Traveling Around

Traveling Around: Historical and Cultural Xi’an, China

April 18, 2020


If you are seeking places to visit in China, I highly recommend visiting Xi’an, particularly if you enjoy history. Currently the Upper Primary Art Teacher for Xi’an Liangjiatan International School, I have had the opportunity to visit many of this ancient city’s sights. While it is not one of the top cities in terms of population, it ranks near the top in terms of historical importance. For over 1,000 years it served as the capital of China under thirteen dynasties and 73 emperors. Some of its notable dynasties included the Qin, Tang, Han, and Zhang. Even today, construction efforts of this rapidly expanding city continue to be interrupted by archaeological discoveries.

Terracotta Warriors and Emperor Qin ShiHuang Mausoleum 

 Most people come to Xi’an to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Terracotta Warriors, located about 20 km east of modern Xi’an. Despite the large crowds (over 1 million visitors annually), this site is a must. Don’t forget to visit the Exhibition Hall and the Qin ShiHuang Mausoleum, both of which are included in the entrance fee. Just as with any popular destination in China, avoid going during any Chinese national holiday. In winter, crowds are less, as is the entrance fee. Getting your own transportation there (such as a taxi or Didi – China’s version of Uber) will be more expensive, but it will enable you to arrive early and before the tour groups. After being one of the first people in line for tickets, I immediately headed to Pit 1 and had it to myself for over five minutes. Pit 1 and the Exhibition Hall were the most impressive ones for me. Cheap, local buses will take you back into Xi’an. Tour guides are available, but I opted to conduct my own research prior to visiting. You will find many people selling souvenirs; you can find similar ones in Xi’an at a much better price.

Xi’an City Wall

One of Xi’an’s most recognizable landmarks is its city wall. This massive well-preserved structure (much of which dates back to the 14th century) is surrounded by a moat. Rent a bike or walk on top of the wall, for all or part of the 14 km (8.7 miles) length. Around the time of Chinese New Year, a lantern festival is held here. To experience fewer crowds during this time, I recommend going while it is daylight and observe the changes to the lanterns and watchtowers as nightfall descends. For photography of the wall and surrounding city, you have a greater chance of clear skies outside of late fall/winter. Air quality in winter can be quite bad.

Drum and Bell Tower

Centrally located within the confines of the ancient City Wall are the Drum and Bell Towers. Built in 1384, Xi’an’s Bell Tower is the largest and the best-preserved in all of China. Nearby is the Drum Tower (1380), also one of the largest in China. Both structures are beautifully illuminated at night. For a small fee, you can ascend the structures and also see some artifacts. From the Drum Tower, you can also see the immensely popular Muslim Quarters.

Muslim Quarter

If you follow the crowds near the Drum Tower, you will find yourself in what is known as the Muslim Quarter. Foodies (particularly meat-eaters) will rejoice, with the plethora of tasty offerings in this crowded area. Snack your way along or rest your feet in one of its many restaurants that serve up signature dishes such as hand-pulled noodles (one of my favorites), steamed dumplings, or Yangrou Pao Mo (pita bread pieces soaked in lamb soup). The Xi’an hamburger also makes a tasty snack. The Muslim Quarter is also a fun place for photography–if you don’t mind the crowds. While in the Muslim Quarter, you can take in a short shadow puppet show in Gao’s Grand Courtyard. 

While in the Muslim Quarter, don’t miss the Grand Mosque. The largest and one of the most important mosques in China, the Grand Mosque dates back over a thousand years. Enjoy its beautiful traditional architecture while you get a respite from the bustle of the crowded food streets. Its minaret and the Phoenix Pavilion are particularly noteworthy.

Shuyuanmen Ancient Cultural Street

Located just to the east of the South Gate of the City Wall is the Shuyuanmen Ancient Cultural Street. Many of its well-restored buildings date back to the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties. It is pleasant to wander the street and peek into the small shops selling calligraphy supplies, papercuts, shadow puppets, jade, paintings, and other souvenirs. During the Chinese New Year, the street is even more lively. At the end of the street is the famous Stele Forest.

Big Wild Goose Pagoda

Also known as Dayanta, the Big Wild Goose Pagoda is one of the most famous pagodas in China. Originally built in 652AD, the present 7-story brick structure was built without any cement. It was constructed to house Buddhist relics brought from India via the Silk Road. Visitors can pay a small fee to climb up the UNESCO World Heritage site to see some statues, paintings, poems, and great city views. While there, visit some of the structures within the Da Ci’en Buddhist Temple (648 AD). At the spacious North Square is the largest fountain square in Asia. At night, the fountain shows (set to music) are illuminated, as is the pagoda. The fountain show is particularly enjoyable on a warm late spring/late summer evening.

Small Wild Goose Pagoda

Located five kilometers away from its bigger brother, the Small Wild Goose Pagoda was erected in 709AD. Like Dayanta, the Small Wild Goose Pagoda is architecturally significant and well-preserved. On the same park-like grounds is the Xi’an Museum (free admission with passport). It houses over 130,000 relics and historical artifacts. Elsewhere in the park is a visitor center. I enjoyed learning more about how shadow puppets are made.

Shaanxi History Museum

This world-class museum houses over 370,000 exhibits, of which many of the items were excavated within the province. Exhibits within the three main halls are dual-sign-posted in Mandarin and English. Some of the museum’s signature pieces include several TerraCotta Warriors, Tang Dynasty tri-colored pottery (my favorite), and Tang Dynasty mural paintings. Admission (with passport) is free, but the Tang Murals Hall requires a separate, paid ticket. Any lover of history/art should visit this museum.

Han Yang Ling Mausoleum of the Han Dynasty

Otherwise known as the Tomb of Emperor Jingdi, the joint tomb of Liu Qi and his empress Wang covers an area of 20 square kilometers. Built in 153AD, the emperor’s tomb is at the center. The Outside Pits Exhibition Hall is the first underground museum in China. Transparent walkways enable visitors to see excavations of his tomb in progress–a very cool effect.  It contains over 50,000 terracotta doll-size figures and life-like animals arranged as if it were an army formation. 

Tang Paradise

Located just north of the original Tang Dynasty Lotus Garden site, this theme park is built in the style of the Tang royal garden. While it is pleasant to wander the beautiful grounds and admire the beautiful Tang-style architecture, it is especially beautiful during the Chinese New Year. During this period, huge lanterns and illuminated sculptures are a sight to behold in the lake and throughout the park. Indoor and outdoor cultural performances entertain visitors, along with the world’s largest movie on water-screen. I enjoyed the dragon dance outside the Zihyun building and some mini-concerts inside. Tang Paradise is also a beautiful place for photography in the spring.

Qinglong Temple

If you happen to be in Xi’an during the cherry blossom season, be sure to visit Qinglong Temple (originally dating back to 582 AD). Opening hours are extended, so try to be there very early in order to avoid the hordes of people. Bring your passport and camera. The area around the main Buddhist temple buildings is full of cherry blossoms. The area around the bridge is also very picturesque.

Getting Around

Many of Xi’an’s other popular sites are located fairly close to each other. The subway, signposted in English, is continually expanding, making it easier to get around to some of these sights. Taxis are available, but be sure to have the address written in Mandarin, because few drivers understand English. For expats living in China, DiDi is convenient. iPhone users will be able to use Apple Maps VPN-free to navigate, including subway and public buses.

This article was submitted by guest author and ISC member, Melissa Enderle.

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Traveling Around

Traveling Around: Melbourne, Australia (The life of an international school teacher is good!)

December 26, 2019


Traveling Around: Melbourne, Australia

Can you relate?

  • learning a bunch a new words that are just abbreviations of words you already know in English.
  • eating out at restaurants and finding that there are all cuisines on offer in the city, so diverse!
  • taking a day trip to Phillip Island to find those fairy penguins, but also enjoy the lovely summer day full of sunshine.
  • having an encounter with a mob of 15 wild kangaroos by yourself with no one else around.
  • being amazed by all the different kinds of animals in the wild that many countries don’t have.
  • being shocked by how much the temperature can change from day to day, sometimes with a 20+C difference!
  • thinking that the prices for food at restaurants look expensive, but after converting the price into my host country current, realizing it is kind cheap here.
  • wanting to catch up with a local (a person I worked with at one of my past international schools) but finding out it wasn’t going to work out do to that person being too busy during the holiday season.
  • meeting up with a friend who just moved there and finding out all the details about the pros and cons of living and working there.
  • renting a car and finding it not that stressful to drive on the other side of the road.
  • going to a restaurant of your partner’s home country cuisine and talking to the servers and owner who were also from that country.
  • checking out places that you didn’t visit the first time that you were in Melbourne (Luna Park, the bathing houses, Flinders Station, etc.)
  • walking into the National Library and being amazed by the architecture of the place.
  • not buying one souvenir, but taking lots of pictures of all the unique buildings, both old and new.
  • being disappointed when arriving at a favorited restaurant to realize it was closed for the holiday season, then checking ahead of time if the next restaurants were open for future meals.
  • seeing a near crash between car and tram, ‘trams can’t swerve’ said the sign!
  • loving that the trams in the CBD are free to use for everyone, every day!

Currently, we have 31 international schools listed in Oceania on International School Community. 8 of them have had comments submitted on them. Here are a few of those schools:

Kwajalein Senior High School24 Comments
Woodford International School12 Comments
International School Nadi9 Comments
Majuro Cooperative School8 Comments
Port Moresby International School8 Comments

If you are on a trip right now, away from your host country, write to us here with your “Can you relate?” traveling experiences.  Tell us where you are traveling in the world, what you are seeing and how you are coping with any culture shock.  Once your Traveling Around experience is posted on our blog, International School Community will give you 6 free months of premium membership!

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Traveling Around

Top 10 Things to Do in Japan in 7 days

November 11, 2018


Japan is, due to its remoteness and quirkiness, a dream destination for many Westerners. Common opinion is that, to fully experience wonders of the land of the rising Sun, one should plan for at least a ten-day long vacation. However, I still think that a week-long trip to Japan is a great idea for a spring or autumn break.

I traveled to Japan in the fall of 2018 when the weather was just perfect with almost no rain and the temperatures between 20 and 25°C. Itinerary wise, I chose to do the best of (and ideal for the first trip to) Japan: Osaka – Kyoto – Tokyo tour, flying to Osaka and leaving from Tokyo, and I would like to present you the 10 highlights from my trip.

Japan

  1. Visit the Osaka Castle

Depending on where you are located, it is good to go visit the Osaka Castle first, and during the day, as it is situated a bit separately from other tourists’ sights. This is a pre-Edo era fortress and a castle with a large moat, fortified with wonderfully executed stone wall. The castle itself is an architectural eye candy rising in the middle, that you can climb and get a view of Osaka skyline for as cheap as 600 JPY (5 USD).

  1. Osaka City Center in the night: Dotombori, Takoyaki

In the evening, I suggest you hit up the Dotombori area for a postcard worthy picture of the Moving Crab or the Swimmer neon poster. Take a stroll down the main shopping street that is so lit up with LEDs and neon lights in the night that you will lose every impression of the night sky above. This is a great place to try Takoyaki, the Japanese seafood balls that originate from this area. The big (moving) models of crabs, octopuses and squids are to indicate the kind of food that the restaurant is serving, so use them as a guide.

  1. Walk the Shinsekai in Osaka, The Tsutenkaku Tower, Kushikatsu

Shinsekai is an old, colorful, part of Osaka ironically called the New World. Well, once it was new, in 1920s that is, when it first emerged. The area was modelled by New York and Paris of that time, with the Tsutenkaku Tower dominating the neighborhood in the middle. It allows for another great view of Osaka skyline, but also to the Shinsekai from above. This area is famous for Kushikatsu –panko covered, deep-fried skewers made of vegetables, meat, eggs, cheese and the mixture of it. It is suitable for vegans as you can select only vegetables on your menu.

  1. Go to the Osaka Aquarium

The central tank of this aquarium features a couple of whale sharks and that alone is a big reason to visit the Osaka Aquarium located in the eastern part of the city and easily reachable by the subway. Apart from the sharks, which is the aquarium’s main attraction, this place showcases not only a huge variety of marine life from the world’s seven seas, but rivers, creeks and lakes as well such as otters, birds and even penguins!

  1. The Imperial Palace of Kyoto

Kyoto is Japan’s old capital and hosts the second active palace of the Emperor – The Imperial Palace of Kyoto. Enjoy the free tour of walking the vast courtyard with traditional Japanese architecture and gardens with lakes and bridges, posing for some fantastic photo opportunities. Located centrally, it is easily reachable from every part of the city.

Japan

  1. Kyoto downtown: Nishiki Market, Gion district and The Yasaka Shrine

If you are in for some shopping, check out the center of Kyoto – The Nishiki shopping area with both high-end boutiques and Asian covered bazaar markets. On a walking distance from there stands Gion, the old, geisha district of Kyoto. Stroll down the romantic streets on of Gion heading east and you will reach the Yasaka Shrine, a popular tourist spot. Before you enter the Shrine, I advise you to try Pablo’s cheesecake tarts which stand just a couple hundreds of meters on the left side of the entrance.

  1. Kyoto – Kodaiji Temple, Fushimi Inari Shrine, and climb the mountain for the views

For a more spiritual experience, walk south from the Yasaka shrine and experience the Kodaiji Temple, the ceremonial Japanese garden where traditional weddings happen and walk the mini bamboo forest that they have in the small hill behind the temple. The entrance fee is 600 JPY. Then you can take a train south from there to Fushimi Inari Shrine, (the main shrine of the god Inari) which is represented on most postcards from Kyoto: an array of orange arches called Torii leads towards the top of a hill where you may feel as a pilgrim, but the top promises you some great picture worthy openings.

  1. Tokyo – The Centers: Shinju-Ku and Shibuya

Take a bullet train from Kyoto to Tokyo for a great traveling experience. Taking about 3 hours to reach it from Kyoto, Tokyo is a gigantic city, so one should not even dream of seeing it all in 3 days, but it is definitely enough to scratch the surface. After the traditional Kyoto, you may be hungry for some futuristic views. Head to Shinju-Ku in the evening and Shibuya in the night and experience the lights of Tokyo at their prime.

  1. Tokyo – Akihabara and the Kitchenware district

Akihabara is the electronic and gamer’s town of Tokyo – “Otaku district”. For all the geeks and anime lovers, this is the right area to browse vintage video game stores, comic and toy collector stores, maid cafes and other quirky stuff. Not far away from there is the Kitchenware district in a street of Kapabashi. Here you can find any kind of kitchenware, but most of the people come to purchase a Japanese knives, known for their quality, precision and durability.

Japan

  1. Tokyo – The Imperial Gardens, Roppongi and Akasaka

Scratch the surface of the cultural experience of Tokyo by walking the Imperial Palace garden. Only East garden is open for public admission, while you can preregister for an organized tour of the palace itself. You can have an afternoon tea in a bar of the Imperial Palace Hotel which is an attraction of Modernism architecture in itself, offering numerous restaurants and luxury shopping experience. Hit Roppongi and Akasaka for some excellent eats in the evening. Both of these neighborhoods are located close by and are in a walking distance from each other. They offer great bars, restaurants and cafes for you to enjoy and relax after this amazing and trip.

Bonus tip: Try to book a hotel with a Japanese spa in Tokyo. It will help you unwind at the end of every day full of experience, and the sauna and hot water of the spa will do miracles for your tired feet!

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Traveling Around

Traveling Around: Zhouzhuang, China (The life of an international school teacher is good!)

June 11, 2018


Traveling Around: Zhouzhuang, China

Can you relate?

  • If you visit Shanghai take a day or two side trip to an ancient water town, there are many.
  • Take a canal cruise and have the boatswain sing to you.
  • Use a driver from Zhouzhuang 600RMB (Tom 150-5166 5990, lives in Zhouzhang and has a family), a driver from Shanghai 2000RMB.

  • Zhouzhuang makes it’s own beer and has a local distillery!
  • This town is difficult to find a C-Trip hotel. Anyplace to stay in the city is listed as a Historical Site. After we booked a hotel under construction the Mayor came to our rescue!
  • The lady in charge of tourism found a room for us with an older couple in the center of the preserved district for about 75RMB per night (including hot tea morning and night!)

  • Remember, no parking in this ancient city. This place was not designed for cars! Commercial hotels are outside the ancient boundaries.
  • Many artists with high quality artwork on sale on the streets of town. We got a great calligraphy by a struggling artist.
  • Fishermen use cormorants to fish in Lake Taishi thus the reason so many boathouses as boats and birds come to roost.
  • Zhouzhaung is known for the “double bridges”.

  • Chinese Opera House on the “Ancient Platform” rebuilt in the year 2000.
  • Many great silk shops, ties three for 60RMB
  • Shops that spin their own cotton and make clothing of all sizes!
  • Fantastic teapots made from stone!

  • Shen Wansan, the first millionaire in the Lower Yangtze is from Zhouzhuang!
  • Lot’s of walking around, many bridges, shops everywhere!
  • Many places to eat, traditional Chinese food with reasonable prices.

Currently, we have 197 international schools listed in China on International School Community. 132 of them have had comments submitted on them. Here are a few of those schools:

Access International Academy (Ningbo) 48 Comments
Beijing BISS International School67 Comments
Beijing International Bilingual Academy53 Comments
Canadian International School (Hong Kong)134 Comments
Changchun American International School 111 Comments
Concordia International School (Shanghai) 166 Comments
Guangzhou Nanfang International School – 163 Comments
Hong Kong International School – 127 Comments
Kang Chiao International School (Kunshan) – 81 Comments
Keystone Academy – 94 Comments
QSI International School of Dongguan – 64 Comments

If you are on a trip right now, away from your host country, write to us here with your “Can you relate?” traveling experiences.  Tell us where you are traveling in the world, what you are seeing and how you are coping with any culture shock.  Once your Traveling Around experience is posted on our blog, International School Community will give you 1 free year of premium membership!

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Traveling Around

Traveling Around: Muscat, Oman (The life of an international school teacher is good!)

February 15, 2018


Traveling Around: Muscat, Oman

Can you relate?

  • realizing that any local is willing to help you
  • actually having a hard time finding local dates at a fruit market
  • walking along the corniche in Mutrah and loving the palm tree mountain combo
  • eating Omani cuisine at Bait Al Luban and loving it, but not so much the frankincense water
  • amazed by all the gold jewelry in the souk and wondering to what events do people wear these pieces
  • being thankful that getting from the airport to your hotel is very easy

  • spending hours in LuLu Hypermarket
  • enjoying the sunshine, blue skies and perfect temperatures
  • watching locals play football on the beach
  • having a variety of cool day trips available (desert, wadis, mountains)
  • being offered coffee after making a purchase

  • seeing the giant incense burner
  • amazed by the grandness of the Grand Mosque
  • wishing you had reservation for a show in the Royal Opera House

  • eating amazing Lebanese food at Zahr El Laymoun Muscat and wishing it was an endless bowl of hummus
  • wondering what kind of trees does frankincense grow on
  • having a stranger pull you over on the side of the highway and ask if you need a guide somewhere

Currently, we have 11 international schools listed in Oman on International School Community. 7 of them have had comments submitted on them. Here are a few of those schools:

Al Batinah International School 10 Comments
Al Sahwa Schools – 7 Comments
American British Academy – 34 Comments
American International School of Muscat – 34 Comments
Muscat International School 6 Comments
United Private Schools – 7 Comments

If you are on a trip right now, away from your host country, write to us here with your “Can you relate?” traveling experiences.  Tell us where you are traveling in the world, what you are seeing and how you are coping with any culture shock.  Once your Traveling Around experience is posted on our blog, International School Community will give you 6 free months of premium membership!

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