Treasure Trove

Pleasant Holidays offers a tour of China’s artifacts

By: Janeen Christoff

A phantom army, ancient gold pieces and an exciting archaeological dig might sound like an “Indiana Jones” adventure, but it can come to life for clients on Pleasant Holidays’ Treasures of the Imperial Dynasties VIP tour a journey to Xian to see the ancient relics of one of China’s most historic cities.

Known as the “palace city,” Xian (pronounced SHI-an) is the treasure house of China. It was the capital for 13 of China’s imperial dynasties, but after the Tang Dynasty, civil war destroyed the city and its palaces. However, buried treasure in the thousands of tombs located throughout the Shaanxi province remains, and preservation of the findings is an ongoing effort.

The Terra-Cotta Warriors
Thousands of visitors come to Xian every day to explore one of the region’s most well-known attractions, the Museum of the Terra-Cotta Warriors and Horses of the Emperor Qin Shihuang. Unearthed in the early 1970s, the finding of Emperor Qin’s Terra-Cotta Warriors was quite possibly one of the most enticing archaeological finds of the last century. Visitors can climb raised platforms to look down on the restored warriors standing in formation or view the vast pits through glass-enclosed chambers.

Creating a more intimate experience, Pleasant Holidays’ new tour takes clients one step further, offering an up-close-and-personal visit with the life-size terra-cotta army, something only 30 people worldwide are able to do each day.

Clients can stand next to and even photograph the warriors in one of the pits, as well as participate in a tour through the Terra-Cotta Restoration Institute on site at the museum, where if the timing is right visitors can view the painstaking reconstruction of a warrior. During our visit, no reconstructions were under way, but we were able to view the broken pieces of a warrior, waiting to be resurrected.

After the museum, guests are taken to Pit No. 5, which is still undergoing excavation and not open to the public. There, clients can climb down into the pit to personally experience, from an archaeologist’s perspective, the shattered remains of a warrior’s armor.

VIP Only
There are two special sites in Xian that are only available to clients on Pleasant’s new tour: the Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeological Research and the Xian Municipal Institute.

Hidden in a nondescript building off one of Xian’s bustling city streets, the Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeological Research houses some of the region’s most beautiful pieces. For the most part, the building is used as a research facility, and inside its walls German scientists painstakingly restore the province’s artifacts.

Here, clients can view ancient murals from the Han and Tang dynasties. The murals were unearthed from various tombs around Xian and are extremely well preserved. Currently, they are at the institute for restoration. It can take up to three years to restore some of the larger mural panels. The pieces restored at the institute will eventually wind up in a museum or a gallery.

Clients are also taken to a gallery to view ancient Tang and Han dynasty figures and a few life-size warriors. Before leaving, it is also possible to visit the vault. Deep in the basement, the temperature-controlled room houses some of the most delicate pieces in the institute’s possession.

The Xian Municipal Institute of Archaeological Research houses more than 130,000 antiquities with some of the most notable being 3,000-year-old bronze pieces from the Western Han Dynasty, 2,000-year-old wine as well as various jade, gold and porcelain pieces. Making the visit even more significant is the interactive nature of the experience. Visitors sit at a table wearing white gloves as pieces are brought out. Each relic is placed on the table and a translator explains its origins

During our visit, we handled ancient bronze mirrors molded in dirt and then cast and carved. The ancient piece was still shiny enough to glimpse my reflection. We also handled 3,000-year-old gold pieces; jade and stone pigs often held by the dead to symbolize wealth; and gold-and-black tigers. The only thing we didn’t get to do was taste the wine surely aged to perfection.

The tour also includes many of Xian’s significant tourist attractions, such as the Wild Goose Pagoda located next to the Xian Municipal Institute. Clients can make rubbings on ancient stone slabs at the Forest of Stone Seles Museum, a great souvenir for friends or family. Visitors also tour the Shaanxi History Museum where they view ancient murals on a special tour of the vault and the brand-new Han Yang Lin Museum, a new $100 million complex of underground pits and two burial mounds.


Clients participating in Pleasant Holidays’ Treasures of the Imperial Dynasties program stay in five-star, luxury accommodation in one of several Xian hotels. Our group stayed at the Sheraton Xian, just outside the city and convenient for touring the region.

Pleasant Holidays

Sheraton Xian