Skip the Teracotta Warriors?

Skip the Teracotta Warriors?

The Terracotta Warriors, one of the best known tourist sights in China, could you go to Xi’an and skip it?  When people ask you about your trip to China, would you be able to tell them that you didn’t bother seeing the warriors?  Each warrior is unique, creating an army that was to protect the first Emperor of China in the afterlife.

The Terracotta Warriors (above), as we know them, amazingly well preserved sculptures for being over 2000 years old.  The reality is that they didn’t survive, they crumbled, but the curators of the historical site have taken it upon themselves to rebuild the army, piece-by-piece.

Before reconstruction, much of the army lies in pieces, defeated by time, waiting for their date with a careful excavator and superglue.

Given the history, even if it’s glory is recreated: why would you consider skipping the historical site?  First of all is due to the crowds.  While it is estimated that there are 8,000 members of the Terracotta Army, at any point on any summer day there are many times that in visitors.  If you want to get photos without people in them you better be ready to push and be pushed by the throngs of tourists.  Tour guides will not hesitate to physically move you out of the space they feel their group should stand.

Secondly, it’s not the best place to get up close to the warriors.  At the Shanxi History Museum in central Xi’an, you can get close enough to see the individual warriors.  You can admire the lifelike detail with which the artists created an army of individuals.  While seeing the Army is impressive, the art is in the details, details which the Shanxi museum does a better job demonstrating.  The photo below is from the Shanxi Museum.

Lastly, there is a lesser-known, but better tomb to visit in Xi’an: the Tomb of Emperor Jing of Han (Hanangling Museum; 141 BC).  The museum does a superior job explaining the historical context of building figurines for the afterlife and the progression of Chinese tombs.  The museum allows you to walk on glass walkways above excavated tombs, get close to the terracotta figurines, and, best of all, avoid crowds.

The Hanangling Museum does the best job combining the history, archeological study and proximity to the artifacts that I have seen in Asia.

To answer the question: could you skip the Terracotta Warriors while visiting Xi’an?  If you want to get up close to the artifacts, visit a better museum, or leave with a richer understanding of the history: the answer is “yes”.  That said, can you really go to Xi’an and skip it’s biggest attraction?  Probably not, it is busy for a reason, it is famous for a reason…because it’s pretty cool.  Even so, don’t skip the other gems while you are in Xi’an.

PS: Between you and me, here’s one other secret: there is a pyramid.  Like the pyramids of Mexico and Cambodia, this is a great example of a lessor known ancient pyramid (info here).


  1. Visit the Terracotta Warriors in the afternoon.  Conventional wisdom is to go in the morning, but that’s when the tours go, take the bus yourself from the bus station located next to the train station for 8 RMB (about $1.25) each way in the early afternoon.
  2. Take a tour to the Jing Di tombs (the Hanangling Museum), it is far out of town and tours provide the best value for transportation.
  3. Prepare to wait in line at the Shanxi Museum.  The tickets are free, but you may have to wait up to two hours in line for no apparent reason.  We were told there is a place on site you can pay 20 RMB for the special exhibit ticket which includes general admission, but we didn’t look for this.
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» Dad :
Sep 5, 2011

Travel can be so unpredictable, with variables of weather, traveling partners, expectations, timing and luck to name a few…….we were the first in the building before it officially opened and in effect, we owned the place……a china highlight for us……overall, you are way winning though in travel experiences… safe and be happy……love…..bka

» Sandie :
Sep 6, 2011

I went close to Chinese New Year’s Eve during winter and there was one other family there looking at the Terracotta Warriors. It was pleasant having the entire place so empty so another option would be avoiding major attractions during peak seasons. Downside is dealing with tough weather that can leave you sick for months.

I’m a huge fan of your offbeat travels. I’m learning so much just by reading your blog. I’ve never even heard of the other museum much less a pyramid in China. I did stumble upon a Muslim part of town in Xi’an that was really interesting.

A few of your blog posts has really stuck with me in particular your posts on Beggars in SE Asia and Sexual Tourism is that so prevalent there. I’ll never forget one summer during high school when I was walking out of a hotel room in Thailand excited for the day’s activities when a gorgeous girl my own age was sneaking out from a room across from me. The look in her eyes was haunting. There was no question why she was at the hotel as a overnight guest. In China, I went to a super touristy place in a smaller town with a Chinese tour guide and she told me straight out that the entrance would be lined with beggars pleading for money but I wasn’t to give them a single cent. She said that begging had become profitable there that some people were resorting to maiming themselves or children for a higher profit. There were people who carried drugged babies so they could beg all day with them. By giving them even a single cent, I would be encouraging that behavior. While there are many breathtaking views and experiences while traveling in certain countries, there is also that unexpected guilt while you try and figure certain things out.

I find both your posts thoughtful, funny, and a very interesting read. Safe travels!

LOCAVORista Reply:

Sandie, thanks for your insightful comments. Your tip on visiting China in the winter is excellent, we have both decided that the next time we visit China winter would be great, especially as we are conditioned for it coming from MN. Glad you’re enjoying the offbeat travel, the Tomb of Emperor Jing Di is definitely worth a look the next time you are in Xian. Also, the Muslim Quarter (tucked behind the Drum Tower) that you mention is a great place to add to any itinerary in Xian as the food is delicious!

I appreciate you weighing in on Sex in Asia and Beggars in SE Asia as well, these are tough topics, but important to shed light on. It is so unfortunate that begging has become profitable as you mention and as hard as it is, it really is best to avoid giving money. I continue to struggle with Travel Guilt and hope that our stories and experiences help to bring more awareness to these difficult topics. Thanks again for your comments, happy travels!

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About the Author

thinkCHUA: Photographing and documenting the world on a 3 year round-the-world trip to help future travelers discover new places, travel longer and enjoy the world's great experiences.

About the Author
thinkCHUA: Photographing and documenting the world on a 3 year round-the-world trip to help future travelers discover new places, travel longer and enjoy the world's great experiences.


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