Xi’an, China – The Terracotta Warriors For Budget Backpackers

Dariece Swift author's bio Goats On The Road

We arrived in Xi’an after a long train ride from Chengdu. We opted for the only budget backpacker option, “hard sleeper” class, which means that there are 6 bunks per berth, 3 stacked vertically on each wall. We ended up with the middle bunk this time, which is far better than the top bunk we got stuck with last time. The middle is the best in the hard sleeper class because it gives you enough room to sit up, plus it means you get the bunk to yourself all day. On the bottom bunk, other people sit on your bed during the day, and the top has no room. So we were pretty happy with middle, except for one problem, the a/c wasn’t working in our car. All the other train cars were blissfully cool and unaware of our sweltering existence on the only car with no air conditioning. So needless to say it was a sweaty, uncomfortable sleep complete with the lingering cigarette smoke that we’ve now come to associate with Chinese trains.

We know that there are some tour operators available that offer Xian Tours, but we were travelling at this time independently. The uncomfortable train was not the end of our journey.

We arrived with little sleep and hopped on a local bus to take us to our hostel. A cab is always an option and after 20 hours on a train, it’s tempting; but we’re trying to remember our backpacker roots and not spend needlessly in China. Immediately the bus passed through an entranceway in the enormous ancient wall that rims the city. Built in 618 AD the wall has been partially decimated by communist rule, but still protects one of China’s best examples of a walled city.

Clock Tower roundabout

We checked into our hostel, Xiangzimen, which was just inside the walls. The old building was well decorated and had excellent traditional carved mouldings and entranceways typical of olden day Chinese homes.  China is very well suited for budget backpackers and every hostel here seems to be of great value for money. Our main reason for coming to Xi’an was to see one of China’s most famous sights, the Terracotta Warriors. Over 2,000 years ago, the emperor and ruler of the Quin Dynasty, Qin Shihuang built himself a tomb. In this tomb he believed his life would go on after death and for this reason he needed to assemble himself an army to protect him in the afterlife. So he had 70,000 people carve 7,500 soldiers over a period of 37 years. The soldiers were placed at strategic points around his gravesite. Each soldier that was carved has its own unique face and the entire army was placed in battle order, separated by rank and rule.

thousands of Terracotta Warriors


rows of Terracotta Warriors

Over the millennia, many people have broken into the tombs, trashing and robbing everything in their paths. With so many soldiers to destroy however, the thieves must have become tired and left the remaining soldiers intact. What’s left now is an ongoing excavation of one of the world’s most incredible archaeological sites. Many soldiers still stand proud as they have for 2,000 years in a deep tomb that has now been mostly dug out for tourists to view.  As we walked around to the different pits to view thousands of these intricately carved masterpieces, the sheer size and difficulty of emperor Quin’s task became apparent. How anyone could lead so many people to carve so many perfect soldiers is unbelievable. So many of the men stand headless or limbless, but the grandeur of what they once were still emanates from the tombs, giving the visitor a real thrill of history, (even if they’re not history buffs).  Many people died during the creation of the Terracotta Warriors from starvation and maltreatment. The emperor was also responsible for creating much of the Great Wall of China where 1 million men died in the efforts. He was a brutal leader who forced labour on the masses, but what he created from their efforts is truly astonishing.

such intricate carvings, each face is different


The Terracotta Warriors


a restored warrior in a glass case – this is what they would have looked like years ago


us at the Terracotta Warriors


a baby with a slip cut out of its pants, for easier toilet access

After visiting the warriors, we had the night to explore Xi’an town before hopping on our train to Beijing. The town itself is awesome and worth a trip without the Terracotta Warriors. There is some old drum and clock towers and other sights to see, but the best part of Xi’an was the Muslim district, complete with one of the largest mosques in China, The Great Mosque. Some of these entrance fees are a little steep for the budget backpacker’s budget, they are worth a look, even if just from the outside.

one of the malls in Xi’an


Drum Tower


the Great Mosque


beautiful architecture at the Great Mosque


Muslim man and Dariece walking through the mosque grounds

We walked around the narrow lanes, where we could choose from a plethora of street foods and candies. We had heard of a famous lamb soup in Xi’an, so we tucked into one of the small street side restaurants and did our best to order a soup in English. Of course, being in China, there is no English spoken, so we were delighted when a young college student sat next to us who was studying English. He explained to us that we first order the dense, chappati like flatbread, break it up into the empty bowl, and then bring the bowl to the kitchen to be filled. It took us a good 10 minutes to finish breaking the bread up into the bowl and by the time we got our soup back we were starving. The broth was delicious and the bits of lamb were so tender that they fell apart as we picked them up with our chopsticks. The bread soaks up some of the broth but never becomes soggy because it’s so dense and the entire soup will go down as one of the best soups we’ve ever had. A true delight for the tastebuds, and the wallet as this budget backpacker meal comes in at under $2! We can see why it is so famous in Xi’an.

breaking up the bread for the amazing lamb soup


the finished product – lamb, noodles and bread soup


delicious food being cooked up on the streets in the Muslim district


walnuts for sale in the Muslim district


delicious food being cooked up


mmm, fried vegetables


walking the alleyways in the Muslim district


Dariece looking at jade bracelets

After dinner we headed to the train station to get on yet another overnight train. This time we were on a “soft sleeper”, a class above all the other trains we’ve taken in China and not the usual choice for budget backpackers.  So far we had been 0-for-2 on trains in China so we were hoping that this one would be better.

 Like this Post? Pin it!

Xi'an, China - The Terracotta Warriors For Budget Backpackers

Dariece Swift author's bio Goats On The Road

Written by

Dariece Swift

Dariece is a co-founder of Goats On The Road, and an expert in saving money, finance management, building an online business and of course... travel. She loves meeting new people, trying new cuisines, and learning about the unique cultures of our world. She has over 12 years of experience helping others to realize their travel dreams and has worked in numerous jobs all over the world to help pay for travel.

Related Posts

Looking Back On 2023: A Year of Transitions

It’s that time of year! A time when we sit back and reflect on the past 365 days. I’ve been writing these “Looking Back” posts since 2012 and I’m sad to say that for various reasons (some of which you’ll read about here), I missed writing about 2022. Most of 2022 was amazing and we ...
alarm clock

5 Crazy, Spooky Coincidences We’ve Had While Traveling

In this post, I wanted to do something a little bit different and share some really strange, serendipitous, spooky feeling coincidences that have happened to us while we’ve been traveling and living abroad. Not only were they super strange and almost too unlikely to be coincidences, but they also made us feel link the universe ...
campervan trip in portugal

Van Life in Portugal: Our 10 Day Portugal Campervan Trip

A Portugal campervan trip may not be first on a list of top adventures in Europe, but our experience says otherwise. When you think of taking a holiday in the small European country of Portugal, what comes to mind? Most people envision the glistening turquoise waters of the Algarve, the epic surfing in Nazare, or ...

3 thoughts on “Xi’an, China – The Terracotta Warriors For Budget Backpackers”

  1. Hi! How did you get to the terracotta warriors? Did you take a tour or do it by yourself? How much did it cost?

  2. Hi Paige,

    We took a bus out there independently. To be honest, I don’t remember exactly, as it was 4 years ago now. You can ask at your hostel and they will tell you which bus to take, or perhaps in your guidebook? Sorry I couldn’t help more!

Comments are closed.