Xian bleg

What to do, where to go, and above all what to eat?  I do of course have the standard guidebooks, what can you add to the basic advice?

And how easy is it to buy a ticket for the fast train from Beijing?

Comments

I'm not sure if this is in the guidebooks or if this is your type of thing, but you can rent bikes (cheap, of course) to bike around the old city wall. Great view of the city. Takes about 1.5-2 hours, if I remember correctly? Very cool view of seeing how the old city differs from the newer parts of the city.

This one will be in the guide book, but highly recommended: visit the Muslim quarter.

Came here to recommend these exact things.

I'd agree with that.

I would also recommend Belin Stone Library
http://www.travelchinaguide.com/attraction/shaanxi/xian/stone_stele/

For those without the guidebooks, it's a collection of stone slabs, primarily with writing on them but also with the odd pictograph. I actually have an etching on my wall of a landscape that is one of my favorite souvenirs of my trip to China. (An etching is admittedly just a vintage form of a print, but I still enjoy it.)

I think you may mean rubbing.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rubbing

They are relief prints. Red or black ink is rolled onto the stele and then paper applied and pressed.

Street food in the Muslim quarter.

Don't eat the street food anywhere in China. Not unless you are curious about what cat tastes like and feel like ending up in hospital. A friend of a friend did eat the street food in Xi'an. He was still sick two and a half years later.

I have been living in China for over 20 years (originally from North Dakota)...I eat almost nothing but street food and love it. Where I have problems is eating at dodgy western restaurants.

K

That's your contribution? Reactionary sensationalism? I went to Chengdu last year with my wife and young kids. Lots of street food and happy tummies.

I should put that on my business cards. Look, I don't care what you do. It doesn't bother me. You went to Sichuan and did not get sick? Great.

But people who want the locals to think they are not boring provincial suburbanites from Peoria are actually behaving like boring provincial suburbanites when they insist on not taking basic precautions. When it comes to eating at the low end of the market, actually China has some special problems. Ignoring that is precisely what Ugly American tourists do these days.

At least be aware of the risks you take:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gutter_oil

Personally I do not much care to consume oil extracted from a sewer but if you're fine feeding your children something recovered from someone else's sh!t, that is fine by me. I wouldn't do it and if someone asks my opinion I am inclined to tell them not to do it too.

@SMFS - still sick from eating cat? The only food that causes such symptoms (which can last 20 years in some people) is a poisoning from eating certain large billfish like sword fish that harbor a tasteless algae that cannot be deactivated by cooking. Too lazy to Google it, but it causes "MS" type paralysis for up to several decades in some people, particularly Asians. Very rare but not uncommon. Avoid big game fish is the answer.

The Shaanxi Provincial History Museum is one of the better history museums in China, if that's your thing. Xian itself is not the nicest city to be in, despite all the amazing historical sites. Skip the bell tower and pagodas.

If you have a day and are feeling adventurous, I would highly recommend visting Huashan.

For food, I don't have anything to say beyond what you'll read in a guidebook- there is amazing street food everywhere, particularly in the Muslim Quarter, so go nuts. There are some nice things done to potatoes here (potatoes covered in some sort of spice are common street food in China, but the quality seemed to be better here).

Buying fast train tickets from Xian to Beijing is easy. The relatively high price means they won't sell out until quite close to departure time. Looking at the official ticket booking website there are still plenty of tickets available for trains leaving this morning (china time).

If you have time i second Huashan, the worlds most dangerous hike. It is great, but not what it used to be, you can do it tame. Of course it is still China and they don't have nearly as many lawyers - so the tame is relative. I found more noodles than potatoes, but that could just be subconscious preference coming through. I liked the dumplings.

I third Huashan. Stunning cable car ride up to ridge. Not as dangerous as mb says. Mostly horizontal once you're there. Simple but good eateries along the ridge.

I second all of the above, in particular the street food. Xi'an its all about getting a number of appetizers and small dishes in my opinion. Make sure to try the pulled meat sandwiches, Roujiamo (肉夹馍 ). This goes well with some of the meat or tomato and egg based noodle soups that are common in Shanxi and Shaanxi. Try at least one of these. In addition, if you're up for it, the liangpi (凉皮) or cold tofu skin can be excellent.

All of this should be quite ubiquitous in small restaurants/street vendors, which are the way to go. When in doubt, be distrustful of whatever your Chinese hosts(if you have any) THINK you would like, and push for the opposite.

Lastly, though it's from the neighboring province of Shanxi, see if you can find some authentic shaomai dumplings 烧卖 from shanxi. There are places in Xi'an that should have this. If the real deal, they are not to be missed.

Train ticket is very easy for a mandarin speaker; If it's any harder it will be due to language not logistics or any such thing as that.

It's been a while since I was there and most restaurants would be in the guidebooks. I recommend street food. In the Muslim quarter Roujiamo (steamed bread sandwiches), persimmon donuts, mutton dumplings, Rouchuan (skewers) also weirder stuff sheets eyes, hoofs, interesting tripe (can't remember the local name).Out of the quarter lingafen (fried green bean jelly) and everywhere serves Liangpi noodles.

Please stay away from street tripe in China. I had by far the best food in small restaurants with plastic chairs and picture menus. Just like in VA/md

in which countries would you vouch for the 'street tripe'?

A month ago Tyler--like me--was dining in Quintana Roo on the Yucatán Peninsula, so it's possible his stomach--unlike mine--can handle street food. Try it in the Muslim quarter, or try "Chinese hamburgers" (肉夹馍 / Ròu jiā mó). Even I survived these.

I also did fine when our young Xi'an friends took us to a chain with plastic chairs and picture menus: RBT (仙踪林 / Xiān zōng lín). The crispy tofu appetizer and bubble tea are good. For nicer dining try King Town No. 1. Although it's not Shaanxi cuisine, King Town No. 1 was where we grew to love "Red Braised Pork" (红烧肉 / Hong shao rou).

These can be found in the center of the city. As mentioned above, do ride a bicycle around the large intact city wall. Going clockwise as seen from above you'll see old China on your right, new China on your left, pollution above, and cobblestones below. The Beilin Museum is near the wall.

Five years ago Xi'an felt more like authentic China, whereas Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong have much more foreign influence. If you have friends in the city a popular activity is KTV, what we would call karaoke box in Seattle. Haoledi (好乐迪 / Hǎolèdí) is a good value. During the day, walk around Big Wild Goose Pagoda (大雁塔 / Dàyàn tǎ) or watch the evening light show. If you're still awake late at night, go dancing at Fantasy, though expect crowds and high prices.

Has no one mentioned the Terracotta Army (兵马俑 / Bīngmǎyǒng) because every guidebook will? I found the facilities a bit lacking but the detail on the warriors amazing.

Several people answered how to buy a high-speed train ticket *from* Xi'an. But I think Tyler wanted to get *to* Xi'an by buying a ticket in Beijing.

Should say sheep not sheets, stupid autocorrect.
A restaurant I enjoyed that is I suppose the equivalent of a stripmalll place was Lao Sun Jia. If you don't want street food it serves good quality Muslim food. Apparently it has become a bit of a thing since I was there and now has a couple of locations. Probably in the guidebooks.

Finally I had a lot of tasteless bowls of Yang Rou Pao Mo 羊肉泡馍 so I would suggest giving it a miss.

If you have time, you should try the food here https://www.google.com/maps/place/%E5%B4%87%E5%BE%B7%E6%A5%BC%E6%B0%B4%E7%9B%86%E7%89%9B%E7%BE%8A%E8%82%89%E6%B3%A1%E9%A6%8D%E9%A6%86/@34.2423846,108.9548163,18z/data=!4m6!1m3!3m2!1s0x36637a810848e35f:0x5de929ac12b4a81f!2z5bSH5b635qW85rC055uG54mb576K6IKJ5rOh6aaN6aaG!3m1!1s0x36637a810848e35f:0x5de929ac12b4a81f. If you have a Chinese company, ask her or him to order 优质小炒泡馍 (you zhi xiao chao pao mo) for you. (The name of the restaurant is 崇德楼 if it helps ). It's popular among local people but quite unknown to visitors.

If you have more time, I suggest that you contact Jinhe Center for Economic Research in Xi'an Jiaotong University. The students and teachers there will be more than happy to show you some high quality local food and provide other helps.

Rent a bike and ride around the Old City walls

Your hotel can order train tickets and have them delivered in a day or so. Splurge for business class; otherwise you could get stuck in a middle seat in economy. There are noodle shops clustered in one of the side streets parallel to Xixin, the main east-west axis - it's either Hongshizihui Alley or one of the others. The noodles are superb, with a central Asian feel. The Muslim quarter is good for yangrou paomo, a lamb soup with pita bits. Also good is the bang bang mian, and anything stuffed with leeks. The historical museum is excellent and not far from the Big Goose Pagoda. The Great Mosque is a must as well.

Biang Biang Noodle. Touted as one of the "ten strange wonders of Shaanxi".

Rou jia mo (pronounced row gee-ya mwo)
lian pian
biang biang mian

Why bother? Just go south to Chengdu or Chongong for superior economic growth & superior food.

Train tickets are easy to get - there are ticket sale offices throughout the city. Have someone write in Mandarin what tickets you want to buy. Don't expect the ticket agent to understand ANY english. HOWEVER, plan to get to the Beijing station 1 hour ahead of time. Getting into the station and to your gate can take can take that much time depending upon the time of the day.

The train itself is an experience. Get a window seat. Expect to go through over 50 tunnels, many several kilometers long at 330 KMPH.

At the XIAN railway station, have your destination written down, taxi driver is unlikely to speak ANY english.

Where are you staying.? I highly recommend the Shangri-La Hotel. The restaurants there are worth a visit anyway.

The Muslim quarter (walled city) is a must visit from the historical perspective. Street food is overrated but not bad.

If you have time - go for a calligraphy demonstration/lesson.

Also when you purchase your train ticket, remember to bring your passport as the ticket vendor will need to record your identifying information.

Ditch the guidebooks, head for the suburban strip malls! That's where the real gourmet action is.

As I recall, you can't buy the tickets online as you need to show your passport before buying the ticket

So leave a bit of time between getting to the station and departure time. There might be a queue to buy tickets

The Shaanxi Provincial Historical museum, mentioned above, is for me one of the top museums in the world (in the set Pergamon, the Archeological museum in Athens, and ?) , and the best I've seen at capturing China's history and archeology. It's fascinating to compare the technology at the Forbidden City / Palace Museum in Beijing with its historical predecessors to get a visceral sense of how a) how advanced they were a couple of thousand years ago, and b) how static much of that technology stayed.

The Terracotta soldiers museum is particularly interesting because of the more recent excavations, which show a broader representation of society than the horses and soldiers that were first found and give its Chinese names. The displays of artisans and acrobats are particularly interesting.

There are two other sites in suburban Xi'an that might be interesting. One is the Banpo neolithic village, which preserves a neolithic site. I was impressed with culture and practices (e.g., burying people in jars) that seemed reminiscent of the Mound Builder civilization in the Mississippi valley, at least to my superficial eye.

The Hauqing hot springs is the site where Chang Kashek (Jiang Jieshi) was briefly taken hostage during World War II to convince him to pretend to join forces with the Communists who pretended to join forces with him against the Japanese. You can take a bath in the springs if you like, and it's a nice enough place to walk around but I wouldn't go too far out of my way to see it.

In terms of food, four local dishes you should try -

1. Yang rou pao mou (羊肉泡馍) can be really good. If it's bland, add some pepper. The traditional way of making it is a lot of fun for a group meal. Each person breaks up a small bun into tiny pieces, the bowl is taken a way and brought back with a spicy stew, and people make fun of what a bad job you did of breaking up your bun.

2. Xi'an is famous for it's "jiaozi banquets" with a lot of different kinds of jiaozi. If you like them, you should check that out.

3. In the old Muslim quarter you'll see people making peanut brittle with large wooden mallets. It's really delicious - much less sweet and syrupy than what you can get in the U.S. and well worth trying.

4. Dried persimmons (柿子) are a local specialty and are really delicious. You can buy them all over, but they're usually sold out by the Terracotta Soldiers or other suburban sites, as well as in some stores in the Muslim quarter.

In terms of shopping, Xi'an is famous for Shaanxi Peasant Art - which feature surrealist images of peasant scenes. There seem to be many fewer people doing this now. In the Muslim quarter, though, there's a long shopping arcade. I've forgotten the guy's name, but near where it curves there's a store that sells prints from woodcuts from a really excellent artist (and his students), many of which are extraordinarily nice. Generally random tourist stuff is a little cheaper (with bargaining) than in Beijing (with bargaining).

I was in Xi'an about a month ago (and have been there many times over the last 20 years). The pollution is horrible now and the city gets uglier every year. That being said, there are still nice things about it. The Great Mosque is worth a few hours and the Muslim quarter has great food. One block due east of the Hilton in the eastern part of the city (inside the city walls) there's a small "cultural village" that has very high quality Shaanxi food specialities. It had the best nut brittle I bought in the city. The city wall is worth a walk as well. Near southeast section of the wall there is a whole long street dedicated to calligraphy supplies. It's interesting just to see how very much alive that art remains in contemporary China. Near the provincial museum there's a underground shopping mall that is shocking in its luxuriousness. Worth a quick visit just to see the contrast with much of what's above. Note also that some subway maps have the whole subway on them but only two lines are actually completed.

The terracotta warriors themselves remain awesome (in the way that word used to be used), but the full tourist complex that has grown up around the site in the last 20 years can be overwhelming, annoying, and depressing. For a very different imperial tomb experience I strongly recommend visiting the tomb of the Han emperor Jingdi (漢陽陵). It's an ongoing excavation going on under the glass floors of the exhibition hall. It's not at all touristy and actually rather solemn.

Food: Roujiamo, paomo - you can get roujiamo (boiled meat in bun) everywhere in China but only good paomo (bun broken up in soup) in Shaanxi. All noodles incl biangbiang mian are good. Liangpi, also called niangpi (bean flour noodles). Tianpeizi (fermented grain). Suanmeitang (sour plum drink). Red kiwifruit, out of season now but can get dried.
To see: Provincial museum. If you have any contacts with clout, get them to show you the stuff that is not on exhibit. Stele. The two pagodas (climb up). Warriors. Again, if you have contacts, get them to pull a visit to the people doing the reconstructions.
Train tickets, no prob. Buy in advance.

Youpo mian (油泼面) is one of my favorite foods. Though it doesn't hugely vary from place to place, it is a Xi'an standard. Shaobings are more diverse in the other Shanxi (and highly recommended if you are in the other Shanxi), but you should be able to get some interesting Shaobings in Xi'an. Generally Xi'an had among the best street food I've eaten in China.

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