Travel Tales #3 – Getting Scammed in Xian, China

Like the old saying goes, “Whatever doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.” I always thought that was a dumb saying as poison or disease might not kill me, but it definitely doesn’t make me stronger. However, I think what the saying is trying to teach is that the experience we gain from a conquered crisis will indeed make us mentally stronger in future situations. That is of course, if it doesn’t kill you! Alas, just like Beijing a few months later, I was previously scammed in Xi’an, China.

Xi’an, China is a wonderful historical city, famous for its 12-meter-tall city walls that surround the town till this very day. While there are lots of cool things to see here, most people come with one main site on their mind, the Mausoleum of the first Qin Emperor, also known as the Terracotta Army of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. With this, however, comes a horde of scammers
who pray on would be explorers like me who don’t exactly know how to get there.

After a long, 17 hour train ride from Chengdu, I arrived in Xi’an, checked into my hotel, and was ready to find the terracotta army. After reading this article, I think I was a victim of not taking a break and just going, even though I was pretty tired.

Train - scammed in Xian
This is after 17 hours in a sleeper train from Chengdu to Xi’an.

I followed the directions I had to find the terracotta army and got off on the correct bus stop to transfer to another, larger bus. As soon as I exited the bus, a lady approached me “are you going to see the Terracotta Army?” Why, this kind lady read my mind.

“Yes, this is the correct place to take the bus right?” I inquired.

“Yes of course, but we go in a much more comfortable bus for the same price,” she added.

My interest was piqued and I figured I had nothing to lose by checking it out. She took us around the corner to a very professional looking tour bus depot with about five buses. They also had tour company establishments with very professionally printed brochures showing that they went to see the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor along with a few other museums and sights.

I wasn’t interested in anything but the Terracotta Army, so I asked again to make sure they went there. The price was cheap, it was a professional looking establishment, there were dozens of Chinese people already on the bus, and the brochure clearly stated “Terracotta Army,” so I thought, sure, why not. I paid a bit extra for this super comfy bus and a guaranteed seat instead of riding the city bus since the site was about an hour away.

I don't know whether to trust their side of the story.
I don’t know whether to trust their side of the story.

We first stopped by a mountain for some hiking. This was the site where the Communists had finally cornered the KMT and convinced them to join together in their efforts to fight the Japanese during WW2. Second, we stopped by a museum which had many ancient relics from the Ming Dynasty. Both were very interesting, but not what I was looking for. When we asked about the terracotta, the lady who sold us the tickets replied, “next one is the terracotta army.”

In the actual Mausoleum of the first Qin Emperor.
In the actual Mausoleum of the first Qin Emperor.

The next museum was similar to the second, but had ¬†about five terracotta soldiers on loan. You were allowed to take pictures at 7 RMB per shot. This came to about a US dollar per picture. “Here is the terracotta army,” she insisted, “It is same.” When we argued that this was not what she promised, she insisted that it was the same. For a while, she refused to give us any refund as “we had not complained until halfway through the tour.” But, after much debate, she gave us half of our money and dropped us off in a bus stop which took us the rest of the way to the real Mausoleum site.

Terracotta - Scammed in Xian
The real deal!

While at the end, everything turned out okay, I have learned to be more cautious in my dealings with people outside of bus stops. I have also started to take traveling a bit more slowly to avoid potential scammers, especially when I am tired. Getting scammed in Xian might not have been fun, but it was definitely a good travel lesson.

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Julio Moreno

Julio is a California native who has lived abroad since 2009 as an expat in South Korea and New Zealand. He is especially passionate about experiencing other cultures and visiting as many UNESCO World Heritage Sites as possible.
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