Xian – Terracotta soldiers

Last modified 19.03.2022 | Published 14.03.19851980's, China, North, Central and East Asia, Travelogue

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Xian is famous for its Terracotta soldiers. I also experienced that China had a long way to go in hospitality.

This article is part of a diary based travelogue from a six month journey in 1985 to several countries in East and South East Asia: Japan, Taiwan, China, Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand


Saturday 9.3.1985, Xining – Xian

Getting there

An awful day and it became gradually worse as the hours went by. But first: the cost from Lhasa to Xian was about 120Y. The train ride from Xining was a prolonged one and we did not arrive until around 1800. And then it all started.

The Jiefang hotel near the railway station had two wings. One was full of Chinese but with signs in English. Despite this we were told it was only for Chinese people. We had to cross a square to the other wing. The tourist wing had their cheapest room in the 16Y price range. An extremely lazed, slow, impolite and arrogant reception staff managed to say “full”. This was in all probability not correct.

They pointed out the way to

  • BELL TOWER HOTEL, tram 3 from the main road to the hotel. It is right by the Bell Tower, a huge building right in the middle of large road junction. Possibly on this map.

We entered and were met by the same type of staff (plus slick, demeaning smiles) and the same response. We made them call Penmin Dasha Hotel, but they also answered “full”.

Three large hotels a day in March were fully occupied; it was too incredible to be true.


Finding a place to sleep

Well, according to our guide books this was not unique. A number of other travellers have faced the same problems and many of them have done exactly what we were going to do: Sit down in a huge draughty lobby and wait. The reason is that often a room miraculously pops up as free late in the evening and the travellers are served some kind of silly explanation.

I went for a walk up the floors on inspection and found a free four-bed room on the third floor. The floor attendant joined me down to the lobby and was audibly surprised to hear that we couldn’t have the room.

While sitting / lying there in this huge lobby hall a Chinese man came over. He worked in another hotel in Xian. He figured there would be free rooms there. In any case, it was not possible for us to get there, being too late in the evening. He too was surprised to hear about the treatment we had been given, but was unable to do anything.

At around eleven that evening the staff finally gave in and gave us a four-bed room for 10Y, which is cheap in Xian. It was by the way not the one I had found.

The sour and slow staff commanded us at the same time to be out by seven in the morning. Oh yes, we replied and thought differently. In any case we paid, rolled up our sleeping bags in the lobby and went up to bed. Phew!


Sunday 10.3.1985, Xian

We got up at around 9-10 and felt much better. However, five hard days on bus and trains are hard to get out of the body. Philippe, Kirsten and I had contracted severe colds and we felt really bad.

After a visit to the reception later in the morning upon which they called the Hotel Jiefang with negative result, we decided to merely stay put at the Bell Tower and the room we were in. Until we, or the luggage, or both were thrown out.

This we did, no registration and without returning the key when we left. Quite simply we overlooked the reception, and vice versa.

We were out of Renmimbi and were forced to exchange, so we bought bus tour tickets to the Terracotta graves already for tomorrow, as we had heard there would be money exchangers there. However, we did walk over to the Friendship Store with that same purpose, but to no avail.

We visited the Drum Tower and a mosque from the 700’s under restoration. I then went to straight to bed to cure my cold. We rounded the evening off with a beer or two, we three Scandinavians.


Monday 11.3.1985, Xian

We almost overslept for the bus tour. It was fortunately 45 minutes late so it did not matter (5Y, FEC).

We first went to the Ban-Po museum, containing exhibits of various settlements 6-7000 years BC. It was not much to see really, but it was interesting to see how bad everything went after the men took power and individualism was made dominant.

We continued to a hill, which on another day might have given a fairly good view over a boring scenery. The money exchangers there were eager, but wouldn’t exchange for a better rate than 160.

The terracotta museum was the highlight of the tour, and really interesting. Outside there were a lot of hysterical souvenir sellers. I exchanged to a rate of 167.5, but was shortly thereafter offered 170.

The last leg of the tour was to some hot springs. There we spent two extremely boring hours included a guided tour to the cabin where Chiang Kai-Shek in 1937 (?) was pressed by his generals to cooperate with Mao against Japan.

Back in Xian we went up the Beidajie Street to the Liahu Lin intersection, and the railway pre-booking office three houses to the left. We bought three tickets to Beijing, on Thursday. (P wanted to go further east.) It was impossible to get a sleeper or go the day before, unfortunately. We got hard seat this time as well, at the price of 21.5Y, which probably is the Chinese fare.

I went straight home to bed and slept more or less through to the next morning. Lovely.


Tuesday 12.3.1985, Xian

I spent almost the entire day in bed, but was summoned to the reception and formalised the room.


Wednesday 13.3.1985, Xian

I dared venture out for a few hours, but with a lousy result considering my cold. I paid for the room withRenmimbi and was called “stupid” by the female receptionist in gratitude.


Thursday 14.3.1985, Xian – Beijing

There was no problem getting on the trains for the two Danish girls and me. It was nevertheless a very long trip on a hard seat, something over 21 hours.

The scenery was interesting.

I slept very badly that night, or nothing at all.


Read more

The introduction to this journey to East and South East Asia.

Previous chapter: The way out Tibet, into the forbidden city of Golmud

Next chapter: Beijing: The imperial city complete with ducks, opera, acrobats and the Forbidden City


My letter home telling the story from my stay in Xian is posted under the second blog entry from Beijing.