Get Out of Town: A Xianease Guide to Traveling Outside Xi’an

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Article by XIANEASE

Summertime in Xi’an can get a little sleepy. It’s anyone’s guess as to why that is, whether it’s the fact that the more than 50 universities here are on a break, or if our status as one of China’s “Furnace Cities” deters people from doing stuff, but suffice to say that the next couple of months are going to be a bit less exciting than the joyous spring we just had.

We at Xianease are contractually obligated to say that Xi’an is the greatest city ever put on God’s green earth, a shining city on a hill even though it’s in the valley of the Qinling Mountains, with thousands of years of history and a subway that goes somewhere, beautiful and interesting and welcoming people that have revolutionized the ways in which you can eat bread and lamb and, finally, that you should never want to go anywhere else. But let’s be real—some of you have a couple of months off, or maybe at least a week or two you can use to pacify your wanderlust. To this end, we’ve collected some data on a number of places in China you can visit for around 1000RMB or less round-trip; some of these you might’ve heard of, some you haven’t, but all of these are worthy options for your precious vacation time and won’t necessarily break the bank if you’re on a budget.

5-1Yunnan Province

Where is it?
Southwest of here, very close to Vietnam/Thailand/etc.

Best way to get there?
By plane to the provincial capital of Kunming

And how much will that cost?
About 900RMB round-trip, though there are occasionally tickets available for half that

What to do there?
Yunnan is an amazingly beautiful province with incredible weather. For starters you might just stare up at the blue skies for a week, but if you get bored of that, you should hop a train out of Kunming and head to either Dali or Lijiang. Dali has mountains and a giant lake for more outdoorsy people, as well as a very cool old city with one of China’s first craft breweries, the Bad Monkey. Lijiang has the Lijiang Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site that is SUPER popular with Chinese tourists; it’s a little touristy but if you’re not into that it’s also a great place to go if you’re trying to get to Tiger Leaping Gorge or further on to Shangri-La.

How long should I go for?
All depends. If you’re just going to do Dali or Lijiang, a few days would be sufficient. If you want to do more of the province than that, anything less than a week probably wouldn’t be enough.

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5-5QINGHAI LAKE

Where is it?
Qinghai Province, which is two provinces directly west of here

Best way to get there?
Fast train from Beikezhan to Xining City, runs about every two hours (D2687, D2689, D2691, etc.), then a bus from Xining to your chosen destination at Qinghai Lake

And how much will that cost?
500RMB-ish

What to do there?
Qinghai Lake is a double superlative; it’s both China’s largest inland body of water and largest saltwater lake. I know, you’re excited already. As you should be! July and August are said to be the best months to visit Qinghai, probably not least because it’s going to be way, way cooler there than it will be here—I’m talking like 15-20ºC temperatures every day. While you’re there not melting to death, you might also take in some spectacular scenery. Two of the most highly recommended areas are Bird Island (鸟岛, niao dao) and Sand Island (沙岛, sha dao), but there is also Fairy Bay and Erlangjiao. It’s all pretty gorgeous, you really can’t go wrong. Additionally, if you’re into this sort of thing, the 16th Annual Tour of Qinghai International Road Cycling Race is happening on July 15th.

How long should I go for?
Remember, this is the biggest lake in China, so if you’re going to do all of it, give yourself several days. If you just want to do one or two of the scenic areas, 1-2 days will be fine. There are also lots of budget hotels around the lake, so you’ll be able to find places to stay.

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5-9WULONG KARST

Where is it?  
Outside of Chongqing, the home of hotpot and the death of your GI tract

Best way to get there?
By plane to Chongqing then take a bus to the Karst

And how much will that cost?
About 1000RMB round-trip

What to do there?
Chongqing’s reputation throughout China is as a hilly cosmopolitan mecca of spicy hotpot and spicier girls, but fewer people talk about the natural wonderland that exists just outside its limits. The Wulong Karst is vast and has several scenic areas for you to check out, and if you for some reason decided that seeing the fourth Transformers movie was a good idea, you’ll recognize some of the landscape. The big three to see are: the Three Natural Bridges, which includes three naturally occurring limestone bridges, along with some caves and rivers; the Qingkou Tiankeng Scenic Area, which is a cluster of pretty epic sinkholes unlike any other in the world; and the Furong Cave, an enormous limestone cavern with some colorful and creative lighting to accent the mind-bending rock formations. All are a must-go if you want to see and understand the awesome power of nature, or if you’re just a huge fan of erosion.

How long should I go for?
A long weekend would probably allow you to see everything, 2-3 days, depending on how much Chongqing you want to do before or after.

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5-13Pingyao Old Town

Where is it?
Shanxi Province (Mountain shan, not Xi’an, Shaanxi shan)

Best way to get there?
Fast train from Beikezhan directly to Pingyao, of which there are four daily (D2504, D2508, D2532, D2516). Once there, a public bus or a short taxi ride will take you to the walled city

And how much will that cost?
Around 300RMB round trip

What to do there?
Pingyao is considered one of the best walled cities in China—now, you might be thinking, “Xianease, we live in a walled city, and ours has two Burger Kings in it, how can this be any better?” Well, in contrast to Xi’an’s walled-in downtown, all the old buildings have been preserved from the dynastic era and very few updates have been made for about the last century or so. If you’re a little bit jaded about the state of modern Chinese urban architecture, a trip to Pingyao will remind you of how it used to be. It’s a World Heritage Site, and shares that distinction with a pair of Buddhist temples—Shuanglin Temple and Zhenguo Temple—that are very close by, so if you’re not so into old cities but into millennia-old temples, it’s still worth a visit.

How long should I go for?
2-3 days should be more than enough

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A BRIEF NOTE:

The data collected on ticket prices is current as of the end of June 2017 and will be subject to change based on when you’re traveling and how far in advance you book.

Question or comments about activities around Xi’an contact us at editorial@xianease.com