The Terracotta Army, which consists of thousands of unique, life-sized clay soldiers poised for battle, is arranged by rank with weapons and horses to protect the tomb of China’s first emperor. Ying Zheng assumed the throne in 246 BC and unified warring kingdoms by his thirteenth birthday. He took the name of Qin Shi Huang Di (First Emperor of Qin), standardised weights and measures, linked states by roads and canals and is thought to have built an early version of the Great Wall.
He reportedly ordered the construction of the mausoleum just after taking the throne, and it is thought that there are originally 8,000 figures, although the exact total may never be known. Over 700,000 workers were tasked with producing the figures for 11 years, and they are truly a spectacle to behold.
Located 1.5km from Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s tomb in Lintong, this is a site not to miss on your trip to China. Thought to protect the Emperor and accompany him into the afterlife, the army of individually decorated and designed life-size figures are steeped in history and well worth the journey to see them.
Xi’an is reachable by plane from Beijing in 2 hours, Shanghai in 3 and by high-speed train in 6-7 hours from both. You can join a guided tour, visit the museum or do it by yourself – independent travellers should note that it’s quieter in the afternoon, but that the last bus back to Xi’an downtown departs at 7pm.
Top Tips for Travelling to China
Although it may seem vast, mysterious and daunting, don’t let the idea of travelling to China overwhelm you.
Try to pick up a tiny bit of Mandarin before you go – buy a guidebook and learn online (the BBC website is very decent). Keep your translating apps handy if you have access to WiFi or a good data plan; always have a copy and a photo of the business card for where you’re staying and where you want to visit for taxis and bus conductors. If in doubt, greet Chinese people with a smile – it will go a long way, as will even the most basic attempts at Mandarin.
Pin down your itinerary – China is so vast that you would need months to scratch the surface if you spread yourself too thinly. Pick out your top region or even province and see it properly.
Take advantage of public transport – local transport infrastructure is good and comes with literally millions of friendly, foreigner-loving Chinese tourists who’d love to put you back on track if you lose your way. Give it a go; you can always switch back to taxis, but the locals really are keen to help out.
Keep your wits about you when buying – be prepared to haggle in shops and on the streets, and expect to get the starting price down to 10% of the first quoted figure. Don’t tip in taxis or restaurants, and ask for both English and Chinese menus to make sure you’re not being ripped off on the English menu.
Never follow a stranger, as the Chinese are generally shy and wouldn’t approach you first — this is particularly a scam in Shanghai.
Last but certainly not least, travel insurance for Asian is a must. As with all travelArticle Submission, insurance for Asia should include comprehensive medical and belongings cover and ensure you mention any pre-existing medical conditions to be fully covered.