For tourists who are visiting the Gannan Tibetan region by going south from Gansu Province, Xiahe County is usually the first popular stop. The Xiahe River flows through many high mountains and deep valleys, and it was known of old as a route for armies in the area. Because of its special Tibetan Buddhist culture and strong ethnic traditions, the county is sometimes called "Little Tibet." Xiahe is between two mountains, and the Daxia River flows beside the town. Though the town isn't large, it has a wide main street that has Tibetan and Muslim restaurants and tourist shops lining both sides of the street. It is an interesting place where Tibetans, Muslims, Chinese and foreigners live together. The three highlights of the area are the Tibetan Buddhism, the natural scenery and the folk local color.
Xiahe County is located in the northwest region of the Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, and it is adjacent to Qinghai Province. It is 280 kilometers away from the capital of Gansu Province and about 4 hours away from it by car. The county has one town and about 14 villages. The county sits at a high elevation, averaging between 2900 and 3100 meters. The highest elevation is 4636 meters, and the lowest elevation is 2160 meters. The county has a total area of 6,273 square kilometers. It has a population of about 130,000 people. There are 14 ethnic minorities including Tibetans, Hui, and Sala, and the total minority population is about 77,300 people of whom 78% are Tibetans.
Three interesting features of the area are the natural scenery, the many Tibetan temples and mosques and especially the large Labrang Monestary, and the local folk customs. In the spring and summer, there are a lot of flowers in the surrounding area and there are several local festivals such as the April 15th Niangnai Festival, the June 6th Lotus Hill Flower Festival, the June 15th Arrows Inserting Festival, and the July 6th Shower Festival. During these festivals, the local people have competitions like horse races, elephant tug of wars, and competitions between Yak owners.
The large Labrang (or Lapuleng) Monastary complex is a spectacle all year around, but especially in the winter because between the 8th and the 16th of the first month of the lunar calendar, the monasteries and temples in the area hold ceremonies and Buddhist gatherings. Special ceremonies during this time are the Buddha Basking Day, Scripture Debate Day, Mask Dance Day, the Exhibition of Colorful Lanterns, and the Qiangba Buddha Touring Day. These festivals are eye-openers for people to know about the Tibetan culture, art, and religion. For those interested in the Tibetan religion, this is the best time to tour Xiahe.
The local Tibetan, Muslim, and Mongolian cuisine appeals to the western sense of taste: yak burgers, yak milk and butter, yogurt, and barbecued beef, along with Muslim-style beef noodles and bread and butter and Muslim tea. You may also like the many Sichuan-style restaurants. Visiting this region, you'll get to taste an unusual variety of ethnic and Chinese food and enjoy a lot of inexpensive beef, lamb, and diary products. Muslim noodle and stir-fry dishes usually taste better. The food is more similar.
There are inexpensive three-wheeled motorcycles in Xiahe County. You can also charter vans or taxis.
There is no airport in Xiahe County, but travelers can fly to Zhongchuan Airport in Lanzhou Province. Zhongchuan Airport is 74.5 kilometers to the north of Lanzhou City. The airport shuttle bus operates every hour and the ticket price is 30 RMB. A taxi costs about 120 RMB.
Highway travel is available in the area. There is National Highway 213 that goes east to west that links Xiahe and Sichuan. There are also four regional highways, 310, 311, 312, and 313. These four link Qinghai Province with Gansu Province. There is a shuttle bus operating between Lanzhou Bus Station and Xiahe every half hour.
There is no rail system in Xiahe County, so transportation around the county depends on road travel. However, you can travel to Lanzhou City by rail, and then catch a bus.
Xiahe's has a plateau monsoon climate. The area is cold and humid, with a relatively small annual temperature range, but with relatively big day and night temperature differences. The annual average temperature is 4 °C. In the summer, the average temperature varies between 8 - 14 °C. The annual precipitation varies between 400 – 800 mm. There is an average of about 1800 to 2,600 hours of sunshine a year.
The best time for tourists to visit is in the summer in June, July and August. It is warmer, above freezing, and the festivals are a spectacle. But be prepared for the big temperature drops at night. There are often sudden storms, so water-proof shoes, raincoats, and warm clothes are important.