Ningxia Province, 1,369km (845 miles) W of Beijing, 723km (450 miles) NW of Xi'an

Compared to the other major cities in this chapter -- particularly the dirty duo of Datong and Taiyuan -- Yinchuan is a breath of fresh air. Capital of the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, it has a population a little over half a million, and it has escaped the extreme poverty associated with this province by having the good fortune to be hydrated by the Yellow River and an irrigation system first built during the Han dynasty. Nearly a quarter of the region's population is Hui (Chinese Muslims), and a significant percentage live in the capital, adding a cultural diversity less apparent in other Chinese capitals. This is an easy town to settle down in for a few days. Hotel rates aren't exorbitant, the food is good, and most of the sights are within walking distance or easy to get to by bus or taxi.

The best time to visit is between May and October. Though summer temperatures can soar, the dry climate makes even the hottest days bearable. Note: Yinchuan holds its annual Motorcycle Tourism Festival for a week sometime between June and September (check with CITS for exact dates). The emphasis is on tourism, so unless you're prepared for throngs of unregenerate cap-wearing tourists and dancers in go-go boots performing the "songs and dances of the Western Xia," it may be a good time to stay away.