Last Updated on July 18, 2016 by Christine Kaaloa
As one of the largest regions of China, near the Tibetan border, Qinghai offers a mixture of Mongolian and Tibetan influences, monasteries and mosques, wonderful natural beauty, and a lot of yaks! For years, this unchartered beauty has been a well-kept secret of Chinese travelers, but only now is it beginning to introduce itself to international travelers. Qinghai’ s travel highlights are impressive, magestic and at times, surreal.
Qinghai Travel Highlights through 32 Inspiring Photographs:
If you’ve not followed my journey on Facebook or my double Instagram accounts (@grrrltraveler, @grrrleatsworld), then this is your second chance to see my journey but in a single post! This post is the abridged version and travel highlights of my trip to Qinghai. It will show you some of the things to do in Qinghai.
June 24 Xining
My first day in Xining we started with a press trip event at the Sofitel hotel! (Yes, Xining has the French-inspired Sofitel brand and it nearly blew my mind). Roughly an hour long event, it entailed a Chinese announcer from the Qinghai Tourism Board, many photographers and folks from Chinese social media influencers to well, us foreign bloggers and vloggers.
After collecting applauds and a cute gift schwag bag, we were off to our first sightseeing stop.
Qinghai Tibetan Culture & Medicine Museum
Qinghai region has strong Tibetan influence, which you might occasionally see in local faces.Xining is the well-developed capital of Qinghai and it’s actually the hub city, where you might catch a train into Tibet!
Xining also houses the Qinghai Tibetan Culture & Medicine Museum ( No.36 Jing’er Road, Chengdong District, Xining), a museum with one of the largest collections of Tibetan artwork, clothing, calligraphy etc... You’ll find extensive thangkas (Tibetan paintings on cloth or silk) on medicinal practices and Buddhist spirituality. One thangka extended over 660m long, with detailed mandalas and over 20 million people hand-drawn into it! (Note: They didn’t have glue back then).
It definitely answered a handful of my questions and more! I could’ve stayed longer!
Tonight we are free to find dinner on our own in the city. I decide to join two fellow press mates from Japan to find a local noodle shop and explore the city at night.
Reading Chinese menus
Reading menus are not easy. Much of it is in Chinese, so I’m not sure how I’d do without help. Fortunately, Yuka (‘Experiencing Japan with Yuka‘) and Brian (‘Ramen Adventures‘) have a good handle on the Japanese language and Katakana (japanese most complex system of written characters) and it’s similar in characters and meaning to some Chinese characters. Finding a vegetarian noodle dish has some issues but they were able to decode that the dish that translates itself as “dirt bean” is a dish I can eat because it probably means ‘potato’. (Expect a video on this)
Popular Foods you can expect to try in Xining
Being part of the Tibetan plateau, there are a lot of meat dishes in Xining and Qinghai region. So far, i’m discovering it’s an influence of Xianjiang food and Tibetan. But there are some dishes that vegetarians can eat– you’ll find comfort with tofu and vegetable dishes.
Eating at a Tibetan restaurant in downtown Xining. We’re being sung to by Tibetan singers and the songs and voices are something distinct and memorable. Some of the male songs have a bit of a haunting yodel to them and it’s incredible how long a singer can carry so many weaving notes in one breath.
As a city, owning over 5 million yaks, yak meat or yak jerky (the mysterious photo below), is the popular regional meat. If you ever wanted to try yak, this would be the place to do it in. Would you?
June 25- 26 Xining to Ledu
Kumbum monastery (aka Tear Lamasary) to Qutan monastery ( in Ledu)
Did you know, that there are five sects of Buddhism, with each owning their own Dalai Lama? In general, the red hat sector is the most powerful sect of Buddhism.
So far our trip is wonderful. Our guide’s command of English is .. okay, not very strong and his accent makes it challenging. A lot of my questions go a bit unanswered. It’s imperative to start taking photos of the plaques of information, so I can translate this better later. But overall, how could I still not love what I’m experiencing? The culture here is so fascinating.
The last stop of the day was Hushu Village (aka Ping An Ecological Park) where you are invited to try their rice wine (manufactured there) and learn about the Tu minority and it’s traditions.
See @grrrleatsworld on Instagram for the foods I’m eating on my #Qinghai region!
June 26 Xining & the largest mosque in China
When I arrived in Xining, I had this impression that the town consisted of a dirt road, some stores and a couple of hotels. But now that I’m here, holy cow! Xining, you’re a lot more modern and developed than I expected. You blow me away!
Xining is a legitimate city, developed and somewhat aspiring towards the developed heights of Korea. Actual technology is still running to catch up but there are restaurants, banks, huge splashy shopping malls, Starbucks and Cafe Benne’s . The parks are clean, modern, with good Feng shui design. The largest mosque in China is Dongguan Mosque and it’s in Xining as well. If you want an authentic local market, there’s a wonderful outdoor one in the neighboring streets near the mosque.
CCTV is throughout this region so crime is low. At the park near my hotel there are outdoor reading pavilions, exercise equipment and people walking their dogs. All is serene and beautiful, like a modern aged park designed with perfect feng shui. In the afternoon the dancing ladies come out in throngs to bounce to the rhythm of their aerobic teacher.
In the evening, the city lights up with colorful neon accent lights to decorate buildings. At night,driving from the airport in to the city, you’d think you were entering Las Vegas.
Moreover, I love my new luxury stay at Qinghai Hotel Xining with buffet breakfast each morning. White linen hotel sheets, I miss you so!
June 27 Tongren
Wait for it…
The mountains and valleys of Tongren
Hello Tongren! This trip so far has been good, but this landscape just jumped bars higher ! The mountains are formidable and intense in their contrasting colors. The valley streams are flowing adding accents of warm beauty to the occasional sparse vegetation. Rounding each corner, I want to gasp. My eyes don’t want to blink and the glass window of the bus is a barrier I wish I could break through so my camera can touch the land’s nakedness beauty. Qinghai is just warming up…
Cutting through the mountains and valleys, we eventually made it to Lower and Upper WuTan Temple (they are two temples). The lower temple houses a giant-sized Buddha, brightly red-painted prayer wheels and a room with a giant Buddha with many hands, much like the Hindu Shiva God. The room was the most impressive, with medium-sized Buddhas of varying expressions circling it as miniature Buddhas covering the wall looked on. Tonight we’ll stay at a hotel in Ledu County.
The most popular social media app in China
By now, we are all on WeChat app (the chat and social media app used often in China) and that is our way to communicate information to each other. Apparently, like Instagram, you can make pretty good money from sponsorship if you have a good following.
It is Yuka’s (one of the vloggers for Japan) first time experiencing a shower and toilet in the same room. “How to use this bathroom- the shower is over the toilet,” is what she texts to us. It’s a culture shock for all first timers but I’m used to it.
I text back, “Makes it easy for you to shower, shave your legs and brush your teeth at the same time.”
It’s something you’ll find occasionally in Asia and Southeast and my apartment in Korea had one.
June 28 Qinghai Lake | Rooftop of the World
Holy wow, Qinghai Lake is the largest salt water lake in China! The lake is home to the naked carp. I’m over 3,500 m above sea level. Wanna come along? The drive you could feel the altitude shift a little. I definitely felt like I was entering the “Rooftop of the World” with prayer flag tents, yurt lodgings, occasional yaks and fields and fields of yellow rapeseed flowers.
Check out @grrrleatsworld on Instagram to see my favorite dishes of this region.
June 29 Quilan Mountains
I’m on a bus to Qilian (pronounced Chilean, I’m not kidding! It took me a while to figure out my group wasn’t talking about Chile!).
A long and scenic bus ride
We’ve traveled most of the day, but it’s a very scenic bus ride thru some intense rolling hills, lots of free range sheep and yak. Sometimes, you’ll see a herder and his sheep or yak crossing the road. Yaks are shy creatures. If you approach them, they’ll run. We did a brief stop at a small town where there’s a monument to remind you that the Old Silk Road crossed through this region (it’s in the shot where I’m speaking to the camera). In the middle of the road of an intersection, I saw a public van hanging out waiting for more customers. Getting around the region is best by tour but you could also travel it via railway and small van buses, which go from town to town transporting locals.
A famous flower sea with no flowers
A quick stop at the Yuanyang Flower Sea, bode not so well with the rain clouds swooping in as we arrived and it’s not as lovely when the yellow rapeseed flowers aren’t in bloom. They normally cover the marshland in a striking way. We had to use our imagination– the marshland flourished in green, yak and sheep. You could see how it might be beautiful when in full bloom.
The scenic landscape as we drove to Qilian is priceless. It makes a traveler want to rent a car just to stop periodically along the way. I’ve not seen anything of this intensity since Ladakh, India!
July 30 Qilian town & Qilian Mountains
Arriving into the town of Qilian, you’ll find it a clean town with a Shan- Muslim community. The most striking feature about this town is that it’s surrounded by the red cast Qilian Mountains. It also has very clean streets and you won’t find many large supermarkets, with refrigerators. In fact, I’ve not seen one the entire time I’ve been in Qinghai. Walk on the streets at night and you’ll find hawker tents lining the sidewalks showcasing goat parts to welcome hungry customers in. Goat must be a delicacy in this region.
Table hierarchy and etiquette
Dinner at night was a big affair with many people we didn’t know. Apparently there was supposed to be an appearance of some political figures but they never arrived.
In eating dinner, Keith, the producer told our table about the dinner table etiquette in China. The most important person faces the door, so everyone knows who the authority figure of each table is. Also, there is another middle person who assumes the role of turning the lazy Susan (or revolving table of food), making sure each person gets the food they want and that the table is turning.
Only towards the end, did the CTrip hosts of the trip arrive, bearing rice wine shot glasses. It was etiquette for everyone to take three shots and the CTrip folks would take shots for every shot we took. Chinese sure must be able to hold their liquor.
Accommodation: Shanghai Shi Chen Boutique Hotel, Qilian (city center)
Keep an eye out~ in the future I’ll be posting more videos about China trip planning.
Note: I was invited by the Qinghai Tourism board and Ctrip to experience these locations in Qinghai to share it on my blog. All opinions are my own.
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