The Terracotta Warriors are one of the top things to see in Xi'an. We recently visited Xi'an China to see the ancient terracotta army as part of an extended six week trip through Asia (#DrJSabbatical). China has a population of nearly 1.4 billion people and more and more domestic tourists visit popular destinations each year. The historic and well-preserved terracotta warriors date back to 200 B.C. and depict the armies of the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang. It's an impressive site, but needless to say, it can be very crowded. We found that for tourist attractions like the Terracotta Army, we had to adopt a guerrilla tourism mindset to get through the experience. Read on to find out more about what I mean by guerrilla tourism and how it played out for us in Xi'an.
Guerrilla Tourism Defined
What's guerrilla tourism? It's when a place is so crowded that you need to jockey for position to get the best photos, often elbowing folks out of the way to do so. In turn, those around you are trying to elbow their way in. You get in, get the shot, and get out again... It can feel like you are fighting an army of tourists. As you can see from these photos around Pit 1 of the Terracotta Army we needed to be in full-on guerrilla tourism mode.
Visiting the Terracotta Army by Public TransportationExpress VPN to figure out which local bus would take us to the central train station and bus depot. Google Maps is blocked in China but it if you use a VPN, you can access public transit directions in Xi'an.
China Travel Guide (our go-to resource for planning our trip to China) recommended taking tourist bus #306. For 7 CNY (about $1 USD at the time of writing), you can get from the center of Xi'an to the Terracotta Army in about an hour.
An Introduction to the Terracotta Warriors in Pit 3
Many of the resources that we read about Xi'an's Terracotta Army suggested visiting the covered archeological pits in reverse order. Start with Pit 3. It's the longest walk but the smallest pit. Pit 3 has some nice examples of terracotta warriors with chariots and the associated terracotta horses.
An Active Archeological Dig in Pit 2
Pit 2 also features a variety of terracotta warriors behind glass that you can view up close to see how truly life-sized they are plus the intricate details of their clothing which differ depending on their role in Qin Shi Huang's army.
The terracotta warriors under glass definitely put us into another guerrilla tourism situation. Tourists would crowd around the chambers to try and get a glimpse. With a bit of effort (and a pinch of patience), I was able to approach the glass and see for myself.
Getting the Shot by Applying Guerrilla Tourism Tactics
Pit One is by far the most impressive of the Terracotta Army's covered archeological sites. It's also, as you might expect, the most crowded. Pit 1 contains over 6000 life-sized figures that seem to be emerging from the rock. We found ourselves in a constant fight against invasive selfie poles and in a battle of will against other tourists to get and hold a spot along the railing.
The Star Attraction in Pit 1
I'm pleased to say that I fought the good guerrilla tourism fight and managed to get some amazing pictures of the Terracotta Army. Bring a camera with a good zoom lens (my Canon Powershot SX60 HS has a 65x optical zoom).
Each warrior is dressed according to their role. Some of the warriors look like they should be holding reins. These are the chariot drivers. The reins themselves and the chariots have long since disintegrated.
Every one of the terracotta warriors has a different face and expression. I often wondered who the artists used for inspiration. Did they have real members of the army sit for them and thus they are immortalized more than 2000 years in the future? Did the artists carve from memory people they'd seen on the street? Maybe members of their family?
When traveling, it's nice to avoid touristy spots but in some cases, you just can't. The Terracotta Army near Xi'an is billed as the 8th Wonder of the World and it's worth a little inconvenience from the crowd and having to adopt the guerrilla tourism mindset to see this marvel of the ancient world and get some great photos.