Have a hankering to visit Tibet but can’t manage the visa and expensive flight? Have Xinjiang’s safety warnings scared you away? Then Qinghai— a Chinese province lodged between disputed territories of Tibet to the south and Xinjiang to the north— is the destination for you. A hub for both Buddhist and Muslim minorities and the geographical home to both frozen deserts and the beginnings of the Tibetan plateau, Qinghai is a blend of all of western China’s most fascinating aspects. At the heart of its province, sitting at a comfortable 2,275 meters above sea level, is its capital city of Xining.
Xining is the fly-in destination for most travelers headed to Qinghai, though it is not usually the only stop. Not far from enormous Buddhist monasteries, China’s largest lake, seas of sand dunes, and small Tibetan communities, Xining is a jumping off point for tourists and backpackers alike. Historically, the city served a similar purpose, acting as a large refuge point for nomadic communities flooding in and out. Most of the city’s hostels today take advantage of this same philosophy; run by Tibetan families, they open their doors for fellow nomad travelers.
Hostels in Xining are few and far between, so you won’t have to make difficult decisions regarding the location of your choice of hostel. Downtown Xining is small and walkable, filled with streets selling local produce, breads, and Yak meat. This is most likely where any Xining hostel will be located and all of the city’s restaurants and nightlife can be found. As soon as you have settled into a hostel somewhere in Xining, you will be set to explore the city on foot.
The city’s most famous two sites are both religious but fundamentally different; one is the Dongguan Mosque that blends Muslim and Chinese architecture and serves the city’s large Muslim community. The other is Kumbum Monastery (Ta’er Si), the religious center of Buddhist monks and followers of the Yellow Hat Sect. This is an enormous site with miles of walking paths that could easily take up a full day. Another great walking destination is one of the city’s many surrounding peaks, Laji Shan, where colorful Tibetan prayer flags await you at the summit.
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