Xi’an: The Terracotta Warriors
Warning: This post is filled with many negative comments and complaints. The warriors are hugely underrated and a massive disappointment. If you don’t care about my thoughts and just want to see some photos then skim through this post to the photos!
When you think of visiting China there are a few attractions which immediately spring to mind. The Great Wall, the Forbidden Palace and the Terracotta Warriors. We were pretty excited to be visiting one of those today!
The hostel we were staying in offered tours to see the warriors. Actually the tour was only transport and the entrance fee. They wanted £34 each! It was really easy to get there by ourselves. We caught the bus from the bus station for 70p each which took us straight there. Then we only had the £15 each entrance fee to pay. Half the price and no stupid tour timeframe to follow.
Just to complain a little (I feel I don’t complain quite enough!) there was absolutely no information about the buses. We only know because other tourists have written blogs or put information on Trip Advisor detailing exactly where to go, what to pay, where to get off, etc. But, what really annoys me is in addition to no information there are touts taking advantage. As a white guy walking around I’m their prime target (this is the same everywhere). They have another bus. A better bus. Why not go on their bus? With some mis-information they can easily prey on any tourist who isn’t 100% sure of where they are going. And the Chinese authorities think this is acceptable! It’s not! I hate it! They will arrest people talking about freedom, rights and carry out the odd massacre or two, well not so much in recent years. And yet, in a Socialist, nay Communist system of government, they don’t help ordinary people by signposting information clearly nor stopping touts who lie, cheat and rip people off. That roughly sums up the government’s attitude. Opps… I’ll get back to the point now…
Approaching the ticket office we were bombarded with people wanting to be our guide. After ignoring those we easily bought the tickets and hired an audio guide (tour guides cost a lot more and have an agenda, you go where they want you to go). At the gate we were told we couldn’t enter without paying extra for the buggy to the entrance. We would have to go the long way round. And bloody hell was it the long way round! From the ticket office to the entrance was at least 1km of shops and restaurants. Looking at a stall is enough to set the stall owner off (I see them as doll on a pull string, repeating the same thing over and over once you get them going). I’ve given up getting annoyed with these people ( mostly), now I just play my game, can I get every stall owner to start a sales pitch? Usually I can achieve 100% success. I also advocate that Annemarie does the same but she doesn’t want to play ball.
Once inside we found ourselves in a large open square. Where to go? Oh, no signs! We went into a big building and found two chariots. Any information? No. Any number for the audio guide? No. Annemarie went through a few numbers until finally she found the audio for what we were looking at. The second horse had a sign saying replica on it. After listening it turns out the horses are both replicas, half size replicas showing the condition they came out of the ground in. If you’re going to replicate something why not show what it originally looked like? The lack of information and poor display was annoying. All of which was in a dimmly lit room. The rest of the floor was display cabinets showing objects from the time. Pans, jugs, kettles, etc. OK, but we’d seen that in the museum so we skipped through quickly.
Outside we went into the next building. It was huge! Really huge! We looked over the edge and down into the pit and what did we see? Nothing! It hasn’t been excavated! It has walls and it’s possible to make out the wooden beams covering the army. In a few small sections excavation work has taken place and we could see smashed warriors on the floor. At the side were 4 display cabinets containing a general, mid ranking officer, a bow man and a horse. The craftsmanship is amazing and the effort that must have been put into them is impressive. So you’d expect hours of talking about them. Oh no! Not here! The audio guide stated that he was a general because of his clothing. Very little extra information. Same for the officer. The information on the horses was a bit better, explaining when a horse was at its prime and a bit about the rearing of horses. But very little really. This was incredibly disappointing! I know that it is huge and probably very time consuming to do the work properly but there is so little information about anything in the museum that it’s not even educational.
We left that empty pit hoping this was going to get better. We entered pit 3. This was a small pit, fully excavated and filled with warriors. There was lots of audio guide numbers in here detailing the rooms and their purpose. It talked about the army command and other interesting stuff. Some things were vague. It talked about warriors that had been painted; but we couldn’t see them and it didn’t say if they were damaged, not on display, in another location, or whether the paint had simply peeled off. Also some of the warriors had no heads. Why? I guess it’s because all the warriors were in pieces and they have had to be slowly reconstructed and the heads were simply too damaged to repair. That’s a guess, the audio guides never mentioned missing heads!
We finally found pit 1, the main pit! It is also huge! The front third has been excavated and the warriors painstaking reconstructed. The views of the warriors is good and there are many audio guide sections with quite a bit of information. However, it didn’t detail which dynasty the warriors came from, why they were made and why they were here.
The pit was full of Chinese people who are obsessed with having their photo taken in front of every single possible object! (The rest of the world is similar but not quite as bad). Standing by the edge looking over the pit and listening to the audio guide numerous people would come and ask me to move. Why? I don’t ask them to move so I can look out. Maybe I should just move because I don’t have a camera? This really annoys me! The area along the front is over 200m long and they picked my section and tell me to move over! No!
Once away from the front the sides were nice and quiet. The pit is about 400m long and I spent a long time listening to the audio guide. Unfortunately, only about a third of the pit is excavated but near the back is a huge collection of terracotta warriors that have been reconstructed. They are amazing. There’s over 8,000 warriors in the pits and each one is individual. They have proper army clothing, unique faces and different hair styles. Detail on this scale is truly an amazing feat! They also each had a bronze weapon apparently. But the weapons were gone. No idea where to…
Thoroughly annoyed and disappointed with the museum we decided to leave. But before leaving I wanted to see the tomb itself. It’s a huge mound bigger than many hills in England! It’s not excavated and I actually have no idea what if anything is in there. The museum has a free shuttle bus to the tomb area so we went looking for it. We found some signs but none of them mentioned the shuttle bus. We found a sign for the tourist information so headed for that. It turns out the tourist information centre is in a shop. All the staff were busy eating lunch and playing with their phones, far too busy to help us. So we left.
Luckily on the way to the exit we remembered the shuttle buses were by the ticket office. We exited and started walking back down through the huge shopping area towards the ticket office. It was past midday and we were hungry so we looked in a few of the restaurants. Very basic meals were about two to three times the usual price. We refused to pay and continued.
We got on the bus to the tomb, we spent 15 minutes waiting for the bus to fill for around a 3 minute drive. If it wasn’t so hot we could’ve walked it quicker! The route from the bus to the entrance was about 500m of stalls selling souvenirs. The sellers seem to love the sight of the white man and they start their pitches, in Chinese. An amusing thing here is that the Chinese seem to love shopping, especially for junk. On the Jiuzhaigou tour they would complain about the money then immediately start handing over loads of it for absolute junk! The sellers probably do far better from the Chinese tourists than the foreign tourists! But still they try…
Once in we walked for about 5 minutes till we could see the hill. It was a reasonable distance away, high and wide. The fact that this is man-made is staggering. It’s huge! He must have had so many people working in this. How many people? We don’t know. How long did it take? We don’t know. How much did it cost? We don’t know. And why don’t we know? Because there’s no information at the site! Absolutely none! It’s a road and footpath around the hill. There’s a buggy ride around it for more money but I doubt there’s any information, and if it is it’ll be on Chinese. We took a photo and left!
In the car park where the buses had parked we looked for our bus. There were many other buses and a few people pressurising those wandering around to get on a particular bus. We knew the other bus takes much longer and has many more stops so we ignored him and found our bus. Other tourists weren’t so lucky. And that was our day. Probably the biggest disappointment of the trip. Many things haven’t been as good as expected or lived up to the hype but here we really thought it would. This is in everyone’s top things to do in China. It’s world famous. But it had been such a huge let down. Ok, so China is known for having terrible museums, poorly lit with incomprehensible information. But this place takes millions of British pounds per year! Come on China, you can do so much better!
For all our photos of the Terracotta Warriors view them on Flickr