Xining

Xining Travel Guide, Qinghai

Category:
Overview

The provincial capital, XINING , contains few tourist sights in itself, and is usually regarded simply as a base from which to explore the nearby Tibetan monastery of Ta'er Si. Nevertheless, as the only sizeable city in Qinghai, Xining is an interesting place in its own right. Set in a rather extraordinary location, with stark mountains rearing up right behind, and the inhospitable terrain immediately beyond gives the city a cosy, reassuring feel. At a height of 2200m, right on the outermost edge of the Tibetan plateau, Xining experiences pleasantly cool weather in summer and bitter cold in winter.

Although definitely a centre of Han population, Xining is also full of minority nationalities, in particular Hui Muslims and rather lost-looking Tibetans. It has quite an ancient history, having been established probably as early as the Han dynasty. It even served as a stopover on a minor southern route of the Silk Road and has been a fairly important trading city for the Han since at least the sixteenth century. Today, connected by fast trains to Lanzhou and other Chinese cities, Xining is a firmly established part of the network of Han China.

The city is bordered by steep hills to the north, along the foot of which runs the Huangshui River. Most of the city lies to the south of the river, though the train station lies immediately on the north bank, just across the bridge from the long-distance bus station . The centre of Xining is located about 3km to the west of here, along the main east-west streets Dong Dajie and then Xi Dajie, which connects Da Shizi (Big Crossroads) with a large traffic circle called Ximen a few hundred metres farther west.

Climate & Best Time to Go

Although Xining is located in the wild west, the weather is milder than you would expect. At about 2,275m above sea level, the city belongs to a semi-arid climate zone, characterized by low air pressure, long sunlight hours and little precipitation. Especially noteworthy are the sharp temperature distinctions between day and night. Generally speaking, the best time to pay the city a visit is between May and September, an ideal time to distance yourself from the sweltering summer in the eastern part of China.

Climate Index of Xining
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sept Oct Nov Dec
Rainy days 2.9 2.3 3.2 7.1 12.3 12.6 15.2 14.7 13.6 7.5 3.1 2.4
Temperature (°C) -8.9 -5.1 2.0 7.6 11.8 15.1 17.2 16.3 12.0 6.2 -1.1 -7.0

Getting there & away

As the capital and only large city in Qinghai, Xining is considered the "gateway to the Qinghai-Tibet plateau". Xining's bus and train stations are located very close together in the eastern part of town on opposite banks of the Huangshui River. There are direct trains to and from most major cities in eastern China, including Lanzhou in Gansu Province (4hr). There's also a twice-daily service west to Golmud, for those heading on to Tibet, though it takes longer than the bus. Attempting to buy outward-bound tickets from the train station is not recommended as the queues can be overwhelming - any travel service can arrange tickets for Y30 commission. The airport has a few scheduled weekly services to and from major Chinese cities.

By air: It is possible to fly directly to Xining from major cities such as Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Xi'an etc. The airport lies 29km from the city center, the distance that may be covered either by taking a CAAC bus for Y10 or a taxi for Y50. The CAAC office is at 34 Bayi Xilu in the eastern quarter of town (8:30am-noon; 2pm-5:30pm; Tel: 0971-8174616). You may also find out information and book tickets at most of the main travel agencies and big hotels in the city, most charge around Y30 for commission.

By train: Xining is located at the junction of the Lanzhou-Qinghai and the Qinghai-Tibet railway lines, making it possible to reach the city from a multitude of destinations from across China, including Beijing, Shanghai, Xi'an, Qingdao, Yinchuan and Golmud. The Railway station is on Qilian lu, in the northern section of the city, just across the bridge over the Huangshui River. Besides the station, there is a ticket office (Tel: 0971-6136454) at Wusi dajie, where both train and flight tickets are available. Travel agents and big hotels also sell tickets for trains, and this, although with commission, will save a lot of hassle.

By bus: Cement and asphalt roads link Xining with cities (Golmud, for instance) and towns in the province, as well as distant destinations in Gansu, Tibet, Xinjiang and Sichuan. The long-distance bus station is at the northern end of Jianguo lu, about 600m south of the railway station (over the river). The ticket office also lies on Jianguo lu (Tel: 0971-8149506). Tickets are best bought one day in advance. If you plan on going to the Kumbum Monastery (Ta'er si), pls go to the other station on Xiguan dajie. You can also try the private minibuses outside of the Xining Hotel, but negotiation over price is necessary.

There are lots of interesting bus routes out of Xining. In the direction of Xiahe in Gansu, there is a bus to Linxia and another to the monastery town of Tongren, from both of which there are connecting services to Xiahe. There's also a bus to Zhangye in Gansu Province, via a spectacular ride north across the mountains. Finally, within Qinghai itself, there are buses to Golmud and also to Lenghu in the far northwest - from where it is possible, following very little-trodden routes, to travel north to Dunhuang in Gansu Province. An equally exciting possibility is a bus southwest to Maduo . From here, very close to the source of the Yellow River, you can continue by bus along a very rough route into Sichuan Province.

Getting around

There are over 10 buses in town that are convenient if you can find a map with bus routes. It is probably easier for foreigners, however, and not overly expensive, to take taxis around the city, and the prices of these can be negotiated, around Y5 for 3km. 

Lodging

  • The Xining Mansion (Xining dasha, Tel: 0971-8149995) near the intersection of Bayi lu and Jianguo lu. A fairly decent two-star hotel to the east of the Great Mosque. The main branch of CITS is housed within. Doubles with a bath in the older building are upwards of Y50. In the newer building they are around Y100.
  • The Qinghai Minzu Hotel (Qinghai minzu binguan, Tel:0971-8225951) on Dongguan dajie, just west of Huyuan jie. A fairly modern building that is central, has decent service and very cheap triples. Just to the west of the Great Mosque. Triples range from Y20 -50 depending on standards. Doubles are around Y100.
  • The Yongfu Hotel (Yongfu binguan, Tel: 0971-8140236) near the Jianguo lu/Binhe lu intersection and the Huangshui River, opposite the bus station. This is the best of the cheaper hotels in town, with friendly service and dorms for around Y25.
  • The Youzheng Gongyu Hotel (Youzheng gongyu binguan, Tel: 0971-8140711) at 138 Huzhu lu. Fairly clean rooms, in a paradoxically grotty hotel that is just to the east of the railway station. Dorms are around Y20, doubles with attached bathroom for Y40.  

Dining 

There are a couple of reasonable restaurants round the Yongfu Hotel. Stalls and restaurants around here serve mostly Muslim food, including kebabs and mutton dishes.The hotel restaurant itself - a tiny place round the back of the building - has a cheap menu. If you want to sit outside, walk around the building to the right from the hotel entrance, and there's a Muslim restaurant with a terrace and awnings. For excellent noodles, or a local breakfast of zasui soup made with ox and sheep entrails, try the place a couple of minutes to the south down the main road from the Yongfu. It's the last building in a little row of shops and has a mosque-like exterior.  

The best places to eat in Xining, however, are the markets downtown. The street leading east of Da Shizi fills up with food stalls during the evening and you can walk up and down sampling what you like. The shaguo - earthenware hotpots full of tofu, mushrooms and meat cooked in broth - are excellent. You can also get excellent jiaozi, hundun soup and other basic dishes prepared on the spot. The yoghurt here is good, too. The covered market, Shuijing Gang, with over 3,000 stalls, offers not only local food, but also specialities from all over the country. Many of the stalls are open until late at night, their stoves blazing in the dark. From the main street, walk down through the market, past the shops (Shuijing gang shangchang), to reach the area where you can sit and eat. For something more upmarket, try the Chinese-Western restaurant on Bei Dajie, just north of Da Shizi ( Bus No.1 will take you to the Dashizi stop and from here it is a short walk north near Yinma jie).

Other Practical Info.

Most important facilities are located around the large traffic circle, Ximen. The main Bank of China (Mon-Fri & Sat am) is a huge building on Dongguan Dajie near the mosque, though any of the branch offices can also change travellers' cheques - there's one just west of Da Shizi. The main post office , where you can also make IDD telephone calls, is on Da Shizi; you enter by climbing the raised pedestrian walkway. You'll find another office for making IDD calls a few minutes east of the train station. The telecom office on Tongren Jie, by the intersection with Wushi Jie, has a room full of computers on the second floor, open from 10am to 10pm; Internet access is Y10/hour.

There are two or three travel agents in town that may come in handy for buying train or plane tickets, or for organizing trips to more remote parts of Qinghai. The Qinghai Jiaotong Luxingshe (tel 0971/8149504 ext 2626), based at the front of the long-distance bus station, offers tours to Qinghai Lake. Qinghai CITS (tel 0971/8238701), housed in the Xining Guest Hotel (front building), can organize trekking, rafting, mountaineering or other adventure holidays, usually at fairly short notice.

Attractions

Although its ethnic diversity lends character to the streets, there are few sights to recommend within the city limits.

  • The Great Mosque - one of the most attractive mosques in northwest China. Built in 1380, it encloses a large public square where worshippers can congregate. There is hardly a trace of Arab influence in the architecture - it is purely Chinese in style with flying eaves and colourful painted arches. There is also a local museum , in a charming historic building along a small market-lane just south of the Yongfu Hotel; it's easy to miss - you want no. 41, with a couple of pillars outside. Visitors are so rare your arrival is likely to set the attendants into a panic to find the keys, but with artefacts from most dynasties and a display of ethnic minority clothing, it's a worthy detour.

    The mosque is not of particularly Muslim architecture, normally easily differentiated from its Buddhist counterparts, but is more in the typical Chinese folk style. Beyond the square itself, the grand Domed Hall, housing up to 10,000 Muslim worshippers at peak times, is the highest Islamic education center in the province.

    How to get there: located in Dongguan Dajie of the city center, the site can be reached by bus No.1, 2 or 23.
  • North Mountain Temple ("Beishan Si" or "Beichan Si" in Chinese)  - The 1,400-year-old temple situated on a mountain of the same name to the north of the Huangshui River, is one of the few Taoist temples in the mostly Buddhist Qinghai. The temple was originally built in the late Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD), but it has undergone destruction  (mainly through fires, natural wear and wars) and renovation. Some of the original broken murals can still be seen on the existing walls. Other attractions, beyond an enjoyable climb of the slopes and strolling around the walkways and bridges of the grounds, are the Taoist caves that are nicely decorated and are frequently filled with devout followers. At the very top is a pagoda, offering fine views over the city on a clear day.

    How to get there - to reach Qilian Lu at the foot of the mountain, take bus #11 from the train station, or #10 from the town centre just south of Ximen; there is an obvious entrance just west of Changjiang Lu.

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