Reader Nguyen sent a reminder that the China itinerary for Frugual Travel Guy did not run in full here last summer.
- Terracotta Warriors
- Huashan (my special recommendation)
Nice to see, depending on interest:
- Everything else, lots of places of middling interest
Day 5: early morning arrival in Xi’an. Drop luggage off at your hotel, perhaps get really lucky if they let you check in. You don’t need a guide, but a car makes life easier. The hotel can help you negotiate with a taxi, though some hotels may insist on their own cars which will be more expensive. You can try negotiating with a taxi yourself, just have it all written down clearly, and not all taxis will be willing to do it. You want to get out to the Terracotta Warriors, spend about two hours there and get back. I guess it would be around $100, but I have not tried it (I have used public transport but that is tough without speaking Chinese). There are also loads of day tours on offer that you can join, but be suspicious. Some of the top-end hotels have interesting bed and tour packages, like Shangri-La’s Wonders of Xi’an, but they are hardly frugal unless you have some points-based way to do it.
After visiting the warriors, you will probably have a few hours left over, and can visit any of these based on interest: Big Goose Pagoda, Little Goose Pagoda, City Walls, Shaanxi History Museum (ticket policies can be a problem and closes early). None is a standout, but best is probably the Big Goose Pagoda. The museum is good for aficionados but gets repetitive.
In the evening you can visit the Muslim Quarter’s shops and restaurants for a taste of the Silk Road. It is in the center of town, surrounding the Great Mosque.
There are various cultural variety shows on offer to amuse tourists at night. The hotels will not let you pass uninformed of them.
Day 6: Xi’an sights exhausted in one day, what to do? Huashan, one of my favorite places in China. Best to hire a car again, or you can try the buses, but do not waste time with the trains. I have taken the buses, the thing to be careful is to get back to the parking lot by mid-afternoon so you don’t get stuck stranded there looking for a taxi. If you hire a car, make sure to not pay more than half upon arrival because the driver many vanish and you will need to find another. Paying a premium to book a car through and agency or hotel reduces this risk.
Why Huashan? Stunning beauty, a very Chinese experience, and a place few foreigners see. China has a long tradition of holy mountains, there are five Taoist and four Buddhist that are considered holiest. The religiosity is not exactly intense but crowds flock for the scenery and for good luck. Couples get their names engraved on locks that they attach to chains all over the mountain to symbolize their commitment. Huashan is the western of the five Taoist mountains (Taishan = East, Hengshan = South, Hengshan, a difference character for Heng, = North, Songshan = Central). Huashan represents metal of the five Taoist elements (fire, metal, wood, water, earth). The steep peaks are breathtaking.
The drive is a solid two hours. Then you absolutely must take the cable car up or you will never make it in a day (or perhaps, days). Off the cable car you can choose to hike around to any of the peaks, but some are challenging, even requiring ladders. Just hanging around the central area is great enough anyway and not taxing. When I took my father to Beijing and Xi’an, Huashan was his top highlight.
Basic accommodation in temples and guesthouse is available on the mountain, but all are very rustic. Sunrise enthusiasts can considering staying overnight, others should return to Xi’an.
Day 7: morning flight to Shanghai. Flights in China are delayed as much as New York City flights, best to head out in the morning and get to your Shanghai hotel. The punishing parts of the trip are over. Most flights from Xi’an arrive at Pudong International Airport, far away from the city and home to almost all international flights, rather than the more convenient Hongqiao International Airport. If you are not overburdened by luggage, for novelty value, you can take the 430 km/h Maglev Train to its terminal at Longyang Road. From there you are still quite far from anywhere and can transfer downstairs to the metro stop (line 2) (not luggage friendly) or get a taxi. The most convenient method is a taxi right from the airport. There are several bus lines from the airport that are the most frugal option and relatively fast to a number of central locations. See here for detail and transport options for Shanghai’s airports.