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Tag Archives: history
When our long-term travels through Asia ended so abruptly in early 2015, I never quite finished documenting each of the places we visited. Despite it being nearly two years later, I've decided to continue writing about each of the destinations we visited - primarily for my own personal satisfaction and memories. This post about Xi'an has been sitting in my drafts for quite some time, so it is about time to press the publish button...hope you enjoy!
It was a long five hours, the train from Luoyang to Xi’an.
We had opted to take the cheaper slow train instead of the high-speed train that can whip you between the cities in less than two hours.
Our seats were in different compartments and while Alan lucked out with a upper berth where he could relax with a couple of movies, I was on a lower berth where my blonde hair and fair skin meant I had plenty of company!
I’d started doing some editing on my laptop but it wasn’t long before I had an audience viewing each and every photo on my computer, as well as a young boy being nudged over by his parents with a shy “hello” and nervously offering me his teddy. It was cute and funny the first time, after about the fifteenth time? I was more than ready to arrive in Xi’an!
It was late and dark when we disembarked, and after fending off overpriced taxis outside the train station we began to walk in the direction of our guesthouse. It didn’t take long before tiredness and hunger took over and we flagged a taxi, which turned out to be a wise decision. In the expansive maze that is the Muslim Quarter, our taxi driver had to ask for directions three times, so there really was little hope for us if we had of walked!
The Muslim Quarter is an area that appears to have thrived since the 1st Century BC. As the starting point of the ancient Silk Road, Xi'an attracted traders from throughout Central Asia and the Middle East - during the 8th century it was the biggest city in the world with more than 1 million inhabitants, many of whom were foreigners. The age of this history just astounds me!
Popular among tourists, The Muslim Quarter is a great spot to be in for hearty street food, and although we arrived late at night there were still a few stalls open. We each grabbed a Rou Jia Mo (a Chinese Hamburger, of sorts), which were quickly demolished as we wandered the streets back to our guesthouse.
Looking out our window early the next morning, vendors were already set up for the day displaying tables of their fresh fruits and vegetables. I was eager to explore and soak in the hive of activity in the Muslim Quarter!
As we wandered down the street hunting for a hot breakfast, pots were steaming away and butchers were hard at work.
Honking motorbikes wove in and out of pedestrians, while cats sniffed for forgotten crumbs.
Nuts were being shelled and sweet, sticky candy was being hand-pulled.
Warm aromas of freshly baked bread and sizzling pastries teased our senses.
These pastries caught our eye and quickly became our go-to breakfast over the next few days. A fried flatbread of sorts, stuffed with what we decided was cabbage and minced meat - though I can't be entirely sure!
The variety of food in the Muslim Quarter was incredible! Some was delicious, and some not so much - but a great opportunity to try lots of different things.
Some kind of glutinous rice cake. It tasted like...rice!
Hearty Mutton and Bread Soup
As is the norm across Asia, in Xi'an there are motorbikes everywhere. I loved the motorbike quilts throughout China that riders wore to protect themselves from the bitter cold.
We spent some time wandering around the city sights including the Bell Tower and Drum Tower - two iconic symbols of X’ian built during the Ming dynasty way back in the 1300's. Historically, the Bell Tower would ring a bell at dawn and the Drum Tower would beat a drum at dusk to signal the end of the day, hence the names.
We didn’t go inside either because, honestly? They were a touch expensive and we were feeling a little over sightseeing. Very pretty from the outside though!
Also, we had other overpriced things to spend our money on! Like hot drinks at Pacific Coffee, which became quite a thing for us in X’ian. It was essential to stop every now and then somewhere warm to thaw out our fingers by wrapping them around a steaming hot drink. Not to mention, Pacific Coffee’s English Breakfast Tea Lattes are seriously addictive. I could barely go a day without.
After some exploring on the first day we were ready to face what would be our most active afternoon since Muay Thai training in Thailand. I’d read about cycling around the city wall on Our Dream Adventure, and was looking forward to doing it myself! A total length of nearly 14km, though being flat is still quite the effort to zip around in a couple of hours (if you return your bikes after 2 hours, you have to pay extra!).
Chinese New Year was coming up so there were plenty of grand, multicoloured decorations being assembled in preparation for celebrations!
But of course, no trip to X’ian is complete without visiting the famous Terracotta Warriors! Early the next day we made our way to the bus station and caught a local bus out to the site about 30km from Xi'an city.
It was a chilly winter's day so a hot cuppa was essential to warm up the insides for a day of exploring!
They were created in the 3rd century BC as the burial site for Emporor Qin Shi Huang, presumably to protect him in the afterlife. We learnt about the detail of the statues, right down to their distinct hair texture and facial features. Incredibly, each was intricately different, with uniforms and style depicting the statues' ranks.
The statues were so colourful! Though much of the colour has decayed over more than 2000 years (!!), there is a full display about the colours, how they were made and how they are being preserved. Which is especially fascinating, considering when the statues were created.
This kind of history just blows my mind.
The Bronze Horsemen were also on display in the museum area.
First discovered in 1974 by a local farmer digging a well, it is believed that only as much as 25-30% of the warriors have been uncovered so far - that is just over 2000 warriors from an estimated 8000+. There is still plenty of excavation more to be done!
There are three pits open for public viewing, however Pit 1 is the most active and impressive. There are sites where excavation work is still being completed and other areas where pieces that are found are meticulously out back together, like a highly meticulous puzzle!
It was a fascinating day at the Terracotta Warriors and I'm so pleased we made it to Xi'an to explore the area!
After another day of our favourite activities - wandering, street food and perhaps another cuppa from Pacific Coffee - it wasn't long before we were jammed amongst the crowds awaiting our overnight train to Beijing.
With a 1200km journey ahead of us that night, we hoped we were going to be able to get some sleep on this train...
Stay tuned for Beijing and ticking one enormous wall off my bucket list in my next travel post!
Sukhothai wasn’t really originally on our Thailand “plan” - and I say that in inverted commas because we didn’t really have much of a plan at all. So when my brother took a rather impromptu trip to India with a week in Bangkok on his way home, we immediately began to scratch together a plan to meet somewhere in Thailand. Considering Alan and I were in Northern Thailand and my brother would be flying into Bangkok, what better place that bang smack in the middle: Sukhothai. Yeah, that would do the trick.
To be honest, I didn’t know much about Sukhothai other than it was the name of one of the Thai restaurants we frequented in my home town when I was growing up. I may be very partial to Pai and Koh Samui, but Sukhothai quickly joined their ranks and became one of my favourite places in Thailand to date.
Sukhothai is a city in two pieces: the New City, which is the modern city, and the Old City, which houses the ruins of the ancient Thai capital and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Located 12 kilometres apart, you can stay in either the old or the new area, though we were pleased with our decision to stay in the new city where we were surrounded by locals, a pleasingly minimal tourist scene, and simply travelled by bus - or rather, a large songthaew - to the old city for a day of exploring.
Translated as "Dawn of Happiness", Sukhothai was the political and administrative hub of the Kingdom of Siam back in the 13th and 15th centuries (1238-1438 to be exact). The city had an enormous influence on the culture and art of what we now know as Thailand, and created what is referred to as "Sukhothai style" in terms of the design of its Buddha images. In the 1400's, Sukhothai was seen to its demise as it was conquered by Ayutthaya, another historical region of interesting ruins that can be explored by day trip from Bangkok. If you are interested in a detailed history of Sukhothai, you can read all about it on the UNESCO World Heritage Site here.
One of the best things about Sukhothai is that no-one seems to know about it! It is touristy enough that it is straightforward to find a meal, a great value guesthouse (we loved EZ House in the new city) and general amenities, however it definitely lacked the crowds of tourists and touts that can be a problem in so many other parts of Thailand. Sukhothai was so peaceful and felt almost empty, at least when we were there.
We arrived late at night after an exhausting series of busses from Pai via Chiang Mai - we departed Pai at 8am and arrived in Sukhothai at 9pm (travel isn’t always fun!) - and my brother arrived on a similarly tiresome journey from Bangkok shortly after. Following a quick meal at a restaurant called - are you ready for it - Poo Restaurant (please tell me I'm not the only one to giggle...), we tucked up for the night, ready for some exploring of the Sukhothai ruins the next day.
The next morning after adequate coffee and breakfast consumption we boarded a bus bound for the Old City (20 baht) where we were quick to hire some rather old-school bicycles that would become our mode of transport for the day (30 baht for a full day). We paid our entrance fee for the largest, central area (100 baht for foreigners plus an extra 10 baht for the bicycle), cycled through the gates into Sukhothai Historical Park and were free to roam and marvel at the ruins.
Marvel we did. Sukhothai is truly spectacular!
Consisting of various temples and ruins of which many are 800+ years old, the park is very well-maintained, if not overly restored in some parts. Regardless, the peaceful ambience you would expect from such a place was retained and we barely saw more than a few tourists at each sight. Some areas that we visited we were the only people there which was truly a breath of fresh air!
I love this photo - even monks can take ages to capture the perfect shot!
Before we knew it, we were beginning to run low on energy and needed some sustenance for lunch. We circled back around to the corner of the park dedicated to restaurants and souvenir shops, and quickly demolished a very average plate of pad thai, saved only by the fact that it was very reasonably priced compared to what you would usually pay in a tourist area.
As we ambled back to our bicycles ready to continue our day of exploring, we were stopped by a group of university students undertaking an English project where they wanted to ask us some questions. Naturally we were very hesitant (scam alert!) but over the course of a few minutes we became certain that this was in fact the truth and happily volunteered to be interviewed. Some of their English was really good, others you really had to listen hard to pick out keywords - but we managed with smiles all round. Usually we would avoid this kind of activity if approached in tourist areas (and always keep a close hand on your possessions!), but that was one of the beauties of Sukhothai for us - we felt like this was a safe and real environment, and it was!
Post-interviews, more cycling ensued. We continued to explore within the walls, before venturing out back onto the road and spotting a few more ruins dotted around.
You can pay extra to visit the North and West areas of Sukhothai Historical park, which I’m certain are just as impressive, but we all agreed that for us it was more about the atmosphere and feeling of the place than ticking off each specific temple. We cycled as much as we could without having to pay an additional fee, before circling back and calling it a day - and a surprisingly magnificent one at that.
Little did we know, the next day we would be marvelling even more at the ruins of outlying Si Satchanalai…stay tuned!