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Qinghai Travel Guide and Tips

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Qinghai, which literally means 'blue sea', is an inland province in central west China, adjacent to Xinjiang, Tibet, Sichuan, and Gansu.Qinghai is famed for its spectacular scenery, multi-ethnic minority culture, and rich Buddhist heritage throughout the region.

Qinghai Province is named after the Qinghai Lake, the largest inland salt lake and the most beautiful lake in China. The capital city and transportation hub is Xining. Covering one-thirteenth of the total area of China, Qinghai ranks the fourth-largest province in China after Xinjiang, Tibet and Inner Mongolia. As a vast plateau region, Qinghai reserves abundant splendid natural landscape like Qinghai Lake, Chaka Salt Lake, Kunlun Mountains, Kanbula National Forest Park, Hoh Xil and rich ethnic minority culture. The province is named “China’s Water Town” for being the origin of the Yangtze River, Yellow River and Lancang River, three very important rivers of China. The natural and cultural diversity and primitiveness makes Qinghai an amazing land full of irreplaceable unique charms.

As an unconventional destination, we highly recommend you put Qinghai on your travel list for its unspoiled treasures.

Why Visit Qinghai:

Large Amounts of Natural Splendors. Qinghai is a large plateau tourist region with rich tourism resources. Here you can see many types of incredible natural landscape, including sapphire lakes (Qinghai Lake), crystal salt lakes (Chaka Salt Lake, Qarhan Salt Lake), majestic snow-capped mountains (Qilian Mountains, Kunlun Mountains, Tanggula Mountains), green grasslands, winding rivers, colorful Danxia mountains, Gobi, deserts, glaciers, etc. The aboundant color and amzing physiognomies offer you unique visual feast you hardly see in other places of the world.

Diverse Ethnic Culture and Folk Customs. Qinghai has long been a place many ethnic groups coexist. It currently houses over 40 minority groups, whose number occupies nearly half of the province’s total population. Besides the Tibetan, Hui, Mongolian, Qinghai has Tu and Saka people that are peculiarly live in Qinghai. Thus, when traveling around Qinghai, you can experience Tibetan Buddhist culture, Muslim culture and other interesting cultures and traditions. Dining, language, dressing, festivals and arts are the specific embodiment.

Multiple Travel Experinces. There are massive wonderful things to do in Qinghai. You can view the superb nature, take good pictures as record and memory, hike on an impressive mountain to challenge yourself, make a leisurely biking, walking and boat trip in and around the beautiful Qinghai Lake, go on an interesting train trip in Chaka Salt Lake, take an unforgettable scenic Tibet train adventure along the Qinghai Tibet Railway.

The Gateway to Tibet & Vital Link of Northwest China. Qinghai has both direct train and the shortest air travel to Lhasa. Therefore, Qinghai is the most recommended domestic departure place for a Tibet tour. Still, with the operation of Lanzhou-Urumqi High Speed Railway, Qinghai is perfectly linked with Gansu and Xinjiang, offering tourists great traffic convenience and travel routes.

Eecellent Ecosystem and Protection. Qinghai is the cradle of many China’s influential rivers and mountains. It has the Hoh Xil National Reserve - the largest & highest nature reserve in China and one of the best-presered examples in the world, National Nature Reserve of Three Rivers Source. Primitive ecological environment is under maximising protection.

Distinctive Northwest Cuisine. Eat the local food, you know the people. The special climate and products make a unique flavor of food in Qinghai. You will taste mixed plateau and ethnic minority features. Boiled & roasted mutton, noodle patches, dried brief are classic local dishes you may have a try. Yogurt, barley wine, sweet oat are local exclusively drinks you can only taste in Qinghai, Gansu, Northwest China.

Most Popular Tourist Destinations

Qinghai Province governs 2 prefecture-level cities (Xining and Haidong) and 6 autonomous prefectures, including the Haibei, Huangnan, Hainan, Golog and Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefectures and Haixi Mogolian & Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. Each region owns stunning natural scenery and cultural attractions. The most popular and often visited destinations are located in the north, center and east of Qinghai with more convenient and efficient transportation. Among them, Xining is the transfer center with diverse ethnic minority cultural sites, Qinghai Lake and Chaka Salt Lake are beautiful plateau lakes with mind-blowing scenery, Tongren is best known for authentic Amdo Tibetan culture and Regong Arts while Kanbula National Forest Park hides magnificent Danxia mountains and the sublime Anemaqen Snow Mountain is worshiped by local pilgrims.

Qinghai Lake

Qinghai Lake: China's Most Beautiful Lake -These crystal plateau lakes, combined with characteristic islands, vast grasslands, snowy mountains and spectacular dessert in and around Qinghai Lake make up an attractive Qinghai Lake Scenic Area. With so much to admire, Qinghai Lake was evaluated as the Most Beautiful Lake in China by China's National Geographic. Teeming with fish and populated by nesting seabirds, so it is always referred as Birds' Paradise.

Chaka Salt Lake

Chaka Salt Lake: You may hear of the "Mirror of the Sky" in Bolivia - Salar de Uyuni which is the world's largest salt flat with a reflective mirror-like surface. In China, there is also a hidden stunning mirror, to the west of the famous Qinghai Lake, named Chaka Salt Lake (Chinese: 茶卡盐湖; pinyin: Chákǎ Yánhú). Chaka means salt lake in Tibetan, and the rich salt resource is the reason why it was named. It is near the eastern end of Qaidam Basin, in Chaka Town, Wulan County, about 295 km to Xining, the capital city of Qinghai Province. With rich halite, Caka Salt Lake is also the first green edible salt production base in China. The oval-shaped Chaka lake, with an altitude of 3,059m, covers an area of 105 square kilometers, forming an incredible vast and tranquil landscape. Embraced by snow mountains with beautiful reflections of the blue sky on the lake, it is an unmissable destination in Qinghai and praised as one of the most beautiful salt lakes in China, and was listed on the top 50 photography sites in China. 


Xining: Xining is the starting point of most travel routes in Qinghai Province. Not far away from the city, you can visit the largest saltwater lake in China - Qinghai Lake surrounded by vast plateau grasslands with countless yaks, giant snow mountains afar, tunning Chaka Salt Lake with sensational reflection, magnificent Danxia landform in Kanbula National Forest Park, etc.


Golmud: Different Types of Natural Splendors - Nature’s superlative craftsmanship is extremely clear to seen in Golmud. The rough broad land exhibits various kinds of natural wonders, such as the awesome salt world - Qarhan Salt Lake, majestic Kunlun Mountains and Tanghula Mountains with snow tops, giant glaciers, ice pagoda forest, breathtaking sunrise, winding rivers, World Nature Heritage site - Hoh Xil, etc.


Yushu: Unparalleled Beauty of National Nature Reserves - Yushu is home to three national nature reserves, which are Hoh Xil, Sanjiangyuan, and Longbaotan. They all remain their original beauty with rivers, mountains, grasslands, and form a friendly ecological environment where plants and animals co-exist in harmony.

Distinctive Tibetan Customs and Festivals - Yushu belongs to Kangba Tibetan area. The customs and traditions are well preserved. During festivals such as the Tibetan New Year and Horse Racing Festival, the locals will dress up and attend many Tibetan-featured activities, which is also a special experience for tourists.

Kanbula National Forest Park

Kanbula National Forest Park: Kanbula National Forest Park is a large scenic area located in the intersection of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and the Loess Plateau, about 110 km to southern Xining City. It covers an area of 152 square kilometers and enjoys an altitude between 2,100 and 4,000 meters. Because of the natural treasures it owns, Kanbula is listed as a national park and AAAA scenic area. Danxia landform is Kanbula's biggest highlight that attracts many travelers, photographers, nature lovers, adventures, etc. Some Buddhist monasteries and nunneries hidden in the forest adds more spiritual atmosphere to this stunning scene. Besides, there are many Tibetan villages allowing you to take a short glimpse of local people's daily life.

Amne Machin Snow Mountain

Amne Machin Snow Mountain: Amne Machin (阿尼玛卿), also called Anemaqen or Anyi Machen, is a mountain range in Golog Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in the southeast of Qinghai Province and extends to the southern border of Gansu. It is respected as "Grandfather Pomra" in Tibetan Buddhism because it is the home of the chief indigenous deity of Amdo, Machen Pomra. Amne Machin is in the easternmost part of the middle branch of the Kunlun Mountains and is the largest mountain at the source of the Yellow River.

Top Tourist Attractions to Visit in Qinghai

Travelling in Qinghai not only gluts your eyes via various superb plateau natural landscapes but also gives you a great opportunity of catching a glimpse of the Amdo Tibetan culture, Islamic culture and perfect fusion of different ethnics groups. The top place to visit is the Qinghai Lake, which usually drive from Xining and visited with Chaka Salt Lake. In Xining, Kumbum Monastery, Dongguan Mosque are two landmarks showing different architectural styles and religious cultures. Tibetan Medicine & Tibet Culture Museum helps you know the medical system and Tibetan life, traditions. Around Xining, there are some splendid places off the beaten track, for example, Tongren, Kanbula National Forest Park, Anemaqen Snow Mountain, etc. >> Qinghai Tourist Attractions & Things to Do

Qinghai Lake: Qinghai Lake is the largest and most beautiful lake in China. June to August is the best time to view the pretty turquoise lake decorated by blue sky, white soft clouds and lakeside golden sea of rape flowers.

Qinghai Tibet Train: This great engineering project has 9 world records. It's a once-in-a-lifetime train trip with amazing plateau scenery along the rail, like snowy mountains, beautiful lakes...

Chaka Salt Lake: An incredible “Mirror of the Sky” in China. This huge salt lake is known for magic reflection of the nice sky and imposing mountains around. The sightseeing train brings you back to a dream movie scene.

Kumbum Monastery(Ta'er Monastery): The monastery, the birthplace of Tsongkhapa Master, is one of the top six Gelug Buddhist monasteries with blended Tibetan style and Chinese style architectures, three kinds of marvelous arts.

Dongguan Mosque: It is one of the four greatest mosques in northwest China which features in unique Muslim buildings and the grandest prayers during the Islamic festivals.

Kanbula National Forest Park: It’s a less-known national park which is located just 1.5 hours’ drive from Xining but presents sapphire-like lake embraced by magnificent Danxia mountains.

Amne Machin Snow Mountain: This majestic mountain is worshipped as one of the four sacred mountains by Tibetan Buddhist pilgrims. You will gaze in awe of its striking elevation and perennially snow-covered mountains when looking from afar.

Rongwo Monastery (Longwu Monastery): The monastery, about 2.5 hours’ drive from Xining, is a secluded Tibetan Buddhist shrine in Amdo Tibetan region. Except the Tibetan Buddhist atmosphere, visitors may meet grand Buddhist festivals.

Qinghai Transportation

Get to Qinghai:

By Air: So far, Qinghai has 7 airports: Xining Caojiabao International Airport, Yushu Batang Airport, Golmud Airport, Delingha Airport, Huatugou Airport, Golog Machin Airport and Qilian Airport. Among them, Xining Caojiabao International Airport is the mainly used one, because it operates more domestic flights between Beijing, Shanghai, Xian, Chengdu, Lhasa and many Chinese cities and more convenient transfer to Qinghai Lake, Chaka Salt Lake and attractions around Xining. (A new airport, Qinghai Lake Airport is under planning.)

By Train: Qinghai has three main railways - Lanzhou-Urumqi High Speed Railway, Qinghai-Tibet Railway and Lanzhou-Xining Railway (Lanqing Railway) connecting it with other parts of China and places within Qinghai. Xining Railway Station is the railway hub, so train travelers usually get to Xining first and have a stopover in Xining. Specifically, you can take a high speed train to Xining of Qinghai from Lanzhou (1~1.5 hours), Zhangye (about 2 hours), Jiayuguan (3~3.5 hours), Xian (about 4.5 hours), Urumqi (9~10 hours), Chengdu, Taiyuan, etc., and or take the Qinghai Tibet train from Lhasa (about 21.5 hours), Golmud, Delingha and other stations along the rail.

Get Around Qinghai

The most common and efficient way to get around Qinghai is by land driving. The highways are well-paved with gorgeous landscape all the way. There are some long-distance coaches running between major tourist destinations, but it’s time-consuming and complicated with extra transfer.

TTC Private Transfer is the best way of getting around Qinghai, for we can pick you up from the airport/train station and escort you to every attraction by a safe, clean, comfortable, licensed private car. So you can focus on the sightseeing trip and fully enjoy the tour. If you like, our drive can stop to admire the scenery en route.

●Xining to Qinghai Lake: about 150 km, 2.5 hours’ drive
● Xining to Chaka Salt Lake: about 300 km, 4 hours’ drive
● Qinghai Lake to Chaka Salt Lake: about 150 km, 2.5 hours’ drive
● Xining to Kanbula National Forest Park: about 105 km, 1.5 hours’ drive
● Xining to Tongren: about 160 km, 2.5 hours’ drive
● Xining to Amne Machin Snow Mountain: about 440 km, 6.5 hours' drive

Qinghai Accommodation: Where to Stay

As a popular tourist region, Qinghai offers a variety of accommodation choices. Though located in northwest China, the accommodation of Qinghai has been greatly improved than you expected. It’s easy to find clean, comfortable places to stay during your Qinghai tour. Xining, as the capital city and transfer center, has the largest number of options, from luxury 5-star hotels (like Sofitel Xining, Wanda Realm Xining, Qinghai Yinlong Hotel...) to budget local hostel and guesthouses. If you just have a Qinghai Lake tour, or a Kanbula National Forest Park tour from Xining, it’s best to accommodate in Xining. If you extend trip to Chaka Salt Lake, Chaka Town is the recommended place to stay overnight. For those traveling from Xining to Tongren for an Amdo Tibetan culture exploration, you can accommodate in Tongren, but there are only some local hostels and the condition is simple and basic.

Best Times to Visit Qinghai

Qinghai is a completely landlocked region on Qinghai Tibet Plateau. Its average elevation is about 3,000 meters. Affected by its latitude and altitude, Qinghai owns a Plateau Continental Climate. The main features include long sunshine hours, intense sun radiation, long & cold winter, cool summer, large temperature difference between day and night, little rainfall. Major tourist destinations are in the eastern Qinghai with a relatively moderate climate, but the west areas are freezing cold, windy, dry and lack of oxygen. . See more on Qinghai Weather.

The annual average temperature in Qinghai is about -5.1 °C ~ 9.0 °C. Temperature in January (the coldest month) is between -17.4 °C and -4.7 °C while in July (the hottest month) is about 5.8 °C~20.2 °C. Most places of Qinghai have a low annual precipitation of below 400 mm. For travel comvenience and better scenery, months from May to October are the best times to visit Qinghai. Summer from June to August is a peak season when Qinghai Lake turns the most beautiful with gloden sea of rape flower blossoms, and the temperature is milder than other parts of China.

Tips: 1.) Be sure to keep warm in early morning and evening, and fully prepare for the strong sunlight and wind, sunglasses, hat and sunblock are necessary for outdoor sightseeing during the daytime. 2.) Rest assured that high altitude sickness rarely happens when visiting Qinghai.

Plan your Qinghai Tour

Tourist usually spend 3 to 7 days on a Qinghai tour depending on personal schedule and places of interest. And a Qinghai tour often starts from Xining, the transfer hub with the most convenient arrival flights and trains. The most classic Qinghai tour is to spend 3 ~ 4 days enjoying the beautiful Qinghai Lake & Chaka Salt Lake with a short visit of Xining landmarks, including the Kumbum Monastery and Dongguan Mosque. Besides, you can take a day trip from Xining to Kanbula National Forest Park and Tongren which are less-known destinations but own stunning nature and culture. If you want to know more mysterious Amdo Tibetan culture, it’s highly advised to extend trip from Tongren further to the Southern Gansu. With more time, we can arrange you an in-depth Qinghai Discovery tour, visit the sacred Amne Machin Snow Mountain, Shizang Danxia Landform and more mysterious places.

Usually, tourist travel from Qinghai with the neighboring Tibet, Gansu, Xinjiang and Sichuan. You can experience the famous sky train to fulfill the dream tour on the holy land of Tibet, visit Potala Palace and Mount Everest, etc. Meanwhile, getting from Qinghai to see the “Rainbow Mountains” of Zhangye, Mogao Caves in Dunhuang, Jiayuguan Fortress is a wonderful in-depth Silk Road journey. It can be extended further to Xinjiang. Also, you can drive from Southern Gansu to Ruo’ergai, Jiuzhaigou in northern Sichuan and enjoy different kinds of natural scenery in this region.

TTC has served thousands of customers to discover the nature, culture and history of China. With our one-to-one trip planning help, considerate and professional services of tour guide, accommodation, tickets and transfer arrangement, your Qinghai travel will go smooth and conveniently with better travel experiences. You can choose from our most popular Qinghai tour packages below, or contact us to customize an ideal one by yourself.

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