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232km (144 miles) W of Lanzhou, 781km (484 miles) E of Golmud. Altitude: 2,300m (7,544 ft.)

Once a key trading post on the southern Silk Route, Xining is perched on the northern edge of the Tibetan plateau and has a sizable Muslim population. Tibetan and Mongol monks and pilgrims may still be spied, drawn by Kumbum (Ta'er Si) monastery to the south. A recent boom in the economy from the discovery of oil reserves and the city's attempt to market itself as a "summer resort" with its cooler-than-average temperatures has increased the supply of hotels and amenities the city has to offer. Still, there's little of interest in the city itself, but it's a useful base for exploring the Amdo and Kham regions to the south.