, highly recommend seeing it. The sights that hit you when you arrive at the pits are impossible to describe completely… My mind still reels at the thought of how much work was put in to ONE of those statues and there are several thousands of them… It’s a little insane.

But I was a happy camper seeing it, I wont deny 😉

After getting our fill of Terracotta (Jess held on for a really long time, bless her) we headed back into Xi’an to grab dinner and see whatever sights were there. Nero requested we eat at Pizza Hut because they couldn’t take more Chinese food right then and there so we did. None of us got the Durian pizza… Weird that…

I did go for an ice cream floater though, my very first, never tried it before. It was underwhelming. It’s ice cream in soda. Beware of the quick drop cause the soda will fizz and might overflow (oh noooooo!!11)

Yeah, it was soda with ice cream in it. Mine didn’t overflow even thought it threatened to… But whatever. I’ve tried it, minor fun was had. Thumbs up.

The rest of the evening was spent walking around enjoying the sculptures, dragons and light shows that were popping up. More and more the darker it got (yeah, weird that, too :-P)

I also ended up buying a teapot with two small cups, ornate with dragons and in a beautiful green colour… It fills from the bottom, guys. FROM THE BOTTOM! I can’t even…

By this point I had given up on “not buying so many souvenirs” as I was still regretting not getting a couple of those amazing silk lanterns in Hoi An, Vietnam. What an idiot I was. So the tea pot and cups were precariously packed in a box with plenty of padding by the expert shop keepers in Xi’an, ready to be flown to Hohhot and put on my little desk in my steril room and Honder Campus. (They made it safely there and then all the way to Norway, actually, with no breaks or chips. Success!)

Is this not the coolest?


This was Jess and Rachel’s idea and it was a great one. We walked the 15 minutes from our hostel to the bike rental shop which was on the city wall, got a bike each and spent two hours biking around the entire wall (also called the Fortifications of Xi’an, another UNESCO’s World Heritage Site). The sun was blasting so naturally I was really sunburned by the end… I never learn.

“Xi’an City Wall is located in the urban district of Xi’an City, which at one time was an imperial city during the periods of the Sui and Tang dynasties. It is situated at the end of the ancient Silk Road.”

We saw a Chinese bride taking pictures in her wedding dress, she let us take some pictures too (I asked specifically) and seemed just happy and joyful. She was so beautiful.

I made a new friend (another local or Chinese tourist who wanted a picture with the whitest people in the area) 😉

Halfway through we were told we had to get off our bikes and it took us a bit of time to figure out we had to walk for a bit because a tiny part of the wall was a “no bike area”. Once we figured that out we walked through, had a drink and went over to where a massive amount of bikes were parked… I remember being very confused because they wanted to give me a small ticket I didn’t know what was for… Turns out it gave you a brand new bike on the other side ammagawd 😀

“The Xi’an Wall is rectangular in shape and has a total length of 14 kilometres (8.7 mi). Along the top of the wall is a walkway, which would typically take four hours to cover (on foot). It is built in the Chinese architecture style. As a defense fortification, it was constructed with a moat, drawbridges, watch towers, corner towers, parapet walls and gate towers. The wall is 12 metres (39 ft) in height with a width of 12–14 metres (39–46 ft) at the top and base width of 15–18 metres (49–59 ft).”

Pic shamelessly stolen from Wikipedia

On we went, I tried to film myself biking, film Jess and Rachel biking behind me and holding together a conversation with Nero about not letting cats out of your apartment and how I feel that might not be the best for cats. Nero disagreed, naturally, since they had a cat that was an indoor cat. Rachel got stressed because she felt we were having a full blown fight… She’s obviously never seen me actually angry *lol*

Multitasking aside I should’ve worn more sunscreen and now this little synopsis of our trip is making no sense… Probably because I should sleep.

The bike ride was some of the most fun I had on this trip though, so again: I highly recommend.



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