Jan 102016
 

I flew directly from to Urumqi from Kyrgyzstan and spent 11 days travelling Xinjiang and Gansu province in north west China. Xinjiang is known for being part of the silk road and nowadays it’s known mainly for natural resources and ethnic minorities.

Am I on Tatooine? Also, someone doesn’t know how to make a level foundation

Urumqi has 1.7 million people, of which 1.5 million are Han Chinese. The Uyghur people are the largest minority and a source of conflict in Xinjiang. Both the Uyghur and Han claim they got to Xinjiang first and are the indigenous people. The Uyghur have protested in the past over political injustices and a push for separation from China movements. In 2009 the protests turned violent and to this day Urumqi is full of riot vans and military!

Complete with a smug look from the guard who is presumably bored out of his mind

Complete with a smug look from the guard who is presumably bored out of his mind

Urumqi had two attractions that interested me:

  • The Cultural Museum
  • The Grand Bazaar
A wax photographer seems bizarre for a museum. Why China?

A wax photographer? Why China?

Girl mummy

3800 year old female mummy

Boy mummy. They hot dry heat in Xinjiang is perfect for preserving corpses.

3800 year old male mummy. They hot dry heat in Xinjiang is perfect for preserving corpses.

Underwhelming after visiting legit Bazaars in Kyrgyzstan. But still neat to see the Chinese/Uyghur version

It’s pretty grand.

Spices, trinkets, carpets. Magic lamp anyone?

Spices, trinkets, carpets. I even saw Aladdin’s magic lamp.

Outdoor snacks and pants stalls. A winning combination!

Outdoor snacks and selling pants. A winning combination!

How to meet people in China

I entered China alone, but within an hour of sitting in the hostel common area I found four travel friends that accompanied me for the next three days. They were all solo travelers from Taiwan, Hong Kong, London, and other places in China. The Chinese even have a word for temporary travel buddies in this situation (Okay I admit that I forget it, but it translates to “little travel partner”). Meeting and travelling with little partners is why you should use hostels.

Together we took the train to Turpan, which has 70% Uyghur and a lot more cultural attractions. Turpan is part of the Gobi desert.

Kumtag desert. Sand dunes!

Kumtag desert. My first sand dunes!

Tuyuk valley village

Tuyuk valley village

Tuyuk Valley again

Tuyuk Valley again

Tuyuk valley, a third time

Tuyuk valley, a third time

Down the road from Tuyuk Valley

Down the road from Tuyuk Valley

Yar City, dating back to 2nd century BC

Ancient Yar City, dating back to 2nd century BC. They had government bureaucracy!

Beautiful roadways along the drive

Beautiful roadways along the drive

Now I was told that the “must-visit” place in Xinjiang is Kashgar. It was also a 22 hour train ride in the opposite direction. Or an expensive flight. Kashgar is close to the southern border of Kyrgyzstan, and I would have crossed the border overland if I had more time. If any of you young hopefuls are reading this I’d recommend the overland experience if you have the adventurous spirit and enough free time.

I didn’t go to Kashgar but my travel buddies did. In Turpan we boarded different trains. Dunhuang was next for me.

I planned on visiting Dunhuang on my first trip to China 4 years earlier, but deemed it to be too far out of the way. It took 4 years but I made it and it was worth it:

Back in the 300s some Buddhists started carving thousands of caves. These are the Mogao Grottoes.

Back in the 300s some Buddhists started carving thousands of caves. These are the Mogao Grottoes.

Inside is the 3rd largest Buddha in the world. The largest is in Leshan, China. The second largest was in Afghanistan, but was destroyed by the Taliban

Inside is one of the largest Buddhas in the world

On the road to Mingshashan (singing sand mountain)

On the road to Mingshashan (singing sand mountain)

Hiking sand dunes is something everyone should experience in their life.

Hiking sand dunes is something everyone should experience in their life.

Crescent moon lake. A little brown because it's November

Crescent moon lake. A little brown because it’s November

A nice place for wandering

A nice place for wandering

The Dunhuang hostel was also full of super friendly Chinese travelers who accompanied me to the above places and for the next few cities. And for the first time my Chinese language skills were better than their English skills.

Next stop was Jiayuguan for the end of the great wall:

Jiayuguan pass.

Jiayuguan pass.

The massive power plant with five cooling towers was more fascinating to me. I'm guessing coal powered

The massive power plant with four cooling towers was more fascinating to me. I’m guessing coal powered because there isn’t enough water for nuclear. The taxi driver had no idea.

Then some more Buddhist Grottoes. Only this time we could climb around and take more photos.

Then Zhangye for their funny coloured mountains:

And finally Lanzhou which is less of a tourist destination and more of a train hub. Its claim to fame is spicy beef noodles which are sold everywhere in the country.

Like most places in China, a nice place for a walk, although slightly smoggy

Like most places in China, a nice place for a walk, although slightly smoggy

Finally arrived in Beijing. We’ve all seen pictures of Beijing so I’ll only share one. A snowy day at the summer palace:


 

Miscellaneous

A few other interesting things that happened in China:

Found a lot of delicious watermelons in Turpan

Found a lot of delicious watermelons in Turpan

Found a hidden mini-tank. Real? maybe

Found a hidden mini-tank. Real? maybe

Found some real cotton right off the plant. After hitchhiking in the back of a farmers truck

Found some real cotton right off the plant. After hitchhiking in the back of a farmers truck

Found some piranha plants at crescent moon lake

Found some piranha plants at crescent moon lake

Found a lot of coal everywhere. For burning in ovens for cooking and heat in the winter.

Found a lot of coal everywhere. For cooking and heating.

Found some Chinese oil fields in Xinjiang

Found some oil fields in Xinjiang

Found the wind farm not far from the oil fields

Found the wind farm not far from the oil fields

"Communist party takes in-corrupt government, and people enjoy benefits"

“Communist party takes incorrupt government, and people enjoy benefits”

A German explorer stayed in Tuyuk valley and stole countless cultural relics. I'm surprised his residence is still standing, and that the Chinese made a plaque about it

A German explorer stayed in Tuyuk valley and stole countless cultural relics. I’m surprised his residence is still standing, and that the Chinese made a plaque about it.

My water came with a pH testing strip

My water came with a pH testing strip

The hostel in Urumqi came with a kitten

The hostel in Urumqi came with a kitten

All the desert attractions came with camels

All the desert attractions came with camels

Food

Food

Delicious freshly baked sunflower Naan bread

Delicious freshly baked sunflower Naan bread

Donkey heart and donkey liver in Dunhuang

Donkey heart and donkey liver in Dunhuang

Roasted goat and chicken in Zhangye

Roasted goat and goat stomach in Zhangye

Lanzhou spicy beef noodles

Lanzhou spicy beef noodles with side dishes

SHOES

SHOES, I wonder what they sell

Dirty icicles in Beijing

Dirty icicles in Beijing (with blue sky in the background)

Visible smog at the other end of the subway tunnel in Beijing

Visible smog at the other end of the subway tunnel in Beijing

Chinese travel savings tips

  • Give up luxury for easy savings. China has a clear relationship between luxury and cost. If you forego some train luxury you can save nearly 1/3 of the price of a sleeper train.
  • Take public transit. Taxis in China are cheap, but public transit is basically free it’s so cheap. Buses don’t normally cost more than 2 yuan ($0.30).
  • Stay in hostels. It’s cheaper, they are normally pretty nice, and you meet other travelers (if that’s your thing).
  • Beware of ATM fees. This applies anywhere really.
  • Beware of scams. Search “Beijing scams” before you visit.
  • Haggle. Chinese merchants will seriously gouge you on souvenirs, especially in the bigger cities. A good strategy is to give your opening offer at 10% of their asking price. Seriously. I got a trinket for 40 yuan after he opened with 450. Be stubborn and don’t believe whatever they tell you.
  • DON’T VISIT DURING A CHINESE HOLIDAY. I heard a story of an American girl who visited on a holiday only to encounter 14000 Chinese tourists clogging up everything. My visit had maybe 300 people total.
  • Visit in the low season (winter). Sure it was cold at times, but we often got half price entry, or even free entry to tourist attractions. Not only that, but sometimes we were the only ones there. Makes for good pictures!

Do you have any other useful travel savings tips? Let me know in the comments

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  2 Responses to “CHINA – XINJIANG AND GANSU PROVINCE”

  1. Ah the smog. Good old China. Solid pictures, really nice to see the variety of terrain in China. How was the donkey and goat?

     
    • Donkey heart and liver – surprisingly good. And one of those meats where if you had told me it was beef I would probably believe you. Goat is pretty standard in China, and very delicious when fried on a stick.

       

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