Urumqi

The Grand Bazaar at night.
People's Square
Urumqi city, China
Urumqi city scene

Urumqi (Pronounced: Y-RYM-chee) (乌鲁木齐; Wūlǔmùqí; Uyghur: ئۈرۈمچی) is the capital of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, administered by the People's Republic of China. The city has a population of around 2.5 million and is in the Tian Shan mountains.

Understand

Urumqi is quite famous for its claim that it is the most inland major city in the world, that being the farthest from any ocean.

There are two major ethnic groups, a quarter million of the original Uyghur inhabitants of the area and 1.5 million Han (ethnic Chinese); the city has a higher proportion of Han than elsewhere in the region. Other ethnic groups in Urumqi include Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Mongols and Hui Muslims.

Regardless of ethnicity, most people in Urumqi can speak some level of Mandarin Chinese, however in some parts of the city Uyghur, a Turkic language, is dominant. Few people speak English, even in some of the large hotels. When taking a taxi, it is a good idea to have a piece of paper with the name of your destination written in Chinese.

City skyline from Hongshan Park

Despite what some of the guidebooks say, Urumqi has a lot to offer and can provide a great introduction to Xinjiang.

Get in

By plane

Urumqi is served by the Urumqi Diwopu International Airport (乌鲁木齐国际机场; Wūlǔmùqí Guójìjīchǎng; IATA: URC) 20 km (12 mi) northwest of the city center with regular domestic flights from Beijing, Changsha, Chengdu, Chongqing, Dalian, Dunhuang, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Jilin, Kunming, Lanzhou, Nanjing, Qingdao, Sanya, Shanghai-Hongqiao, Shenzhen, Shijiazhuang, Xiamen, Xi'an, Xining, Yinchuan, and Zhengzhou.

Urumqi also offers flights from Almaty, Astana, Baku, Bishkek, Dushanbe, Islamabad, Istanbul, Kabul, Moscow (Sheremetyevo), Novosibirsk, Osh, Seoul (Incheon), Tashkent, and Tehran (Imam Khomeini).

Xinjiang destinations include Aksu, Aletai, Hotan, Kashgar, Kuche, Tacheng and Yining.

A taxi costs about ¥50 by meter to the city, although most drivers will try for more. Travel time is about 20 minutes without traffic.

Airport shuttles available for ¥15.

For those in transit note that the airport closes after the arrival of late flights and one is not permitted to remain inside the building overnight.

By train

Wulumuqi Railway Station (乌鲁木齐火车站; Wūlǔmùqí Huǒchēzhàn) is at Qingfeng Road.

To get tickets for Almaty you need to purchase them from the hotel to the right of the train station. One can purchase tickets from for about 3 times their face value. It is difficult to purchase tickets from standard travel agencies in China.

By bus

The Northern Long-Distance Bus Station is at Heilongjiang Road

The Southern Long-Distance Bus Station (南郊客运站) is in the southern part of city (across from the Shuishang Amusement Park (水上乐园))

By car

China Highway 312 is a motorway crossing Xinjiang from Gansu to the border with Kazakhstan. Most destinations within Xinjiang can be accessed via private car. Drivers tend to congregate near the bus stations and will often approach passengers shouting their destination. Drivers usually try to fill the car with four passengers, but you can also rent the whole car (包车; bāochē). In almost every case, a car will save hours of travel time over a bus.

Get around

On foot

The city centre is big, and separated in to different 'centres'. You can walk, but distances are large, roads are wide, and ongoing building work will block your path. Furthermore, in summer it gets very hot and in winter it can drop to -35°C (-31°F) at night.

By taxi

Metered taxi fares start at ¥6. There are also black taxis (illegal), driven nowadays by anyone, male or female. Fares for these are negotiable and they definitely come in handy during rush hour when metered taxis are tough to come by. Regardless, you should never pay more than ¥20 for a ride within the city.

By bus

Bus number 52 goes from the round about near the airport to the museum. Other useful routes running generally north-south are 101, 61 and 63.

The very visible BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) Buses are a quick, efficient and very crowded way from getting from one end of the city center to another. BRT1 and 2 are very useful. BRT1 runs straight down Youhau Lu to the train station. BRT 3 connects the grand bazar, People's Theater and Square and ultimately terminates with a connection to BRT1 at its Northern end. Just put ¥1 in the box on the way onto the platforms and then squeeze onto a bus. These are recently opened (Sept 11) and run along a segregated busway - something of a cross between a bus and a tram.

See

Buy

The Grand Bazaar (aka Erdaoqiao) is a great place not only for regional specialty items, but also has many goods from nearby countries such as Russia and Mongolia. It is a popular tourist destination although somewhat of a tourist trap these days. However, the surrounding area is the heart of the Uyghur community and makes visiting worthwhile.

Please beware pickpockets and watch your possessions carefully.

Eat

Food is one of the things that Xinjiang is famous for. Fresh naan, spicy kababs, steaming pilaf, or famous hand stretched noodles there are a lot of choices, and lots of variety.

Budget

Local restaurants are available throughout the city, although most Uyghur restaurants are concentrated in Erdaoqiao, around the Grand Bazaar - there are plenty of restaurants on the street behind the mosque offering a nice alternative to standard Chinese cuisine. A standard price for a plate of hand-streched noodles with vegetable meat topping (laghman/bànmiàn) is about ¥9--if you are still hungry, you can request more noodles (jiāmiàn). Melon slices also make an excellent snack, at about ¥1 a slice from a street vendor. Among other common Uyghur foods are dumplings of mutton and onions (samsa), Uyghur fried rice (polo), dumpling soup (chuchura), meat pies (Gush Nan) and Opke Hessip (lungs and stuffed intestines) for the brave. Local specialty drinks include Kawas (carbonated drink flavored with honey) and Dogh (a mixture of crushed ice, yoghurt and honey available in summer). The best known Hui dish is big plate chicken (dàpánjī), a spicy mixture of chicken and potatoes. Personal experience leads me to recommend the following:

Hui and Uyghur food can be very spicy, and it is a good idea unless you like very spicy food to tell them "búyào là de", or for Uyghurs "kizil mooch salmang!".

One warning before you go out and get local food though. Not everyone can stay healthy eating Uyghur and Hui food. Often it is cooked with a large amount of oil. Sanitary conditions are also perhaps not what you would have expected. If you have a weak stomach, or gall bladder problems it might be a good idea to try some of the other options. Or just stick to naan and kebab.

Take care if you are considering going to one of the restaurants next to the Grand Market. They will quite happily give you a 'tourist menu' where every dish is priced at over ¥1,000. You can get similar and just as nice food at other restaurants in the nearby streets for a fraction of that price.

Mid-range

In town there are several mid-range options available for western food.

Han Chinese dishes places, available all around town also fall into the mid-range category.

A good local Chinese chain is Shunming (顺明), serving Uyghur and Chinese food for a reasonable price. They are open twenty four hours and have several locations around town including at the People's Square (人民广场) and the People's Theater (人民电影院)

Another option is fast food, which has become increasingly popular in the last few years. KFC restaurants(肯德基)have sprung up all around town and are located at the Grand Bazaar, People's Square, Hongshan, and the Children's Park among other locations. There are also two Pizza Huts (必胜客, located at Zhongshan Rd. (中山路) and Youhao Shopping Mall (友好商场)), and several smaller Chinese fast food chains--specifically Dicos (德克士) & Fast Food Burgers (百富烤霸, also known as Roast King).

Splurge

The buffet at the China Southern Airlines Hotel is an ideal place to splurge. The head Chef is Austrian, and the food is very authentic Western fare, with some local dishes as well. Dinner costs ¥88 plus 15%, and includes tea, coffee, and a glass of red wine. The buffet at the Urumqi Sheraton ought to be rather good. ¥130.

Drink

Sleep

Due to the city special regulations, most of the hotels, especially the cheap ones, don't accept foreigners. Walk-in can be considerably difficult and disappointing. It is strongly advised to research a foreigner-accepting hotel before arriving in the city. According to the police, foreigners are only allowed to stay in the city center; some districts on the outskirts of the city are off limits to foreigners or ethnic minorities.

Budget

Mid-range

There are numerous hotels in the mid-range bracket, but they are not always easy to find as they often do not have signage at street level. Look high on the buildings where there may be a hotel sign, then find the entrance at street level. You should easily be able to find a comfortable room with en-suite bathroom and air conditioning for under ¥300.

Splurge

Stay safe

In general Xinjiang is a rather safe place. However, in the bigger bazaars and on public transportation pickpockets do operate so be sure to secure your valuables. Riots in summer 2009 also necessitate extra caution. While there is currently a large police and military presence in the city, protests and other violence have broken out sporadically since then. In the aftermath of the 2009 riots, communications were severely restricted with internet access and all international calls in and out of the region blocked by the government. These restrictions appear to have been lifted (June 2010). In any case, calls are able to be placed from the bianjiang binguan (边疆宾馆 mentioned above) for ¥5/min and possibly also from post offices 邮电局 for ¥2-3/min. Keep these restrictions in mind before traveling. Also be prepared to be stopped by security personnel suspicious of foreigners.

Respect

In most Islamic cultures, naan (bread), is very important. It is not a good idea to throw it away. If you drop it, pick it up and carry it with you. Do not step on naan--It is important to treat it with some respect. Also, if you decide to eat naan while walking, break off a piece, and eat that. Do not bite into the whole loaf.

Before entering a local shop (such as an boutique, antique store, etc.), it is custom to raise your hands above your head, clasp them together, and bow deeply, keeping your folded hands extended outward. Bowing shows the locals that you acknowledge that you are a guest. Outreaching your hands shows that you want them to lead you. Only visitors are to do this, not local people.

Cope

Consulates

Unfortunately, these are the only two consulates in Urumqi. For those heading to other destinations in Central Asia, instead of returning to Beijing, a good bet would be to pick up visas for those locations in Almaty, Kazakhstan or Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

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This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Wednesday, October 28, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.