Xinjiang 10-Day Itinerary
- Day 1 – Arrive in Urumqi
- Day 2 & 3 – Tour Turpan
- Day 4 – Travel to Kashgar
- Day 5-6 – Tour Kashgar
- Day 7-8 – Karakoram Highway
- Day 9 – Hotan
- Day 10 – Cross Taklamakan Bus to Urumqi
- Travel back in time as you retrace the historic Silk Road, including ancient cities, ruins, endless sand dunes, and beautiful mountain passes.
- Spend the night in a Kazakh yurt, a tent-like structure used by nomadic herders in the region.
- Become acquainted with the beautiful Uyghur culture, including the tasty lamb dishes, the old mud homes of Kashgar, and the colorful mosques.
- Try your luck searching for precious jade in the Hotan River.
- Buy souvenirs at the famous Hotan market – you could even buy a camel if you can find a way to transport it back home!
This simple guide will provide you a framework from which to plan a fulfilling trip to Xinjiang, the largest and most ethnically diverse region of China. For a more comprehensive look at Xinjiang, you'll want to check out the FarWestChina Xinjiang Travel Guide. The focus of this particular itinerary is the Silk Road, a trade route that connected Central Asia with China. What most travelers don’t take into account when planning a trip to Xinjiang is just how large the region is. That’s where this guide can come in handy – providing geographical context for those who can’t afford to fly to each city they want to visit.
Day 1 – Arrive in Urumqi (乌鲁木齐)
Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, is usually the first stop for most travelers in Xinjiang. Most travel guide books advise against spending too much time in Urumqi, but that doesn't mean you should avoid it altogether. There are two places worth visiting that will lay the foundation for an incredible journey throughout the rest of Xinjiang: the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Museum (新疆维吾尔自治区博物馆) and the International Grand Bazaar (大巴扎).
Located in the northern part of the city, the museum is one of the few “must-see” places in Urumqi. Not only do they have a beautiful collection of Silk Road artifacts from the cities you will be visiting, it’s also home to the famous collection of Silk Road mummies. Although this isn’t a historic site, the International Bazaar and neighboring “Er Dao Qiao” shopping areas are a great place to browse souvenirs and grab some good Uyghur food.
Accommodation in Urumqi
Recommended: Urumqi Maitian Youth Hostel: a cheap and clean option that is recommended for its location more than anything else. It’s closer to the Uyghur side of town more than any other hostel and is a short walking distance from major city bus stops.
Getting from Urumqi to Turpan
While you can hire a taxi to take you to Turpan (which might be an economical option if you’re traveling as a group of 3-4), the cheapest way to get to Turpan is via bus. There are trains and flights to the city but they take the same amount of time and aren't cost-efficient.
Ask your hostel for direction or just tell a taxi that you want to go to the south bus station (南郊客运站 - Nánjiāo kèyùn zhàn). Buses to Turpan leave every hour throughout the day and the journey takes about 2-3 hours on average.
Day 2-3: Tour Turpan (吐鲁番)
You’re going to love Turpan! The bus will bring you directly into the heart of the Uyghur bazaar where you can stroll around and grab something good to eat. At this point you have a lot of different options for places to visit over the next few days. You can take a taxi to the Jiaohe Ruins (交河故城) a few kilometers to the west of the city, a well-preserved ancient city that was once dug out of the ground, and then follow that with a taxi to the
Emin Minaret (苏公塔) just on the east side of town. A couple hours at Jiaohe should do the trick, while you really only need to budget an hour for the Emin Minaret.
Before you wake up the next day for your first full day in the city, arrange for transportation – either a private car or a tour group – to visit all the places outside the city. These include the Flaming Mountains (火焰山), the Gaochang Ancient City (高昌故城), the Bezeklik Buddhist Caves (柏孜克里克千佛洞) and my favorite: Tuyoq Valley (吐峪沟).
Accommodation in Turpan
Recommended: Jiaotong Hotel: while there is a hostel in Turpan (the White Camel Youth Hostel), it doesn’t offer internet and it’s difficult to find. The JiaoTong Hotel is located just across from the entrance to the Uyghur bazaar and offers excellent prices and comfortable rooms.
Day 4: Travel to Kashgar (喀什)
The best way to get from Turpan to Kashgar is by train, which will take at least 20 hours. The train station is a 30 minute drive from the city center but you can buy tickets in the city. Ask your hotel where to get tickets and they’ll point you in the right direction.
The bus is another option although it’s not very comfortable. Finally, you can fly, but that will require you to get to Urumqi first since there are no direct flights from Turpan to Kashgar. Taking a bus to Urumqi, a taxi to the airport and catching a flight to Kashgar is almost as much trouble as just taking a train even though it takes a few hours longer.
Whichever mode of transportation you decide on, just know that it will take almost a whole day out of your itinerary to get out to Kashgar from Turpan.
Day 5-6: Tour Kashgar
Kashgar has earned a reputation as the heart of Central Asia and one of the most beautiful outposts along the ancient Silk Road. You’ll experience Uyghur culture at its best here despite the obvious Chinese influence that has been built up over the past decade.
The two most important stops here in Kashgar are the Id Kah Mosque (艾提尕尔清真寺), the largest in China, and Kashgar’s Old Town (喀什古城).
While much of the Old Town has been demolished, there are still portions that you can walk through and it’s worth it to do so. Walking around both of these areas could and should easily take up an entire day of your time. Make sure your camera batteries are charged because you’ll be taking quite a few pictures!
During your second day you can venture to the outskirts of the city to visit places like the Apak Khoja Mausoleum (阿帕克霍加), home of the Fragrant Concubine, and the Kashgar Bazaar (喀什巴扎) to shop for souvenirs. There are plenty of other places a good drive outside of Kashgar that tour companies will try to get you to visit but it’s a good idea to just take the time to soak up the Uyghur culture in Kashgar.
You should also take the second day to make preparations for the 2 day trek up the Karakoram Highway – which will require a tour company. You can hire your own car for about 400-500 per day but a tour company will help you get the permit that is necessary to travel up the Karakoram.
Recommended: Pamir Youth Hostel or Old Town Youth Hostel: both of these hostels are located near the Id Kah Mosque in the Uyghur part of town. They will provide a very Uyghur experience at a reasonable price. It is recommended that you have the information handy for both of these hostels in case one gets booked up during your visit (they’re both very popular).
Day 7-8: Travel the Karakoram Highway (喀喇昆仑公路)
One of the major highlights of any trip to western Xinjiang is a journey along the famed Karakoram Highway. It is along this two-lane highway climbing up toward the border of China and Pakistan that you will get to see some of the most beautiful natural scenery in all of Central Asia. There are two popular places to stop along the Karakoram Highway. The first is the Karakul Lake, a small body of water at the foot of the majestic Muztaghata mountain. Further up the road is the city of Tashkurgan, the last outpost before hitting the border.
It is recommended that you take the first day to hike around the Karakul Lake and stay in a yurt for the night, which should cost around 50 RMB per person. The following day you drive up to visit Tashkurgan before driving your way back down to Kashgar.
Note: in the mountains it gets quite cold at night, even during the summer, so be prepared!
Getting from Kashgar to Hotan
The best way to get to Hotan is by bus, which is the cheapest and often fastest option but it is also now possible to ride a train from Kashgar to Hotan.
Day 9: Travel to Hotan (和田)
Hotan is often considered the last frontier when it comes to Uyghur culture – one of the few places that has yet to be consumed by Chinese architecture and Han population. For this reason it’s a great place to visit the market, walk the streets and capture on camera a way of life that is slowly fading away into the history books. In Hotan you can try your luck with jade digging in the Hotan River, visit a silk factory, or experience the Sunday Bazaar that has become quite famous.
Recommended: Hotan Hotel – since there aren’t any hostels in Hotan, this hotel will offer the best comfort for the lowest price in town. The gardens and grape trellises offer beautiful scenery to walk around as well.
Day 10: Travel Back to Urumqi
The quickest way back to Urumqi is by airplane and there are daily flights during the summer months and it is also possible to take a train back, which will take about 30 hours. But if you want an adventure you should consider using the bus that will take you directly through the heart of the Taklamakan Desert, the largest desert in all of China.
Either way you look at it, getting back to Urumqi to catch your flight out of Xinjiang will require a good full day, so make sure to plan for it in your itinerary.