Qinghai is definitely a great destination for people who love hunting out the hidden gems of China. It embraces stunning sceneries and splendid ethnic minority cultures and is still waiting for the crowds to descend.
Qinghai is both beautiful and magical. It has majestic plateau scenery and gorgeous geological landscapes as well as ethnic minority architecture, culture, lifestyles, and customs. It’s the best place to discover Tibetan Buddhism outside Tibet.
Here we’ve listed the top 10 things to do in Qinghai for you to find inspiration for a Qinghai tour.
1. Self-Drive to Explore Qinghai Flexibly
Self-driving is one of the best ways to explore Qinghai, which is in the northeast corner of the Tibetan-Qinghai Plateau, and it would undoubtedly be a memorable experience.
A self-driving tour gives you total freedom and amazing flexibility: you can visit remote, off-the-beaten-track areas and make your plans according to your whims.
Qinghai covers a wide area and has numerous charming plateau sceneries: glacial landforms, alpine meadows, Gobi landscapes, deserts, turquoise lakes, and a Mars-like basin... The scenery on a long Qinghai drive changes radically, so self-driving travelers never get bored.
Undertaking a self-driving tour in Qinghai means you can really discover the enchanting landscapes of the West in China: choose your own route, escape the early morning wake-up calls, and get away from the hectic itineraries.
2. Cycle around Qinghai Lake to Inhale the Scenery
Qinghai Lake is on the edge of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. It is well-known for its large area (the size of Rhode Island or Somerset in the UK), various landforms, and spectacular views.
The fact that the lake is the arena for the popular Qinghai Lake professional bicycle racing event, held between June to August every year, is a testament to how good it is for biking.
Qinghai Lake is at an altitude of about 3,200 meters or about 10,500 feet, so biking around it requires fit lungs to make the most of the thinner air. The best places for cycling are the lake’s West Ring road and East Ring road, which have excellent scenery.
3. Visit the Smaller Cousin of Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni — Chaka Lake
Chaka Salt Lake is a large lake with salt flats, about 9 km (5 mi) wide and 15 km (10 mi) long. The scenery changes from dry season to rainy season. Chaka means ‘salt lake’ in Tibetan.
As one of the top tourist destinations in Qinghai, Chaka Lake is famous for its crystal-blue water, covered with a thick crust of salt, which reflects the world around: the blue sky, white clouds, and gray/green mountains — all making up this mind-bending salt flat scenery.
Touring the Chaka Salt Lake would be a remarkable encounter with the smaller cousin of Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni, where you can immerse yourself in this chromatic world that’s like a watercolor painting.
4. Witness a Radiant Sunrise in Garila
Garila (尕日拉/gaa-rr-laa/) is a small village located on the west bank of Qinghai Lake. It’s a great place to stop and view the sunrise over Qinghai Lake.
Although a little-known village, it is a fine place to watch the sunrise: there are fewer tourists there, so you can truly enjoy a peaceful and pure sunrise.
The sunrise over Qinghai Lake features idyllic beauty: the Tibetan Buddhist prayer flags flutter in the wind; the prayer stone towers stand quietly along the holy lake; the herdsman leaves his footprints on the dewy grass; water birds glide on the lake...All of these authentic striking spectacles of Qinghai will be presented in front of you on a dreamlike morning.
5. Get a Glimpse of devout Buddhist in Kumbum Monastery
The Kumbum Monastery or Ta’er Lamasery is the birthplace of Je Tsongkhapa — the founder of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism. As one of the two most important Tibetan Buddhist monasteries outside Tibet itself, it's the perfect place to see yak butter sculptures and traditional embroidery and witness the debating of the lamas.
The most dumbfounding sight, which will stun you socks off, is the hundreds of devout Tibetan Buddhists kowtowing outside the BuddhaHall. It’s part of their faith to finish 100,000 kowtows to the Buddha in their life, and this usually takes several months for the middle-aged and several years or more for the elderly.
6. Visit “the Earth’s Palette” — Zhuo’er Mountain
Zhuo’er Mountain is called Zongmu Ma Glama in Tibetan, which means ‘the beautiful ruddy queen’, due to the typical Danxia (‘red cloud’) landforms.
Located in Qilian County in northeast Qinghai Province, the Zhuo’er Mountain area features crimson sandstone, green grassland, bright clouds, golden rapeseed flowers in summer, and snow-white scenery in the winter.
There’s a perfect fusion of colorful steep cliffs and scattered verdant grasslands around Zhuo’er Mountain. On the mountain, there’s a historical Beacon Tower, which is now a viewing deck, from which you’ll have a good view of many canola fields, the mountains, and the main town of the county.
As an unconventional spot, it’s free of touristy and commercial entertainments. It’s a worthwhile visit for a quiet and relaxing retreat, for example as a family holiday.
7. Gaze upon the Golden Sea of Rapeseed Flowers in Summer
One of the most well-known spectacles in Qinghai is each summer’s spread of rapeseed flowers. Qinghai has the biggest rapeseed planting area in China, which covers in excess of 3,300 square km (1,300 square miles) in Menyuan Hui Autonomous County.
From July to October, massive swathes of rapeseed flowers reach ripeness and appeal to tourists. This artificial landscape is spectacular on bright sunny days: there are golden rapeseed flowers and ripe barley around you, snow-topped mountains as far as you can see, and white clouds in the sky.
8. Visit a Jasper Lake in the Gobi Desert — Magical Water and Yadan Landforms
The “water-Yadan” is at a topographical wonder in the heartland of the Qaidam Basin in Qinghai Province. It is the only water-Yadan landform area in the world.
Surrounded by uninhabited and endless deserts, it shows an unparalleled stunning beauty. In the day, the scenery is alluring: you can witness the scattered turquoise pools in the Yadan hills, with the azure sky reflecting in the water.
In the starry sight, the spot is turned into a creepy“Devil City” due to the wind shrieks and howls from among the rocky outcrops. Stay in an RV campground or Mongolian yurts, and enjoy the Milky Way and all the stars with your loved ones.
9. Explore the Kingdom of Plants and Animals on the Tibet-Qinghai Plateau
Located on the southern foothills of the Qilian Mountains, Beishan National Geopark is called “the Kingdom of Plants and Animals on the Tibet-Qinghai Plateau”.
With an average elevation of about 1,800 meters (5,900 feet), Beishan Geopark abounds with thrilling natural wonders.
There, you can see dense forest, waterfalls, streams, lush meadows, wild animals, aquatic marine life, and diverse birdlife.
It’s a well-known virgin forest area and scenic tourist attraction in Qinghai, as well as an area of scientific investigation and an ideal destination for outdoor resorts.
10. Visit the Forgotten City — Golmud
Golmud is the second-largest city in Qinghai after the capital Xining, but it’s out of the scope of popular travel routes. Located in the hinterland of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, Golmud posesses an important geographical location: to the east of Golmud is Qinghai’s capital Xining, to the north is Dunhuang, and to the south is Lhasa.
The urban area is located in the south-central Qaidam Basin, with an altitude of 2,780 meters (9,120 feet).
Around Golmud, you can visit the headstream of the Yangtze River, China’s largest salt lake — Qarhan Salt Lake, which the Tibet Railway passes by, the Kunlun Mountains (known as “the Dragon Mountains of China”), and Kekexili National Nature Reserve (known as “the Third Pole of the World”), and more.
Tour Qinghai with China Highlights
Qinghai offers a rich variety of travel experiences, from relaxing vacations and active outdoor adventures to cultural immersions. No matter what kind of travel style you prefer, you can find something catering to you.
If you would like to explore the real Qinghai and experience the lives of local people, it will be very helpful to have professional tour guide.
Here are our most recommended itineraries to explore the west of China for your reference:
- 8-Day Qinghai Lake, Zhangye, and Dunhuang Tour— Miraculous Qinghai and Legendary Silk Road Tour
- 6-Day Xiahe, Langmusi and Zhagana TourcoveringGannan: An Earthly Pure Land
- Along the Great Silk Road — This 11-day trip from Xi'an to Kashgar stops at Zhangye, Dunhuang, Turpan, and Urumqi.