Northwest China Guide


NW chinamap West 23
This is an extremely dry, arid, and sparsely populated area mixed in with high mountains and even some grasslands. The largest minority groups are Uighur/Hui Muslims, Tibetan and Mongol. Along the way you will see many Buddhist temples and Mosques, and some Tibetan Buddhists will not eat meat while Uighur/Hui Muslim areas will not serve pork at restaurants. People are friendly, easy going, and the food is amazing. Some areas are very culturally unique, others are incredibly scenic, and a few have great historic cities.
Trip 1 (May 2016) Xi'an 西安
Trip 2 (November 2016) Qinghai 青海
Trip 3 (November 2016) Gansu 甘肃
Trip 4 (June 27 - July 13, 2017) Sichuan 四川,Qinghai 青海,Gansu 甘肃,Ningxia 宁夏,Shanxi 陕西
Trip 5 (Christmas 2017) Hohhot in Inner Mongolia 呼和浩特,内蒙古
Trip 6 (January 17-21, 2018) Shanxi 山西

Trip 4 (17 days)

epic road trip Final
Start - Chengdu, Sichuan
Goal - Tengger Desert, Inner Mongolia
Total Length -    3600KM; 2250 Miles

Shanxi Province 陕西

Capital - Xi'an
Population - 37 million
Landmass - About the size of Kansas
Minority Groups - Hui
Historically, the birth of dynastic China began close to Xi'an with the creation of the Qin dynasty. This city draws in many visitors to the close by Qin Dynasty sites, especially the world famous Terracotta Worriers. Another popular destination is Huashan, considered one of the toughest mountain climbs in China (a short drive from Xi'an).

Qianling Mausoleum


Terracota Worriers

Gansu Province 甘肃

Capital - Lanzhou
Population - 30 million
Landmass - About the size of California
Minority Groups - Hui, Tibetan, Uighur, etc.
This long narrow province is mostly arid, lightly populated, and full of history as a crucial part of the ancient Silk Road. There is a significant Muslim population, so you will see many mosques and halal restaurants. Most notably, the capital Lanzhou is famous throughout China for lamian 拉面,hand pulled noodle dishes, and grilled goat meat skewers. Every town on the silk road trail has a night market, and these places have the best soup and noodles, bread, grilled meat and sea food! A final bonus is that people are generally friendly 🙂
Jiayuguan Fort (End of the Great Wall)
Zhangye Tower
Gansu on the Bullet Train

Qinghai Province 青海

Capital - Xining
Population - 6 million
Landmass - About the size of Texas
Minority Groups - Tibetan, Hui, Tu, Mongol, etc.
This massive but largely uninhabited province is considered to be part of greater historical Tibet, and boasts a large Tibetan and Muslim population. A few hours drive from Xining, the capital, is the giant Qinghai Lake. You can also visit the source of the Yellow River and several sacred Tibetan Buddhist sites. There are only two major cities, and most people pass through on their way to west to Xinjiang or Tibet.
Advice at a Monastery
Guide Old City Walls
Qinghai From the Bus

Ningxia Province 宁夏

Capital - Yinchuan
Population - 6 million
Landmass - About the size of West Virginia
Minority Groups - Hui
This small province is officially titled Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, because of large population of Hui Muslims living in the area. The landscape is mainly arid and dry, but there are some mountainous regions too. Overall, it's a great little province with some nice sights and great Hui Muslim food.
Western Xi Tombs
Desert Park in Zhongwei
Xumishan Grottoes

Inner Mongolia 内蒙古

Capital - Hohhot
Population - 25 million
Landmass - Huge
Minority Groups - Mongolian and Hui
Formally called Inner Mongolia Autonomous region, this massive area southeast of Mongolia covers a large swatch of northern China. From rollings grasslands in the east to sand dune deserts in the west,  you can see a wide variety of landscapes and even Mongols living their traditional nomadic lifestyle herding livestock and sleeping in tents. Being far north, winter can be bitter cold, so the other seasons are preferable times to visit.
Alashan Desert near Ningxia
Indian Style Temple in Hohhot
Old Muslim Area in Hohhot

Shanxi 山西

Capital - Taiyuan
Population - 36  million
Landmass - About the size of Georgia
Minority Groups - a few Hui, but not many
This comparatively small, rural, less developed province isn't one of the more popular provinces for foreign, or domestic, tourists. But, there are plenty of beautiful scenic spots in the mountainous areas in the north half of the province. The southern half, where I went because the weather was nicer at the time, is home to Pingyao (the most famous ancient walled city in China), an amazingly large mountain park, and a hundreds of years little village preserved as a museum to Han Chinese culture. Lots to see, and not many other tourists around is just about perfect!
Yuci Ancient City 榆次古城
Pingyao Ancient City 平遥古城
Zhangbi Underground Castle 张壁古堡
Mian Mountain Park 绵山风景区

Xinjiang Province

Capital - Urumqi
Population - 23 million
Landmass - About the size of Alaska
Minority Groups - Uighur, Kazakh, Hui, etc.
Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region is the largest province in China by surface area, and is home to a large population of Uyghur Muslims (culturally and linguistically a Turkic people). Composed of desert, steppe, and mountains, the climate and geography of this province varies greatly. Visitors come to experience the cultural contrast of ethnic Uyghur villages and see the vivid and mostly uninhabited landscapes.

What to do next?

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