GETTING THERE AND AWAY
Xining’s newly renovated Caojiabao airport is about 25km east of the city near Ping’an county town. You can get a taxi there for 100 RMB or take the bus (21 RMB) from the Bayi Lu bus station (corner of Bayi Lu and Huangzhong Lu). Air services include most major Chinese cities, as well as small, remote airports in Qinghai (i.e. Yushu, Golmud).
While immensely unhelpful for seeing much of Qinghai, train is a great way to get into/out of the province. Until 2014, there was only one line: the famous Qinghai-Tibet Railway connecting Lanzhou with Lhasa. However, as of December 2014, the new high-speed Lanzhou-Xinjiang railway links Lanzhou with Xinjiang via Xining. Instead of passing north through the Hexi corridor like previous routes, this railroad climbs to 3800m in the Qilian mountains, making it the highest elevation high-speed railway in the world.
The new rail link to Xinjiang has been accompanied by the construction of the gargantuan new Xining Station 西宁火车站，a massive multiyear endeavor that entailed the movement of all services to Xining West – a vast, drafty, corrugated-steel shed in the middle of nowhere – for three years and the subsequent destruction of the old station. The new station, allegedly the largest in western China, has risen impressively from the still-settling dust (which might actually be from the still-under-construction park which fronts the station and provides a link across the river to downtown). The station is also fronted by a large square with unusual signs pointing downwards towards a mythical, yet-to-be-constructed (or even planned) ‘Subway Line 1.’
Conveniently, the newly constructed bus station – a model of order and efficiency – is right next to the train station. The bus station is also the terminus for all local buses to the train station, making everything quite convenient!
Along the Lhasa line, there are really only two destinations reachable by train: Golmud (the main city of Haixi prefecture, 12hrs) and, of course, Lhasa (22-24hrs). In the future, this may change, with rail being laid to Shigatse in the TAR and a potential new link from Golmud to Korla providing backdoor service into Xinjiang.
The new Xinjiang high speed line opens up rapid service to Urumqi (10 hours) and all points between: Zhangye, Jiayuguan, Dunhuang, Hami, and Turpan. Expect to pay a fair bit of cash for these tickets.
From the east, Xining has services to most major Chinese cities, including Beijing (20+ hours), Shanghai (30ish hours), Chengdu (24 hours), and more. Note that there are currently no direct trains from Xining to Xinjiang – you’ll have to head to Lanzhou or another Gansu destination first, and then change.
Xining’s new bus station, which opened in January 2015 next to the new train station, is a model of efficiency. We’ll see how long that lasts.
Buses also leave from no fewer than four separate bus stations scattered widely across town: Bayi Lu Bus Station (八一路汽车站 Bayi Lu Qichezhan, corner of Bayi Lu and Huangzhong Lu), Nanchuan Xilu Bus Station （南川西路客运站 Nanchuan Xilu Keyunzhan, Nanchuan Xilu just south of Liuyi Qiao), Xinning Lu Bus Station (新宁路客运站 Xinning Lu Keyunzhan, Xinning Lu btw. Wusi Dajie and Shengli Lu), and Xining West Bus Station (西宁西站客运站 Xining Xizhan Keyunzhan, immediately west of the Xining West train station).
Please contact any of the bus stations for information on which stations have services to which places. Overall, expect services to the following locations:
Xining, Haidong, and around
- Ping’an 平安 30m – 1h: every 30mins
- Ledu 乐都 1h: every 30m
- Minhe 民和 2h: every 30m
- Huzhu 互助 45m – 1h: every 30m
- Huzhu Beishan National Forest Park 互助北山国家森林公园 2-2.5h, once daily
- Datong 大通 30m – 1h: every 30m
- Hualong 化隆 2h: every hour
- Shachung Monastery 夏琼寺 2h: once daily (10am)
- Xunhua 循化 3-3.5h: every hour
Huangnan and Hainan Prefectures
- Tongren 同仁 (Rebgong) 3-3.5hr: every hour
- Jentsa 尖扎 2.5-3hr: every hour
- Zeku 泽库 (Tsekog) 5hr: 4 times daily
- Henan 河南 (rMalho) 6hr: 4 times daily
- Hor (Herixiang) 和日乡and Ningxiu 宁秀乡townships in western Zeku county 4.5h to the Sancha Lukou 三岔路口 (intersection of roads to Golog, Tongde, and Ningxiu), 4h45m to Ningxiu, 5h+ to Hor: Every 2 days, departs 10am on odd-numbered days. Returns on even-numbered days, departing Hor at 7:30am.
- Gonghe 共和 (Chabcha) 2hr: every hour
- Guide 贵德 (Trika) 1.5-2hr: every hour
- Guinan 贵南 (Mangra) 4hr: 8am, 9am, 10am, 12pm
- Tongde 同德 (Ba ‘rdzong) 5hr: 8:30am, 9am, 9:30am, 12pm, 1pm
- Xinghai 兴海 5hr: 8am – 2pm every hour
- Qinghai Lake 青海湖 3-5hr, depending on destination: various buses, check with stations
Golog and Yushu
- Dawu 大武 (Machen 玛沁) 7-12hr: 2 fast ‘business express’ buses during day, sleeper buses depart every half hour from 4:30 – 7:30pm.
- Gande 甘德 (Gabde) 8.5-13hr: sleeper bus dept. late afternoon
- Darlag 达日(Dari): 18hr, sit night bus dept. late afternoon. Painful.
- Banma 班玛 16-20hr: sleeper bus dept. approximately 3pm (subject to change)
- Jigdril 久治 (Jiuzhi) 22+ hr: one bus every two days. Not a sleeper.
- Yushu 玉树 (Jyekundo): 13-18hr, sleeper buses dept. half-hourly 4pm-7pm; sit buses hourly all day.
- Nangchen 囊谦 20+hr, sleeper bus dept. mid-afternoon
- Zaduo 杂多(Dzato) 22-24hr, sleeper bus dept. early afternoon
- Chengduo 称多 (Trindu) 12-17hr, sleeper bus dept. mid/late afternoon
- Qumalai 曲麻莱(Chumarleb) 19-22hr, sleeper bus dept. early afternoon
- Zhiduo 治多(Drito) 20-24hr, sleeper bus dept. early afternoon
- Lanzhou 兰州 3hr, every 20-30 minutes from all bus stations
- Linxia 临夏 5-7hr (depending on route taken), departs every hour until 12pm from Bayi Lu (and sometimes other stations)
- Hezuo 合作 (Tsu) 7hr, departs 7-8am
- Xiahe 夏河 (Labrang) 5-6hr, departs 7am
- Tianshui 天水 6+hr, departs morning
- Tianzhu 天祝 Inquire at the bus station – I have no idea.
- Wuwei 武威 See above.
- Jiayuguan 嘉峪关 12+hr sleeper, departs early afternoon
- Dunhuang 敦煌 16+hr sleeper, departs 2pm
- Luoyang 洛阳 (Henan province) Sleeper bus. Far away
- Xi’an 西安 (Sha[a]nxi province) 10-12hr sleeper
- Yinchuan 银川 (Ningxia province) 8-10hr, day bus (departs morning) and sleeper
- Guyuan 固原 (Ningxia province) 7-8hr, departs morning
Though at times creaky, with buses breaking down randomly in the middle of crowded streets, the Xining bus system is an excellent way to get around, especially if you’re not in a hurry. Services are comprehensive (to the point that you usually can choose multiple lines from any given stop), frequent, and cheap (1 kuai per ride, or 7 mao if you have a transport card). They are not, however, very fast, with Xining’s increasingly bad traffic and closely-spaced bus stops (often no more than 150 meters apart) making for a sometimes interminable ride. There is, however, an exception: the red Chengtong express buses, which are like a BRT (bus rapid transit) system except that they don’t have dedicated lanes. These buses are (GASP!) 2 kuai per ride (or 1.5 kuai with a transport card). And really: they don’t break down much anymore; most of the fleet was replaced in 2011-2012 (though you’ll still find yourself on the occasional blue clunker, most notably on routes numbered 80 and above).
Another great advantage of the Xining bus system is that it extends throughout Xining City Prefecture – i.e., not simply Xining proper, but also all of Huangzhong, Datong, and Huangyuan counties. This means that there is shockingly cheap (if occasionally slow) bus transport throughout the region, all linked conveniently to the city network. What does this mean for you, in practice? You want to go to the Kumbum monastery (Ta’er Si). You pick up the direct bus from Guanli Zhan station 管理站 (on the south side of Kunlun Lu, immediately south of Ximen and north of the Nanshan temple) for 3 yuan. You arrive templeside 45 minutes later. You visit the temple, and then decide that you want to go on a hike. You hike into the hills behind the temple, through fields of eye-poppingly brilliant rapeseed flowers, over hill and dale and finally to a small village seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Suddenly, a small minibus comes into the village. You hop aboard, and it transports you back to the southern outskirts of Xining (another 3 kuai) – from which you can take a regular public bus back into downtown. Or, if this all sounds too planned, you can hop aboard a bus headed for a random-sounding rural destination (Lijiashan?) and head out to explore beautiful countryside. Ultimately, with this urban-rural bus system extending throughout the region, the world (or at least Xining) is your oyster.
One last awesome thing about these buses: they all have MAPS of the bus route on board! This brilliant maneuver should be imitated by transportation systems worldwide, especially in Beijing, where a ridiculously labyrinthine system awaits the poor traveler like a dropped plate of the city’s famed 炸酱面 (fried sauce noodles).
Some useful routes:
- 2: All the way through the city from E-W: Sheng Guangdian Ju 省广电局 (near Shida in the west) to Tuanjie Qiao 团结桥 (in deep East Xining), passing through downtown.
- 22: Similar to 2 and more direct
- 9: Shida 师大 to Jianguo Lu 建国路 near the (past and future, but not present) train and bus stations
- 1: From northern Xining (near the medicine museum) through downtown and to the east.
- 82: From Shida 师大 to Nanshan Lu 南山路 via Da Shizi/Ximen downtown, as well as Guojicun Gongyu (the Lete Hostel). Continues onward to eastern Xining.
- 83: From Haiyan Lu to Shengli Lu to Qiyi Lu, this takes a direct line across the northern streets of Xining from east to west. Relatively fast.
- 30: A comparatively fast bus (not at rush hour!) that runs along southern arterial Kunlun Lu.
- 11, 15: Goes the distance to Qinghai University in the far northern suburbs.
- 24: Painfully slow, but seems to go everywhere.
One disadvantage of the Xining bus system: it closes up pretty early. While some routes run until 10:00pm, most routes are closed by 9:00 – 9:20, and some close as early as 8:30. This means that late at night, you’ll have to rely on a…
Taxis in Xining start at 6 kuai and then proceed to go up after 2km (or time spent waiting). It can be difficult to get taxis in some areas, or when it is raining, or cold, etc. However, after the buses stop at 9-10 in the evening (some lines earlier), this is really the only way to get around.
Ha – just kidding!