Written by Naomi Trego
3 Half-Day Trips You Won’t Find in the Guide Books
Living in Xi’an is my first time to live in a high-rise. The view from my window is grey, grey, grey and on a good day, grey with blue skies. I crave the sight of green. Getting out of the city can be hard without a car, but fear not, there is green (and blue!) within the city.
Itching for something colorful and off the beaten path, I’ve gone exploring recently, traipsing around by foot, bike, metro, and scooter to find quieter and greener treasures around Xi’an. If you’ve got half a day to spare, you’ve got enough time to get out of grey Xi’an and explore something new. Getting away from the routine roads and tourist traps is easier than you think. Grab your bike or bus card and discover something new!
Whale Ravine – Swimming without Whales
Before I get too far into telling you about this first location, I’m afraid I’m going to have to burst your bubble and let you know that, contrary to its name, Whale Ravine (鲸鱼沟jīng yú gōu) does not have any whales. Sorry. Not a single whale. No idea how it got that name. Despite its disappointing name, Jing Yu Gou still makes for a great half-day excursion out of the city.
The snake-shaped ravine is southeast of Xi’an, a beautiful green lake nestled below green hills. One of the hills is covered with what looks from a distance to be tombstones and statues. Dirt trails wind around the sides of the little lake so you can find your own spot to relax. Fishermen camp out, waiting for a bite, maybe because they haven’t gotten the memo there are no whales, and there are probably no fish either. Horses are available for rides, although if you’ve got two functional legs the hike up/down the hills is pretty easy. A few local women sell simple meals from their umbrella-covered stands. There are a couple of old country men with boats who offer rides around the bend, further down the lake. Groups of friends illicitly and happily enjoy barbeques and picnics by the waterside. People swim in the refreshing water, right under the “No Swimming” sign. (I even had my first tankini sighting here!)
While you’ll still find some local treasures like trash and poop, overall Jing Yu Gou is worth the trip for an easy half-day excursion out of the city to swim, picnic, and hammock. Grab some friends, a few drinks and your swimsuit for a lazy day by the water.
Directions: We rode a scooter there and then hiked down on the dirt path from the top of the hill, but from Baidu maps it looks like public transportation will get you there, too. Take Line 1 metro to Chang Le Po Station (长乐坡战), then ride 913路 to Gao Qiao Jing Yu Gou station （高桥鲸鱼沟）and walk from there. Ask the locals to point you the right way.
Peach Blossom Park (桃花潭公园táohuātángōngyuán)
First of all, if you haven’t gotten your public transportation card set up to use the public bikes, you’re missing out. Getting access to those orange and green bikes all over the city will free you up to explore to your heart’s (and legs’) content. Recently a friend and I decided to gear up, grab a couple of bikes and explore the green and blue spots in the upper right-hand corner of the map of Xi’an.
If you didn’t know, there are two rivers in the northeast of the city running diagonally, which meet at the Kempinski Hotel, because they’re fancy like that. The thinner one is the Chan River (浐河chǎnhé ), and the wider sister running on the north side is the Ba River (灞河bàhé). We took metro line 1 to Chan He station, checked out a couple of bikes right outside exit D and followed Chan He Xi Lu. Chan He Dong Lu would also work; both roads follow the river and offer a nice wide shoulder on the road to ride.
About a half-hour bike ride along the river, heading north, will lead you to a gem of greenness: Peach Blossom Park. Now, I’ll be honest with you, the park isn’t anything to write home about if you’ve seen a park before, but it does offer several things worth the trek out to the boonies: silence, greenery, peace, and non-stagnant water. My friend and I were shocked to find only a few other people at the park on a beautiful spring Saturday. Where were the hordes of people that are as much a part of Chinese parks as the Chinglish lawn care signs: “Baby Grass is Smiling Don’t Tread on Her Close To”? Where were the opera singers eager to pierce our eardrums with tunes? Where were the screaming, running children? Nowhere. There was silence. There was green freshness. And there was blue water. Ok, the water was a bit funky, but still on the nicer side of things. Wooden boardwalks wind around the park. There are benches and pagoda-gazebos for resting. Grass reeds rustle in the breeze.
My friend suggested I not write this article so that there’d still be one green place left in Xi’an that hadn’t been discovered by the masses. But I hope that, because of the five people that read this article, the park gets some good use.
Calm in the Countryside
Chang’An Lu is the backbone of Xi’an, reaching up north to the bullet train station, through the torso of the city wall with the Bell Tower as the navel and the southern hinterlands of TV Tower (I’ll leave it to your imagination to ascribe a body part to that location). But what lies at the coccyx of Chang’An Lu? Jumping on our scooter we headed south, souther, and southest until the great Chang’An Lu petered down to a country road. And, as most roads in China do, it leads to food, specifically several Nong Jia Le restaurants surrounded by farms, nestled at the base of the QinLing Mountains.
For those of you unfamiliar with Nong Jia Le (农家乐, literally translated, “country-happiness”), it’s a type of rural restaurant that offers fresh local cooking in a relaxed BYOB (or BYOFood or buy it there) environment. It’s essentially a way for city folks to feel like they’re living the country dream, enjoying farm-fresh food without actually having to live in poverty or work with their hands. It’s the best of both worlds: dining outside, but also with an overhead fan; enjoying nature without having to till the land; eating freshly killed chicken without having to do it yourself.
We ate lunch at a busy Nong Jia Le restaurant advertized by big red banners and then decided to check out a less busy one nearby. I recommend Nan Shan (悠然 南山) just 50 meters right of the main country road (just follow the sign). Upon arriving at the quaint home, the boss told us to rest and relax. We could pull in our scooter to charge, hang out in hammocks wherever and play with the puppies. Chilling by the small pond, we sipped five kuai beers and let the afternoon slip by. It’s an atmosphere of calm. Old friends play mahjong, a family enjoys the snacks they brought, a couple of men just sit and enjoy the breeze from their fans. This is not a place to do something; it’s a place to come and just be. Can’t think of a better way to spend a Saturday afternoon.
Directions: While we rode a scooter there, it would also probably make for a good bike ride. There’s a new-looking bike route parallel to the road shaded by trees and surrounded by green fields. Take the metro to a southern station with public bikes or ride your own. When Chang’An Da Dao road seems to twindle to a country road after crossing S107, you’ll see vendors selling food and hammocks. Continue on this road (S108) past the military university until the road takes a turn to the left where you’ll instead follow the red banners and finally see signs for several Nong Jia Le locations. Bus 4-13 is within a short walk.