Tour company and other links
We arranged our tour with Abdul Wahab Tours and I can definitely recommend them. I found out about them from the Far West China site but they’re also listed in the latest Lonely Planet. We went for a featured discount package, which was excellent value for money. Other packages were more expensive but if you can afford it I think it’s a fair exchange for the experience.
Coordinating the trip from Hong Kong, everyone we were in contact with was responsive, professional, helpful. We met Abdul himself a few times while we were in Kashgar and he was really great – friendly, helpful, enthusiastic, although a bit harried as it was still high season and he had lots of tours coming through.
I’ve written a bit more about the experience of traveling with a tour guide here. For me personally, I was grateful to be able to show up and just focus on the experience given the limited amount of time we had in the province. I think we could have managed to arrange a good amount of the stops from the tour ourselves, but it would have taken a good deal of time and effort. Traveling with AWT, we were able to get so much more out of that one week.
For a bit more background and color about Xinjiang:
Xinjiang was our first stop in mainland China. After the plush comforts and modernity of Hong Kong, we knew to brace ourselves, and coming in with the right expectations definitely helped on the accommodation front.
We stayed at hotels in Kashgar, Tashkurgan and Urumqi. All three were expensive based on what we’d gotten used to paying throughout Southeast Asia. What would have gotten us a modern, clean, relatively luxurious room in most places we’ve been so far paid for rooms that were hard-used and in desperate need of a good scrubbing.
Rusting bathroom fixtures, mildew darkened shower curtains, falling-apart furniture, carpets that looked like they’d absorbed about half a century’s worth of grime, unfinished paint jobs, smoky hallways, broken tiles, dark rooms… Xinjiang hotels are POOR value for money, but there doesn’t seem to be all that much to choose from so I was just got grateful that the linens were clean and got back to loving everything outside the hotel doors. 🙂
Our tastefully (?) decorated room in Kashgar
Bathroom in Tashkurgan
Where we stayed
Seman Binguan Hotel in Kashgar
Kitsch is the word! RMB 240/night (around USD 38)
Pamir Hotel in Tashkurgan
Dark and charmless but could have been worse. I think it was around RMB 260/night (around USD 40)
Yilisha Hotel in Urumqi
The best of the three but still very “worn”, in a decent location though. RMB 290/night. (around USD 45)
I’m afraid I don’t know the names of any of the local places we ate at. I have to say, unlike the cuisine of many of the places we’ve visited, Uyghur food didn’t thrill me. I loved the bread and the wonderful local pomegranates. If you’re heavy into lamb and mutton though, Xinjiang is the place for you.
Two western food places I can recommend:
Karakorum Café in Kashgar
The food isn’t amazing but it’s decent, there’s free wifi, the staff are friendly, the vibe is chill. Lonely Planet claims theirs is the cleanest bathroom in all of Xinjiang. I didn’t visit enough WCs to be able to substantiate or repudiate this assertion, but it was certainly the cleanest, nicest, best smelling bathroom I saw in the province by far, and boy did it make for a nice change! 😉
Texas Café in Urumqi
Also in Lonely Planet, if you don’t walk in expecting real TexMex food then you’ll be fine. They do a decent job with the ingredients they can get, it’s cute, friendly and cozy and again comes with wifi. And I was overjoyed to have rice and beans again for the first time in aaages!