This blog post was updated on October 26, 2018.
If you’re planning a trip to China already, chances are your itinerary includes places like Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing, right? That’s great! The east coast is chock full of giant cities and interesting historical sites, but have you ever considered somewhere on the west?
Just like Western Australia, few travelers (relatively speaking) make the trip to the western border of China because of the distance, particularly to Xinjiang, but those who do are rewarded with rich travel memories, photos, and experiences.
A few major factors make your experience in Xinjiang unique from the rest of China, such as:
Ruling powers: Over the last two to three thousand years, the area has been ruled by the Mongol empire, Chinese, Uyghurs and more. You can see the mix of cultures, hear the different languages, taste the cuisine, and see the clothing and architecture. There are times when it is possible to even feel like you are not actually in China.
Religion: Depending on the city or town within Xinjiang province, you can find varying degrees of religion. One standout to visitors who have seen other parts of China, is that there are large Muslim communities – primarily due to the Uyghur people.
Different nationalities: The Western region of China has some fascinating neighbors – including Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Russia, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan. Because of the proximity, Xinjiang is incredibly diverse. Kashgar, for example, has a popular Sunday Market that draws traders in from nearby countries. Dozens of different nationalities call Urumqi their home.
Some of the major cities and sights to see in Xinjiang include: Urumqi (the capital and largest city), Kashgar (the predominantly Uyghur city known for its connection with the Silk Road), Karakul Lake (best explored by horseback), Turpan, and Hotan.
When visiting the Xinjiang region of western China, the main hub by air or train is Urumqi. If you are coming in through countries neighboring to the left, then Kashgar might be another main hub city. Either way you go, it is a smart move to learn a few key phrases in both Chinese and Uyghur language to help you get from the airport or station to your hotel and vice versa. We learned the hard way… through frustrated taxi drivers and extra fees!
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