Xining Overview

A lot of people have the wrong idea about the Tibetan plateau: it’s crude, it lacks infrastructure, and it offers hard travel. Well, wait until you get into Xining. Its amazing transformation through the years is a testament there’s more to China than just Beijing, Shanghai, and Xian.


Xining is one of the biggest areas in Qinghai Province, which is located in the western portion of China. It sits on a plateau, which explains it’s rather cold climate, and is already very close to Tibet. This explains the intricate combination of Tibetan and Chinese culture in several aspects of the people’s lives, from the food to the many attractions within the area. It is a prefecture city with a total land area of over 7,300 square kilometers, around 300 square kilometers of which is used for urban centers. It is roughly 2,000 meters above sea level and is on the upper portion of the Huangshui River.


Xining’s history goes back to more than 2,000 years ago. Even then it already played a huge role in the growth of commerce and industry between China and Tibet, as it was a very strategic route during the North Silk Road. It formed part of the Hexi Corridor. It was once controlled by many dynasties until they were overpowered by the Tibetans. It was during the Song Dynasty when the area was reclaimed. It also served as the capital of Koko Nor until it was delegated as the official capital of the Qinghai Province. It’s a progressive city with Western businesses.

Population and Culture

The city is divided into 4 districts, namely, Chengzhong, Chengdong, Chengxi, and Chengbei. There are also three counties. These are Huangyuan, Huangzhong, and Datong Hui and Tu Autonomous County. The city has a total population of over 2 million with most of them living in Chengdong and Chengbei districts. There are also three universities in the area. A considerable percentage of the people is composed of minorities such as Tibetan, Manchu, Mongolian, Satar, and Hui. Most of the people work in textile industries as Xining is one of the biggest suppliers of wool and other kinds of fur. This practice has been around even during the North Silk Road period.


The dining experience in Xining is one of the kind. You’ll find the dishes to be thick, hearty, and filling. This is necessary for the locals since they have to battle the coldness of the climate all year round. They also tend to be heavy on meat such as lamb and chicken. Nevertheless, just like the Chinese, many still serve hot bowls of noodles. Travelers will find the dishes priced cheaply, but servings can be large. Some of the small restaurants are found near the stations; you can also find local food markets such as Mojia Lu, which opens as early as 6 in the morning until late at night. For those who tend to get picky with food, Xining also has some Western restaurants like KFC.


Although there are a number of manufacturing companies in the area, Xining is also gaining a lot of revenues from its tourism. Every year, especially during the summer, hundreds of locals, both domestic and foreign, travel to Xining and enjoy the sceneries. Unlike other popular destinations in China such as Beijing, the summer days in Xining are actually quite cool; even the nights can turn out cold. Nevertheless, the city is often dry with most of the rains pouring during the months of May until September only. The level of humidity is also pretty consistent throughout the year. Needless to say, winters can be extremely cold, and temperatures can drop to as low as -14 degrees Celsius.


When it comes to entertainment, it still has a lot to catch up on Beijing, Shanghai, and Xian, to name a few. But that doesn’t mean you’ll get yourself bored to death here. For one, it ushers you to some of the most beautiful natural attractions you’ll ever see in China. The Qinghai Lake, one of the biggest bodies of water, is resplendent during spring and summer months. The wide fields of flowers, the rolling mountains, and the vast farms make for gorgeous backgrounds. Near it is the Bird Island. Some religious and cultural buildings such as the Ta’er Monastery and Dongguan Mosque are also well visited. Small coffee shops populate the city, as well as tiny bars and clubs made up of a couple of tables and chairs but provide very affordable beers.


You can get into Xining through its own airport, as well as train from Lhasa, Beijing, and Xian. There are also long-distance buses from Yushu, Zhangye, and Jiuquan. Around the city center, the most convenient way to travel is through buses, which can take you to almost anywhere, even to its attractions.

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