The Potters of Chen Lu -- This tiny group of villages in undulating terrain north of Xi'an has been turning out exquisite pottery since the Tang dynasty, and is free of the hype that surrounds Jingde Zhen. Locals joke that Chen Lu "eats pottery," and while this may be fiction, walls are made of ceramic urns rather than bricks. Elegant cups that would fetch tidy sums in Xi'an lie by the side of the road. Numerous small factories turn out different styles of pottery, ranging from the sleek black heiyou to the rusty shades of tiexiu hua and the blues and whites of qing hua. It's an old-fashioned town: People call each other "comrade" (tongzhi) without the overtone of homosexuality that it now usually bears in urban China, wear Lei Feng hats with thick tops and earflaps without irony, and offer cigarettes on reflex when they meet a stranger.
If you visit on a day trip, it's doubtful you'll have time to explore all the factories and shops. The best bargains are found in the factory showrooms, where the starting prices will have you offering more money, but you're more likely to come across original works in the houses of individual artisans. Exquisite bowls in qing hua style cost as little as ¥20, while original works are considerably more expensive. Individual artisans are proud to display their wares and may hail you in the street. The main factory, Chen Lu Taoci Chang (tel. 0919/748-3343), has an exhibition of antique ceramics, including Tang dynasty moxibustion cups, hat canisters from the Yuan dynasty, and ceramic pillows -- still used by some villagers today. Visit the exhibition before going on a spending spree, as staff can advise you on which factories make which kinds of pottery. Other factories worth visiting include Zhong Guo Yao Zhou Ci (tel. 0919/748-3623) and the workshop of renowned local artisan Xu Kuai Le (tel. 0919/748-2235).
Chen Lu is a 1 1/2-hour drive from Xi'an, but most tour agencies will look blank when you mention it. A taxi should cost no more than ¥500 for the round-trip. Air-conditioned buses depart for Tongchuan (100km/62 miles; 1 1/2 hr.; ¥23) from the main bus station every 15 minutes from 6:30am to 9pm. In Tongchuan, continue north to the first roundabout for 630m (2,066 ft.), or catch bus no. 8 to the roundabout at Yigu Liangzhan. From south of the roundabout, white minivans leave when full for Chen Lu (18km/11 miles; 40 min.; ¥3).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.