This is the reason most visitors come to Xi'an, and unlike many big sights in China, it does not disappoint. Amazingly, the warriors are just one piece of Qin Shi Huang's attempt to reconstruct his empire for the afterlife. The tomb to the west is supposedly booby-trapped and is still to be fully excavated, but it is said to include a full reconstruction of the ancient capital, complete with rivers and lakes of mercury. According to historian Sima Qian, over 700,000 workers were drafted for the project, and those involved in the construction of the tomb were rewarded with graves beside their emperor. Tourism officials pray that the warriors are "just the tip of the iceberg," but it is just as likely that the tomb was plundered during the Tang or Song dynasties. Tip: To fully appreciate the majesty of the warriors, try to get to the site as early as possible and race to Pit 1; if you get here ahead of the crowds, you should manage a few minutes of solitude with the one of the world's greatest historical finds.

It's hard not to get a shiver down your spine as you survey the unromantically named Pit 1, with four columns of warriors in each of the 11 passageways; there are over 1,000 infantry in battle formation, stretching back 182m (600 ft.). Originally painted in bright colors, they were constructed from interchangeable parts sealed together by clay. Because the heads were hand-molded, no two appear the same. Qin Shi Huang's army was drawn from all over his vast empire, and this ethnic diversity is reflected in the variety of hairstyles, headdresses, and facial expressions. Even on the mass-produced bodies, the level of detail is striking, down to the layering of armor and the studs on archers' shoes that prevented them from slipping. The average height of the warriors is 1.8m (5 ft. 11 in.); senior officers are taller. Most of the 1,400 soldiers in Pit 2 are less intact than those in Pit 1, although the statues show greater diversity of posture. The highlights here are encased in glass cabinets around the edge of the pit; look for the 2m (6 1/2-ft.) general. Pit 3 is much smaller and houses the headquarters, with 68 senior officers.

A small hall just to the right of Pit 1 contains a display of two magnificent bronze chariots, reconstructed from nearly 3,500 pieces excavated from a pit to the west of the tomb.

The tour bus will drop you off in a parking lot; you can either walk the 1km (2/3 mile) to the museum's entrance or take a trolley for ¥15 round-trip ticket. An English-speaking guide (¥100), or an audio guide (¥40) can be arranged on the spot at the main entrance.