Day 206 (2): The end of the Silk Road

Xi'an Travel Blog

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Old Northern City Gate

Xi'an, the end of the Silk Road, or the beginning, depending on which direction you travel in. It was from here that caravans carrying silk and spices from China made their way towards Europe and vice versa.
Despite my big detour through India and Nepal, it still felt like I was (loosely) following the ancient trade routes on my trip. After all, there were routes going south as well, bringing horses down from China to India and spices back up. It may not have been called the Silk Road, but it was still part of the same network of trading routes, all of which seemed to pass through Xi'an at one point or another.

My train arrived at Xi'an train station, precisely on schedule on 20:50 - amazing how they can manage to have a 35-hour train journey arrive right on the minute, while back home they can't even make 35-minute train journeys run on time.

Motel 168 - not a taxi driver in Xi'an who has ever seen this sign
I don't really like arriving in a new city (a new country!) after dark, so I had booked a hotel near the train station. Well, near, it was two kilometres away and since I didn't have a map of the city, I didn't quite know which direction it was in, so I headed for a cab.

Which was easier said than done. The surrounding area of the Xi'an central station was chaos. They are working on a metro system and as a result the immediate surroundings of the station are closed for all traffic (including pedestrians). I guess I should feel at home here - this is the exact same thing as Amsterdam. Although I doubt it takes 15 years to dig a single metro tunnel here in Xi'an as well.

I walked towards the centre and found a few taxis waiting. I had the address of my hotel in my phone, but none of the cab drivers seemed able to read a street address in Western characters.
My meal. Looks good no? Tasted good as well, though those red things were bloody spicy
I read the address to them, but my pronunciation didn't seemed a bit off, since they had no idea what I was trying to tell them. I don't dislike Chinese and I will generally do my best to defend them against whatever prejudice people might have against the Han Chinese, but this was one of the moments when I was reminded that there is a reason racial stereotypes exist. If a Chinese person does not understand, rather than admitting it and making an effort to understand you, he will simply ignore you in the hope you will go away. And that is what the taxi drivers did.

One guy spoke a little English and he offered to drive me to my hotel for the equivalent of 15 Euros, even though he didn't know where my hotel was. I knew it wasn't more than 2 kilometres, and I also know the flag fall tariff of a taxi in Xi'an is about 90 cents, so the trip shouldn't cost me more than 3 Euros, so I politely declined the offer.
The view from the hotel restaurant

As I wasn't making any progress with the taxi drivers (a good 20 minutes had passed by now) I tried an alternative plan. I walked to one of the large 5-star hotels and asked the doorman if he spoke any English. He did and not only that, he could actually read the address I showed on my mobile. He hailed a cab, told the driver where to go and off I went. Altogether this had not taken more than 45 seconds - perhaps I should study a little Chinese if I want to survive in this place...

Ten minutes later I arrived at my hotel. Due to the metro construction works the driver had to make a huge detour, yet the total fare was only 1.5 Euros. I'm starting to like this country!
Arriving at the hotel I couldn't help but smiling. There were several huge red signs saying “Motel 168” on the building, not to mention that Motel 168 is China's third or fourth largest hotel chain (there are actually two in Xi'an), yet none of the taxi drivers had ever heard of the place.

The hotel I had booked was quite nice. After the good experience with a business hotel in Kashgar I had searched a similar deal in Xi'an. Only later did I realise that China does in fact have an excellent hostel network, but for my two days in Xi'an I didn't mind being in a slightly impersonal yet very comfortable hotel. Besides, I doubt I could have gotten a room this comfortable for the same price at one of Xi'an's hostels.

Since it was too late to head into town for food I had dinner in the rooftop restaurant in the hotel. The food here was surprisingly good. No idea what I had, I just pointed at a picture, but for once the served dish actually resembled the picture in the menu. Yummie breaded meat (I think it was chicken) with vegetables, pine-nuts and fiery hot peppers.
I was very happy to be back in China.

halilee says:
I learned a handful of phrases when we went to China.. came in immensely helpful.. and I loved trying the language out. Not too many english speakers there!
Posted on: Oct 04, 2012
Biedjee says:
Nah, the confusion about the language is half the fun of travelling in China :-)
Posted on: Jan 02, 2011
edsander says:
I'm so glad I've got a interpreter in Xi'an. ;-)
Posted on: Dec 31, 2010
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Old Northern City Gate
Old Northern City Gate
Motel 168 - not a taxi driver in X…
Motel 168 - not a taxi driver in …
My meal. Looks good no? Tasted goo…
My meal. Looks good no? Tasted go…
The view from the hotel restaurant
The view from the hotel restaurant
Xi'an Hostels review
An 'interesting' place to stay
The night before I travelled on the train from Lhasa to Xi'an I realised I didn't have a place to stay yet in Xi'an. Unaware of the excellent hostels … read entire review
photo by: Deats