After spending seven nights in Beijing Nick and I took the train to Pingyao, spent a couple of days exploring the ancient walled town, and then travelled onwards by train to Xi'an. I'd say that one night in Pingyao would have been enough, it's got enough to keep you occupied for a full day's worth of sightseeing but after that there's very little else to keep you amused. The area is very touristy during the day - the roads are crammed full of Chinese tour groups, but at night the roads are quieter and, in my opinion, more of a real reflection of what the town is like. Xi'an, the capital of Shaanxi province, was on my mist visit list because it's the home of the famous Terracotta Warriors but after reading Alys from The Wild Life's posts about the amazing food in Xi'an I was almost more excited about getting some serious eating done. The city is pretty stunning, surrounded by an enormous city wall (apparently the biggest in the world) and with bell and drum towers that are beautifully lit at night it's a joy to explore.
On our first day in the city we decided to head out to see the Terracotta Warriors which was surprisingly easy but the site is large and 20km from the city so be prepared for a long day.
We took the 914 bus which was only 8¥ / 90p / $1.20 which is more than reasonable for a journey that takes almost an hour and a half. When you get off of the bus you'll need to cross the parking area before buying tickets and then walking for another 10 minutes or so to reach the actual site. I'll be honest, the site was not what I expected, there are three pits located in airplane hangar style buildings and you're actually quite far away from the warriors themselves. The pits haven't all been excavated which seemed strange to me and that kinda made it a little like visiting an unfinished building site. I'm glad that I went to see them but the combination of all of those things meant that I wasn't as wowed as I expected to be.
If you're a history buff this is still well worth the visit but take a packed lunch and remember to manage your expectations. Not everything is as it seems when you only see bloggers' and travel writers' perfectly zoomed in photos! When it comes to Xi'an's vegan food you can get as excited as you want - I promise that you wont be disappointed. Located in the Muslim Quarter the street stalls and pavement cafes are intensely busy all the time but it's worth pushing your way through throngs of people to get your paws on great vegan street food. First up, delicious fried potatoes. There were many, many versions of these being sold from stalls and carts lining the streets and they tend to be topped with chilli, spring onions, herbs, and sometimes sesame seeds.
One of the biggest differences between street food in Xi'an's Muslim Quarter versus the rest of China is that no lard will be used in the cooking. This cuts out one of the many questions you need to ask to try to get vegan food in China. Thankfully Alys speaks Mandarin so I was able to use her guide to lead me towards foods that are vegan as well as asking a few questions via my google translate app.
This spicy tofu is another fantastic vegan option, Nick went to town at these stalls once we were sure that no fish or chicken powder was used in the topping. Loaded with chilli and spring onions these tofu slabs are chopped into bite sized pieces and served up in a paper cup making them another great street snack.
My favourite time to explore these streets was at night, the air was cooler and more breathable, and I found that the crowds thinned out a little in the side streets the later it got. My very favourite spot was this simple noodle stand and restaurant that I'm 99% sure was located on Dapiyuan, one of the central streets. The thick handmade rice noodles were topped with tahini sauce, an intense garlic sauce, and, if you're not me, some spicy chilli sauce.
I was more than happy with these noodles, in fact I'd go as far as to say that they were my favourite of all of the things I ate in China. I love it when simple food is just so freaking good that you have to go back and eat it again and again!
As well as feasting on carbs I enjoyed some amazing fresh pomegranate juice, marvelled at the different dried fruits on sale, and took time to pause away from the crowds at the beautiful Grand Mosque. Nick and I also rented bikes to cycle around the city walls for a couple of hours. It was a great way to get a bird's eye view of the city and to really understand the scale of the wall itself, highly recommended.