Northern Xinjiang Tour Report III 缤纷北疆行3

Posted: December 26th 2023


19th September

We got up early to have an early start today. Breakfast was at the noodle shop 30 metres away - beef soup noodle plus some yau char kway. It was a nice change from the usual.  Then, we started out at 7.40am.  Even with the nice expressway, the bus was time controlled and we wasted a lot of time stopping.  We had extra toilet stops and melon stops too.  But as it happened, our bus was not checked. So we headed for lunch at Gaochang hotel with many local noisy tour groups.


Then, we went sightseeing first at Emin Minaret or Sugong Tower.  Next was Aydingkol Lake, which at 156 metres below sea level was the second lowest point on Earth.  Parts of Turpan were also below sea level, as recorded by my Pro Trekker watch.  It was a hot sunny day with temperature at 37°C. Final place today was a long tour of Jiaohe Ancient City, which showed Ayeesha at her best! It was a very interesting tour.  We came out of there after sunset!


Then we headed for Dinner at a local Uyger family home. Dinner was quite simple and we complemented it by ordering a whole Roast Lamb with extra cost of Yuan 120 per person. That came with more beers and red wine too. The lamb was delicious, and tasted moist to me as I took the shanks. The lamb and 2 bottles of wine were finished.  Then check in at Grand Turpan Hotel, which was really dated and old and not so Grand any more.  Anyway, it was late past 10.15pm and not much time to quibble.  We had travelled 400 km today.

20th September

Breakfast of porridge again, and then out at 8am.  We drove eastwards toward Tuyu Valley, but the police prevented us from proceeding.  So we had to turn towards the Flaming Mountains and Bezeklik Grottoes instead.  A photo stop for the Flaming Mountains and then a long detailed tour of the Grottoes with the lives of Buddha narrated and linked to the paintings,  very nicely done by Ayeesha. Then, we headed to the Ancient City of Gaochang, where we used a Donkey taxi to go in as it was too far a walk in the hot sunny weather of 37°C.   After that we visited the Astana Karakhoja Ancient Tombs.  We went into two tombs with central wall murals and one with a pair of corpses. This was followed by a nice lunch at Turpan City.  Cold beers at lunch were well taken.  Our last stop at Turpan was the Karez underground irrigation system.  We had seen the vertical well shafts on the way yesterday, so this was the rest of the story.  It was well presented with exhibits showing the technology and the utensils used to dig the channels. We finished with Turpan by 3pm.


After that, it was supposed to be a straight drive back to Urumqi City and a chance to do the Grand Bazaar tonight.  But midway, we were stuck in a non-moving jam for nearly 2 hours.  When it got moving, it was still heavy traffic.  We finally reached the Urumqi hotel- the Mei Yu Hotel at 9.30pm. Six of us went down to the Hotel's Restaurant on ground floor for Dinner.  We had a lovely non spicy dinner (see photos) for Yuan 298 total and enjoyed the mood.  Back to the room at 11pm and showered.

21st September

We were up at 6.10am to have an early no breakfast start to a long day.  But at 7.00am, there was no sign of Lee Kit and Kar Wui, so I phoned them and woke them up from sleep.  They were down in 15 minutes.  We had just packed eggs and milk for breakfast in the bus.  It was cold as we drove to Tian Chi Heavenly Lake.  We arrived at 8.20am and quite a lot of people were already there in the ticket centre.  The shuttle bus departed at 8.30am and we got to the scenic area at 9.10am.  It was dry at that moment but so very cold.  Then as we walked up to the lake, a few drops of snow started.  We moved fast and took the photos before the snow came down in increasing volume by the minute. We left Tian Chi Lake by 9.55am and headed back down to the Visitors Centre where it was dry!! Then, we walked back to our bus and headed back to Urumqi City. We went straight for lunch at the “Bon Voyage” Restaurant, with some nice different dishes. It was still very cold today. 


After lunch, we went to Xinjiang Museum, and spent a long time listening to Ayeesha and looked over the several mummies there. The exhibition was superb and special. The only other section open for visits was the Ethnic Culture which was not that interesting.  After that, Ayeesha took us to a Jade Shop in the Peoples' Great Hall for her to score some points towards her qualification. We gave her 480 points. After that, we drove through a jam packed main road in the City towards our Hotel. There we took on more warm clothes and Ayeesha walked us to the Grand Bazaar for shopping. The ladies went berserk with more raisins, dates, nuts and fabrics. After 3 hours of shopping, we went for Dinner at the Street Food area next to the Bazaar. We ate sheep legs, lamb skewers, roast chicken and lamb and some hot pot noodles. We got back to the Hotel at 8.45 pm and it was very cold.  We finished up the last of the beers as the ladies completed their packing and weighed the luggage.

22nd September

We were up by 6am or even earlier!  We checked out at 7am and no-one needed another call.  I got a call at the hotel from Lesley to inform us that the Guangzhou to KL flight for today was cancelled, but I held on the information for a while.   Then, I handed over the tips to Ayeesha and Ma.  At the Airport, we were asked if we preferred to stay on in Urumqi or go to Guangzhou.  Of course we selected the latter as it meant a chance to stay on at Airlines expense.  With that, Ayeesha said goodbye.  The Urumqi to Guangzhou flight was normal and landed on time. 


 Then, we collected the luggage and proceeded to the Enquiries area.  A lot of people milling around here.  We were told to go to the New Century Hotel and wait for calls the next day.  We took the Shuttle Bus and got to the Hotel in 30 minutes.  There we were given rooms and meal vouchers.  The rooms were nice and spacious and comfortable.  Then, we went down for dinner- a western style set dinner at 7pm.  After dinner, we walked down the streets to the nearby Supermarket and more shopping.  There was only a little rain, but the wind was getting stronger.  We got back to hotel at 10pm.  I was watching the trees outside to see the typhoon, which came at midnight but was not a severe as feared.

23nd September

We woke up late and lazy and took a late breakfast at 9am.  And sat there till 10am when the staff cleared us out.  Then there was more shopping time in the rain.  We got news at 11am to go to the Airport to check the situation today.  We took an early lunch at 12 noon.   So at 1.45 am, we were all promptly at the lobby for the 2pm bus.  Once we got to the Airport, it was all pandemonium with unreliable information all the time. We were uncertain if some or all or none of us were getting on the plane that day. At 4.15pm, the picture was clear and all of us were put on the flight, and by 4.45pm we had checked in our luggage and given the boarding passes to proceed. It was a big rush after that to clear security checks, immigration, customs, etc. We got on the plane by 5.20pm at the scheduled departure time, but had to wait till 6.10pm due to heavy ground traffic before the flight took off. We landed at KLIA at 10pm with all our luggage intact.

Some Comments for Your Reference~

The Itinerary:

The itinerary appeared tough with long distances. But in reality it was not difficult as the journey was comfortable on most days except the first 2 days where the roads were under repair for long stretches. The nice scenery along the way took away much of the boredom of the 6 hour drives and there were always snacks passed around. Our itinerary was more comprehensive than other tours.

The Scenic Areas:

Excellent - The snow covered Tian Shan Mountain range, Kanas valley, Bayanbulak, Multi Coloured Bay, Flaming Mountains.

Good - Keketouhai, Sayram Lake, Fruit Valley, Tian Chi Lake in the snow (excellent on a sunny day)

Disappointing - Urho Ghost City, Nalati Park in the rain 

Cultural Sites:

Excellent - Jiaohe Ancient City, Bezeklik Grottoes, Xinjiang Museum, Karez Irrigation System, Aydingkol Lake, Emin Minaret, Astana Ancient Tombs. 

Good - Gaochang Ancient City, Iron Gate Pass. Urumqi Grand Bazaar, Mine no 3.

Weather conditions:

We had nearly all the possible weather conditions.  Hot & sunny with 37°C in Turpan, cool & sunny at 18+/-°C in Kanas, Urho & Sayram and Korla, cold & sunny at


Most of the Hotels were very good and comfortable. On a tour like this, there isn't much time left to enjoy the hotel facilities. All we want is a comfortable bed and nice temperature control for a good night's sleep. We got that all the time. Hotel breakfasts are usually simple porridge. Those that offered buffet breakfasts were enjoyed very much by us.

Lunches (or substitute dinners) Included:

Mostly lunches were average to good with some (but not much) variety. Best was dinner at Korla. It was difficult in some remote places with not many options. Usually some small dishes of lamb or beef, but not much of it. Lots of vegetables.  Fish at some places were excellent too, if you can mind the bones. But there was really too much chicken for me. Very good lamien.  No mantou for 1 year!

Dinners on our own:

Most of the time, such dinners was enjoyed by 6 of us - Matthew, Yoke Lin, Rocky, Lai, Anita and me. Usually our own selected dishes were very good and enjoyable. They were not that expensive even in top tourist areas, as feared. We had some wonderful lamb dishes and good vegetables ordered by Ayeesha at Jiadenyu. The Hui Food at Bayanbulak was too spicy & oily. The “finger lamb” and lamb soup at Sayram Lake were excellent. The roast lamb at Turpan was a nice experience for most of us. Those dinners at the hotels on late arrivals (Karamay, Urumqi) were good too.

Guide Ayeesha:

To me, she was a top guide, the best I've had on any trip!  She was well researched, and understood her areas clearly. She was passionate about her country and her people and hopes that the future will be better for them.  She spoke clearly and loudly and we understood her very well. Only on a few rare occasions we could not get her pronunciation.  She was funny, too and joined us to enjoy.

Driver Ma:

He was careful and a good driver.   You never had to fear for your safety, and you could relax.  But however, he was not so hard-working to clean the bus windows after a long drive.  Then again, having to drive continuously for 7 hours takes a lot out of you, so it is hard to expect more work after that.  So on some days we had dirty windows which spoilt the photos.  I threw away a lot of photos due to this.

The Bus:

The bus was in good condition and its brakes worked well.  It sometimes felt that the suspension was not good and rather bumpy, but in view of the beating it took on the long stretches of bad roads, it was not surprising.  The air conditioner was well controlled and we were very comfortable with 15 persons in a 35 seater bus. Luggage space was adequate.