I recently returned to WildChina’s Beijing office after spending 11 days in Gansu province, and a friend similarly returned via train to the capital city yesterday after a month in Xinjiang and we decided to put together some backpacking travel tips. Back in the comforts of Beijing, we compared notes about how to successfully, comfortably, and cleanly traverse China’s Western provinces. Here are our best tips, combined:
1) Bring dried fruit and nuts for fulfilling and nutritious snacks/meal supplements: My friend loved Xinjiang’s famous nang bread and pulled noodles, but after five days of eating them for almost every meal, she felt neither inspired nor healthy from the carb-heavy Uyghur cuisine. To vary her diet for taste and health, she brought bags of dried fruit and nuts from Beijing, where she found cheap and delicious varieties at Sanyuanli Market (right by the WildChina office!). This way, she was able to get enough protein and fiber on the road when she didn’t have many dining options.
2) Don a sturdy pair of jeans: This may seem obvious, but I could not have a) horse trekked, b) camped warmly, c) visited historic sites in the rain, or d) gone to dinner when the weather was cooler without my sole pair of blues. I wore them almost every day, and they served me very well. As the summer in the West is generally a bit cooler than in the East, jeans are a necessity for both outdoor and indoor activities.
3) Be flexible with your time: Life in China’s West is much more laidback than that in the East – it’s less-developed, and so people feel less of a rush at work and at play. Make your schedule so that it accommodates the easygoing attitude. Your body will thank you, too – in places of higher elevation (such as Gansu’s grasslands), you’ll naturally feel more tired and less inclined to have a super-packed day.
4) Learn to wash your hair in the sink: Less infrastructure and a lower standard of living in the West means fewer washing facilities. Work with what you have to get clean (i.e. sinks, streams, bottled water, hoses, etc.). The cooler, drier climate means that you’ll probably sweat less, so showering should hopefully not be as crucial. In any case, bring a bandana and moisture-wicking clothing.
5) Bring toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and a stain remover stick: You’ll be set for any surprising situation (basic bathrooms [or none at all], dirty busses, oil from dinner on your only shirt) with these.
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