End of the Year Study Trip: 14-days through Southern China! (pt. 1)

CSI students Traveling
Group photo with our suitecases

It’s the end of the semester and you know what that means? 14 days of glorious, glorious travel through China. This semester there were two trips to choose from. The first option was a trip to Tibet, centered around Buddhism. The second, a trip through Southern China learning about China’s ethnic minorities. All but nine of us chose the Tibet trip. Since I will be with the program next semester, I decided to choose the Southern China trip, and will go to Tibet when its warmer next semester. The end-of-the-year trip is easily one of the best parts of this program. Hotels, transportation, and tours are all paid for, and students only need to bring meal and spending money.

First up on our trip was Xi’an. We traveled by high-speed train, my favorite. We almost took up an entire car!

Students on the high speed train
Group photo in the train on our way to Xi’an

After settling into our hotel, we set off to find some dinner and headed to the famous Muslim food street.

Xi'an Muslim Street
Xi’an Muslim Food Street, lights line each side of the busy street advertising each business

Here you can find all the specialty dishes of Xi’an, as well as many souvenirs! I have to say, Xi’an has some of my favorite food in China.

Eating cotton candy in Xi'an
Group of 3 students eating cotton candy in the middle of Muslim Food Street
Lamb and pita bread
Lamb and pita bread in a bowl

 A couple of Xi’an specialty foods include biang biang noodles, roujiamo, and lamb soup with pita bread. Biang biang noodles are some of my favorite noodles in China! They’re thick and chewy and so, so tasty. Actually the character for “biang biang” is so difficult and complex to write in Chinese, that most keyboards don’t even have the character option for it. 

Biang Biang nodles
Biang biang noodles on a plate with chopsticks
With skewers and pomegranate juice
My Friend and I eating lamb skewers

You’ll often find it written in pinyin or English on restaurant signs or online. One of my favorite snacks at Muslim street were lamb skewers. They were perfectly seasoned and cooked right in front of you!



Also located in Xi’an are the famous Terracotta Warriors! It was my second time visiting this site. The Terracotta Army and Horses are modeled after Qin Shi Huang’s (the first Emperor of China) army.

Terracotta warriors
Terracotta Army in a dark covered area
Terracotta Army
Terracotta Army from a side view

Each statue is unique, with distinguishing facial features. There are a couple of different soldiers, including archers, standing calvary men, and riders, which were on top of the horse-drawn carts. Their purpose was to protect the emperor in his afterlife.

Terra cotta archer in a display case
Standing man
Terra cotta soldier ready for battle in display case

After the Terracotta Army, we went to Xi’an’s City Wall. When Xi’an was the capital of China, this wall protected the city. It is one of China’s oldest, largest, and most well-preserved walls. It kind of reminds me of the wall that protected the Earth Kingdom of Ba Sing Se in Avatar: the Last Airbender. It was built under the rule of the Hongwu Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang.

At the City Wall
Group photo on steps leading to the Xi’an City Wall
On the wall
China likes walls almost as much as we like group photos! Group photo on the City Wall!
Friends on the wall
Three friends on the wall with dust masks on
On the wall
The weather was really bad, but we still managed to take some semi-decent photos! On the City Wall! Grey skies in background
Group dinner in Xi'an
Group dinner around a circular table in Xi’an
Group dinner
Dishes of every kind of food in the center of the round table

Extra, extra! Here are some pictures from our visit to the Great Mosque in Xi’an! There was no one there, but it had some beautiful architecture!

The Great Mosque
The Great Mosque, with sweeping roof lines
The Great Mosque
Walking up to the Great Mosque with trees surrounding the pathway
The Great Mosque
The Great Mosque, with trees and bushes surrounding it

Chengdu was our second stop, located in Sichuan Province and known for its crazy spicy cuisine! Hot pot is the speciality dish here, and I had it all every night I was there. I actually have a friend who lives in Chengdu. We used to work together in Alaska at her family’s Asian restaurant. A Chengdu native, she took us out for the best hot pot in the city.

With my friend Joyce
My friend Joyce and I in front of a storefront
Eating hot pot
Eating hot pot at a round table with all my friends

I’m not going to lie, after three consecutive nights of hot pot, my stomach was a little upset. That being said, it was totally worth it. Besides the deliciously addicting cuisine, Chengdu has a lot of sights to see. About two hours from the city, visitors can travel to see the Giant Leshan Buddha.

Leshan Giant Buddha
Leshan Giant Buddha,  covered in vegitation

The Leshan Giant Buddha is around 230 feet tall, carved out of a cliff face. The trek to the buddha feels never-ending, but believe me when I tell you, it is SO worth it. I’ve never seen Mount Rushmore, but I imagine it’s a similar experience to seeing this buddha. The carving is so well done, and the massive scale makes it a feat that everyone should see.

Leshan Buddha
Leshan Buddha from a lower perspective showing the enormity of the statue in the canyon
Posing with the Buddha
Group photo with my friends and the giant Buddha in the background

Chengdu’s other popular attraction is its Panda Conservation and Research Center. Famous in China and the world, we were fortunate enough to be able to visit it and see all the pandas! We saw pandas of all ages and all personalities. At the site they have red panda as well as giant pandas.

Panda Conservation Center visit
Photo in front of Panda Conservation Center
Photo of panda in an animal enclosure during our visit
Panda eating
Panda in the enclosure smiling at me!
Buddhist temple
Group photo in front of bright yellow, Buddhist temple wall

We also had some time to check out a beautiful Buddhist temple in Chengdu, and walk along some ancient streets of the city. I really enjoyed that we had a lot of free time to explore and experience the cities we were visiting.

Inside Buddhist temple with ornate architecture
Exploring Chengdu
Colorful red and yellow lanterns in Chengdu
Aesthetics inside the temple
Perfectly sculpted plants inside the temple
Ancient street in Chengdu
Ancient street in Chengdu, with red lanterns hanging on the second story of the buildings to the left

Next we were off to Lijiang! Check out End of the Year Study Trip: 14-days through Southern China! (pt. 2) for the wrap up of my study trip and fall semester!