Introducing two of China’s most famous crowds: the Terracota Warriors and Chengdu’s Giant Pandas.
A big birthday party
It was 1974 when a group of peasants digging a well discovered what later on became one of the most famous archeological sites in the world, the Army of the Terracota Warriors. 40 years later, the work to uncover the entire army is yet to be completed.
Some historians believe that Qin Shi Huang, the emperor who united much of China for the first time, had this army built to protect himself in death. Another one of many fascinating stories behind China’s history.
As many recommend, the best way to visit the sight is by starting with Pits 3 and 2. On their own, they can be a bit underwhelming. However, they offer the opportunity to get real close to some of the warriors and notice how not two faces are the same.
And they are the perfect build up to Pit 1. Archers, soldiers and chariots in perfect formation, a whole army ready for battle. Staring at it, I can’t help but thinking about the people who carved these warriors. Were they meant to build exactly that many soldiers? What did they think of their emperor’s idea of building the army in the first place? How long did it take to carve one soldier? Could they recognise their own creations?
Despite having seen countless of pictures of the army online, standing before 2000 warriors ready for battle is still an impressive sight.
Still debating about the Terracota Warriors, we finished Paula’s birthday with a lovely meal at the Bicycle Restaurant. Ok, it was not a Chinese restaurant, but the service was the best we had had in China (or anywhere else for that matter). And they served Belgian beer. You can’t go wrong in a place like that.
An unexpected quiet ride along the city wall
Its glory days are long gone, but Xi’an still retains much of its charm. After all, it was the birthplace of the Qin dynasty and one of the key cities in the Silk Road.
Built in 1370 during the Ming dynasty, the city wall is in perfect condition and measuring 14 km, it makes for a perfect ride using one of the bicycles available for rent. Surprisingly, the wall was relatively empty which made our afternoon even more pleasant. As we learnt later, the more it makes you sweat the less crowded a tourist destination will be.
Above all though, our favourite part of Xi’an was the Muslim Quarter – but that is a story for another day. Now, let’s go to Sichuan.
Meet the Pandas
Just to put things into context: the province of Sichuan has a population of nearly 81 million people and bigger than most countries in Europe. We only spent about a week here. It would be like going to Spain and only visiting Madrid, Benidorm and a random village in the Pyrenees. Hardly scratching the surface. And remember, this is just one of many provinces in the whole country.
Chengdu soon became our favourite city in China. It is hard to say why, since we hardly spent any time on it. Perhaps it was the locals, who were more friendly and smily than in Shanghai. The food certainly helped, as it was outstanding and, inexplicably, cheaper. Regardless of the reason, it was just a more pleasant place.
Our first destination in Chengdu was the Giant Panda Breeding Centre. This is a conservation centre and a big business as well: American zoos generally pay the Chinese government $1 million a year in fees for renting a giant panda.
Wikipedia has a great article about the different points of view on the centre.
We try and fail to escape China’s National Holiday by going into Sichuan’s mountains. And after that, it is time to visit the rice terraces of Yuangyang.