In a nutshell
Shaanxi, roughly pronounced as ‘Shahn-shee’ is a province in the north-central area of China although it is often referred to as being a province of the North West.
Where to go in Shaanxi
Xi’an is the capital city of Shaanxi province and was the Chinese capital for 1000 years through 13 dynasties and 73 emperors. The city is over 3000 years old, is one of China’s oldest cities and the oldest of the Four Great Ancient Capitals of China. There is so much history to be found here through the historical ruins, museums and relics that are still being uncovered today. It was the eastern terminus of the Silk Road that brought traders from Persia, Africa and Europe. The city today is famous for the Terracotta Army discovered nearby, but Xi’an is so much more than that.
Yan’an in the north of the province is a city described as being in the middle of nowhere but despite this it is a major city for followers of the Communist philosophy. The city is thought to be the ‘Cradle of Chinese Revolution’ it is where the Communists first established a base after the Long March in 1935. Very few foreign visitors travel here although the Hukou Waterfall is worth the journey.
Xianyang is the third largest city in the province and a former capital of ancient China; it is just 30km to the north of Xi’an and contains the attractions of the Qian Mausoleum with China’s only female monarch Wu Zetian buried inside. 10km to the west of the city is the Great Buddha Temple which contains a 400 metre long rock with 130 grottoes featuring thousands of Buddha statues.
Yulin is located in the north of Shaanxi province and here you can find the Red Stone Gorge which is famous for the Chinese calligraphy that is carved into the cliffs. The Great Wall of China extends through this region and the Zhen Bei Tai (Pacify-the-north Tower) is one of the Great Walls most spectacular Ming dynasty architectural sites.
The city of Weinan is regarded as being the base from which to explore the nearby Mount Huashan, one of China’s 5 most famous mountains. It has 5 perilous peaks with spectacular views and breathtaking experiences walking on its narrow ledges. Xiyue Temple is just 5km to the north and a visit to this temple is regarded as an essential part of experiencing this mountain.
Hanzhong city in the south of the province has the Shimen Plank Road Scenic Area as its main attraction in the north east of the city. The Plank Road leads to the Shimen Tunnel which is reported to be the world’s first man-made tunnel. The area also has the Shimen Dam where you can view the Baohe River and the area’s natural beauty.
Ankang city is in the south east of Shaanxi province and its main attraction is Xiangxi Cave to the south of the city. The cave area includes the Hanshui River and Bashan Mountain. Lu Dongbin, one of the 8 immortals, educated himself in this cave. The area has several ancient pavilions and towers constructed during the Tang dynasty of 618-907. There is a huge ladder built into the mountain and legends claim it was the route for celestial beings to go to heaven. Every year visitors are attracted to the caves by their beauty and the buildings. The entry fee is CNY40 and they are open daily from 8am until 8pm.
When to go to Shaanxi
The best time to visit Shaanxi is during the spring during March through to May when the weather is warm and at its most pleasant temperature. The winters here are cold and the summers hot and wet. Autumn is also ok with pleasant temperatures bur more rain than in the spring.
Where to stay in Shaanxi
In the capital, Xi’an you will have no difficulty in finding somewhere to stay. There are plenty of hotels and hostels, something to suit all budgets. In the smaller cities there are hotels but your options may be a little more limited and there is a strong likelihood that English is not spoken.
Where and What to Eat in Shaanxi
Shaanxi cuisine is available anywhere in the province with foods such as steamed bread, dumplings and noodles prominent in the local cuisine. In Xian there are lots of options for local as well as international foods. Once you leave the provincial capital you may have to rely on local foods as there is a strong possibility that western food is not featured in the smaller cities.
How to get around Shaanxi
There are 5 airports in Shaanxi with Xi’an Xianyang being the only international airport in the province, there are flights from Yulin and Yan’an to Xi’an but the train is possibly the better option. Yan’an to Xi’an takes 3 hours by normal train with 17 services each day in both directions, a hard sleeper costs CNY107.50. Fast trains from Baoji to Xi’an take 49 minutes with 45 trains every day in each direction and cost CNY51.50 for a second class seat. Fast trains between Xi’an and Huashan take 30 minutes with 41 every day in each direction and a second class seat costs CNY54.50. There are numerous express buses operating between the main cities within the province every day.
How to get to and from Shaanxi
Xi’an Xianyang International Airport receives the vast majority of air traffic into Shaanxi with flights from more than 180 Chinese cities and over 20 foreign destinations. There are 23 flights each day between Xi’an and Beijing, taking just under 2 hours and costing from CNY770. There are two flights each day from Beijing to Yan’an, taking just over 90 minutes and costing from CNY600.
Xi’an is the main transportation hub in the region for train travel with Xi’an Railway Station and Xi’an North Station both among some of the busiest stations in China. Beijing is just 4.5 hours by high speed train from the city while Shanghai can be reached in 6 hours.
There is one direct train from Shanghai to Yan’an each day, it takes 47 hours and the cost for a hard sleeper is CNY377. By taking the faster high-speed trains and changing at Xi’an it takes just 9 hours and second class seats will cost CNY777.
Express buses operate from all directions into Xi’an, from as far away as Shanghai, Guangzhou and Tibet. The longer distance buses (overnight and exceeding 12 hours) are generally sleeper buses, a sleeper bus from Beijing to Xi’an takes around 15 hours and costs CNY277. The fare between Shanghai and Xian is CNY380.
How safe is Shaanxi?
Shaanxi is generally a safe place with violence against foreigners a very rare occurrence, there are lots of ex-pats in the major cities and foreigners are rarely seen away from the tourist areas in this province. Petty crime such as pickpockets may operate in the larger cities but keep your valuables safely hidden away and you should have no problems. Taxi drivers can be reckless in the larger cities but out in the rural areas it is not such a problem except maybe the condition of the poorly maintained roads away from the main routes. If you need medical attention there are international hospitals in Xi’an, elsewhere in the province you may have to use local hospitals where communication could be a problem.