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Why visit the Terracotta Army? A bit of History will clarify this…
Simply put, the Terracotta Army is considered one of the major archaeological discoveries of the 20th century. It consists of thousands of terracotta warriors who were created in order to safeguard Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China, after his death –dated in 210-209 BCE. The army was discovered unexpectedly by local farmers relatively close to Xi’an city, Shaanxi Province in March 1974 and the sculptures have different heights, gear, and ornaments according to their given position/ role- rationally the tallest ones are the generals! A full guide of China Temples Highlights (not my cup of tea!) can be found on this well-informed website!
How big is the entire collection and the Terracotta Warriors?
So far, more than 8000 soldiers, 130 chariots, 700 horses along other figures have come to light from three different pits which are open to the public. Pit no.1 is the most impressive and photogenic; it is the one you have seen in thousands of photos and documentaries and as massive as you guess!
However, the next 2 pits are also very important as you can observe the archaeological excavation going on, the half-buried bodies, pieces from the sculptures, close-ups from entire warriors and horses, etc. There are also museums and exhibitions describing the story behind the Terracotta Army and its majestic journey through the centuries.
Can I visit it by myself without tours?
Given this scale, a paid tour can be very expensive when actually…there is no reason for booking one even if you speak no Chinese! So the answer is definitely YES! On the other hand, of course, an organized tour can be more convenient and hassle-free but if you are on a budget or up for a little adventure here you can find some useful tips on how to skip guided tours! Alternatively, you can reach the place on local transport and then hire a local guide for few hours – they can be found all over the entrance but please be careful and make sure that you hire a qualified and certified one! The reality is that the qualified guides can enrich the experience and add more value to the knowledge one can get but the exhibition inside is full of useful information and knowledge “bites” anyway.
Where are the Terracotta Warriors located and how much time do I need there?
The masterpiece is located 30km east of Xi’an, a beautiful Chinese city where you can spend few days and/or use it as a base for a visit to the Terracotta Army as most visitors do. For the Army, one full day is sufficient to see everything even if you go by yourself but since the crowds can be out of control (long queues even for taking a simple photo!) plan wisely your visit day and time.
I am in, tell me more about how to reach the Terracotta Army by bus!
The public bus No. 5 (306) can be found on the square next to Xi’an main Railway Station 西安火车站 (where the normal trains pass by, not the bullet ones!) and it will drive you to the Terracotta Army in about an hour. It has English signs (not that common for the Chinese buses so this definitely helps!), the journey costs around 8 RMB (not even £1! ) and it runs daily from early morning but only up to 7 pm (as per 2018). Get off at the very last stop (unless you want to visit other significant places beforehand like the Huaqing Hot springs or Qin Shihuang’s Mausoleum) and follow the crowds to the entrance – this is a 5 to 10 minutes walk. It is useful to have a map of the area already downloaded as Google Maps are banned in China. Alternatively, it is said to be a free shuttle bus from the North Railway Station of Xi’an (yes, this is the one for the bullet trains!) but you can hop on only if you have a valid train ticket for the day AND the ticket for the Army already bought. We opted for the first way as we were already staying in Xi’an so I don’t know how convenient/feasible this option is!
Allow plenty of time for wandering thoroughly the vast area and, as I have already suggested, avoid weekends and Chinese public holidays for your own good! On the way back you can spend some time at the food and souvenirs market outside (here I ate the spiciest tofu ever!) and buy some souvenirs; although a bit pricier in comparison with Xi’an markets.
Don’t be fooled by the buses that…pretend to be the «public ones», they will charge you more (an arm and a leg?) for taking you back home. This is a common tourist scam outside of the Terracotta Army but thankfully easily recognizable! How? Well, there are touts outside the buses shouting to make you hop on. Obviously, the public buses do not beg for passengers! Additionally, do not leave the attraction last minute as everyone does the same and the buses look like sardine tins- no exaggeration here! No doubt we learned this the hard way (as always…) and we had to queue for over 45 minutes to catch a bus in which, of course, we ended up standing jam-packed for the entire journey (after a full walking day)! Besides that, you risk too much to miss the last bus (as I beforementioned the last public bus runs around 7 PM) because many buses will skip you as they will be already packed to the brim.
Final Thoughts on how to DIY visit the Terracotta Army
Is the Terracotta Army worth it? Absolutely!! Overall, the place is unique and the experience truly immersive, it is something you don’t want to miss if you ever travel to China. In my point of view, it’s really worth the effort and if you do it by yourself it’s not expensive at all! It’s not a tourist trap (although highly touristy) but you just need to be vigilant for the random scams.
Some people have been dreaming for a long time to visit the marvelous Terracotta Army (and I can’t blame them!) but what about you? Would you like to visit this place?
*Another way to visit China on a budget or even better (to get paid to live here!) is by securing a teaching job around China. There are so many people doing that so don’t be afraid to jump on this boat!*