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Getting There

The airport is 29km (18 miles) east of Xining. An airport bus runs to the CAAC ticket office, Bayi Lu 32 (tel. 0971/813-3333). The bus trip from the airport takes 40 minutes and costs ¥23. From the bus drop-off point, take bus no. 28 from Bayi Lu to the railway and bus stations. Another ticket office is at the Wusi Dajie Shoupiao Chu (tel. 0971/612-2555). Daily flights go to Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Kunming, and Xi'an. To support the Qinghai-Tibet train, direct flights to Lhasa have been suspended indefinitely, although flights via Chengdu or Xi'an (with a mandatory overnight stay) are available.

The railway station (tel. 0971/719-2242) is at the north end of town, at the junction of Jianguo Lu and Huzhu Xi Lu. Counters 1 to 4 are for normal ticket sales and counters 5 and 6 are for Tibet trains. Regular trains connect with Lanzhou (2-3 hr.). Trains also connect with Beijing (T152; 24 hr.) at 11:55am; Chengdu at 9:24am (T24; 20 hr.); Shanghai (T166; 25 hr.) at 10:40pm; and Yinchuan (K916; 1 hr.) at 7:24pm. All Lhasa trains pass through Xining and one train daily (K9801; 25 hr.) at 8:28pm starts in Xining. However, while it's easy to get tickets heading east, if you're planning on heading from Xining (or Golmud) to Lhasa, be prepared to spend a couple of days in town or book your tickets in advance through an agent; it's far easier to get a ticket coming down from Lhasa than for the journey up. The problem in Qinghai is that the bulk of the tickets are snapped up by local hoods the moment they become available. These tickets are then sold to well-connected travel agents to provide tickets for the army of baseball cap-clad Chinese tourists you'll see in Lhasa. Soft-sleeper tickets are nigh on impossible to get hold of, but you may have more luck with hard-sleeper. And of course, before you even consider how you're going to try and secure a berth, you'll need to get your hands on a Tibet Travel Permit (TTP). The easiest way to proceed for both permits and tickets is to make your arrangements through a reliable local agent; Tibetan Connections is recommended.

All ticket offices, including those at the station, sell tickets up to 10 days in advance for regular tickets, 2 days in advance for Tibet tickets. The easiest place to buy tickets is from the Huoche Shoupiao Chu (7:30am-6:30pm) on the second floor at Wusi Dajie 70-4 (tel. 0971/615-5203). A ¥5 commission is charged.

The Long-Distance Bus Station (tel. 0971/814-9611) is just south of the railway station. Buses service Lanzhou (3 hr.; ¥56) every half-hour between 7:20am and 6:30pm; Tongren (4 hr.; ¥33) hourly between 7:30am and 5pm; Linxia (6 hr.; ¥47.5); Liujia Xia (5 hr.; ¥33) at 10:30am and 11:30am; Hezuo (6 hr.; ¥56) at 7:45am; Golmud sleeper service (12 hr.; ¥153) at 5pm and 6pm; Tianshui (9 hr.; ¥84) at 6pm; Dunhuang (18 hr.; ¥208) at 2pm; Maqin (12 hr.; ¥135) is served by four regular buses daily plus an express service at 10:30am (¥152); Banma (14 hr.; ¥166 sleeper) at 4pm; Yushu (17 hr.) is served by sleeper buses (¥175) at 12:30pm, 3:30pm, and 6pm and a regular bus (not recommended) at 2:30pm (¥141). For Nangqian there's one bus a day at 4:30pm (20 hr.; ¥220).

Getting Around

Santana and Xiali taxis cost ¥6 for 3km (2 miles), ¥1.30 per kilometer thereafter. From 10pm to 5am they charge ¥1.50 per kilometer. Buses require you to pop ¥1 in a box. Bus no. 1 runs from the railway station to the main intersection (da shizi), passing the Bank of China. Bus no. 9 departs from opposite the railway station, passing the railway ticket office, and the Boronia Cafe.

Tours & Guides

Xining has several branches of CITS. A reasonably competent branch is on the first floor of Xining Dasha (tel. 0971/814-9254). Get far more reliable info and service from the refreshingly professional Qinghai Mountaineering Association, Tiyu Xiang 7 (tel. 0971/823-8877; www.qma.org.cn; May-mid-Oct 8am-noon and 2:30-6pm; closed winter weekends). Take bus no. 33 to Nan Men Tiyuchang. Tashi Phuntsok of Wind Horse Adventure Tours, Nan Dajie 19 (tel. 0971/613-1358 or 139-9712-4471; www.windhorseadventuretours.com) can arrange customized trekking trips in Qinghai and the surrounding areas. He's a former monk who lived in India for 10 years, speaks great English, and is a great resource for any questions about Tibet and Qinghai. Tibetan Connections (tel. 0971/820-3271; www.tibetanconnections.com) at on the 15th floor of building 5 at Guojicun Gongyu (upstairs from the Lete Youth Hostel), is another great outfit that operates tours to Yushu and budget trips to the TAR (including permits and train tickets). Their office is open Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm and Saturdays 9am to noon.

Fast Facts

Banks, Foreign Exchange & ATMs -- Xining is overrun with branches of the Bank of China. Traveler's checks and cash may be changed and most branches have ATMs which accept foreign credit cards. Convenient branches can be found on Bei Dajie and Xi Dajie (Mon-Fri 8:30am-5:30pm; Sat-Sun 10am-4pm).

Internet Access -- The 24-hour Man Jiahong Wangba, Renmin Jie 3-6, is a 5-minute walk south from Da Shizi. In the west of town, Wangchong Julebu is at Shengli Lu 25. Near the station, Liuxingyu Wangba is downstairs at Zhan Dong Xiang 9.

Post Office -- The main post office is on the southwest corner of the main crossroads at Da Shizi (second floor; 8:30am-6pm).

Visa Extensions -- The PSB at Bei Dajie 35 (tel. 0971/825-1758; Mon-Fri 8:30am-11:30am and 2:30-5:30pm) will arrange visa extensions in a couple of days.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.