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.
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!
Urumqi had two attractions that interested me:
- The Cultural Museum
- The Grand Bazaar
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.
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:
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:
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.
Finally arrived in Beijing. We’ve all seen pictures of Beijing so I’ll only share one. A snowy day at the summer palace:
A few other interesting things that happened in China:
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 commentsSpam your friends: