Urumqi International Bazaar: Must-See or Tourist Trap?
One of the most visually rewarding destinations in Xinjiang’s capital of Urumqi is the International Grand Bazaar (国际大巴扎). Nestled in the heart of Uyghur, Hui and Russian neighborhoods, it claims to be the largest bazaar in the world.
The bazaar grounds have played various roles over the past decade: a shopping center for tourist, a staging area for festivals, a place of worship for Muslims, and even an outpost for Chinese troops following the 2009 Urumqi riots.
From Urumqi’s South Gate (Nan Men), the kilometer walk down Jiefang Nan Lu is actually quite fun. Clothing stalls and hole-in-the-wall restaurants litter both sides of the street crowded with tourists and locals alike.
On the east side of the street you’ll begin to see a tower rising above the buildings and that’s when you know you’re getting close to the bazaar. It all looks so old, so historic, until you read the inscription on the small pyramid that greets you at the entrance to the bazaar.
“…completed on June 28, 2003.”
That’s right. There’s pretty much zero historical significance with the Urumqi International Grand Bazaar other than the fact that the land itself has been home to international trade for more than two centuries. Regardless, it remains a popular place to hang out in Xinjiang’s capital.
All in all, the complex is comprised of 6 buildings covering an area of 100,000m2. This includes the tower, the mosque and all the shopping areas – of which there are plenty.
The primary reason you’ll find yourself walking through here is to grab that souvenir you’ve been searching for but haven’t been able to find.
A “Fantastic Shopper’s Emporium”
A travel pamphlet I once read called the International Bazaar a “fantastic shopper’s emporium”. While it’s not really my favorite place to shop in Urumqi, there’s no denying that there are plenty of things to buy.
Inside you can get your fill of mass-produced souvenirs including Uyghur knives, local musical instruments, a wide selection of Xinjiang fruits and nuts, and plenty of jewelry.
Also available for purchase is a wide array of rugs tapestries, but in my opinion they aren’t nearly the same quality as those found in Kashgar and Hotan.
Here’s my recommendation: if your time in Xinjiang is short and you’re afraid you won’t have an opportunity to shop elsewhere, by all means buy yourself some souvenirs at the Grand Bazaar! If you’re going to be traveling around Turpan, Kashgar, Hotan or other great places around the province, though, use the bazaar to see what you like and then buy on the road.
The International Bazaar Tower
In the center of the bazaar square is a large tower which, although it looks like an important Islamic building, is really just a tourists’ viewing deck.
You’ll never hear a call to prayer coming from this tower, even though it is modeled after minarets in the area. At night it is lit up in a glorious display that brings life to the rest of the square.
After entering the base of the tower and paying a fee of 20 RMB, an elevator takes you to the top of this viewing deck to give you a bird’s eye view of the International Bazaar and the expanse of Urumqi.
Check out the pictures to see if the view is worth the time and money for you. I will say this: the windows obviously hadn’t been cleaned in years when I was there and I left feeling a little disappointed.
If I were to do it again: I’d still wander all around the International Bazaar, but I don’t think I would go up the viewing tower. That money would have been better spent on a good Uyghur meal!
A view of Urumqi from the Bazaar viewing tower
A bird’s eye view of the International Grand Bazaar
Final Thoughts on the International Bazaar
To best appreciate Urumqi’s International Grand Bazaar, I always find it best for me to temper my expectations. Am I looking for a truly authentic Uyghur experience? Do I want hand-made souvenirs?
If I am, then I’ll probably walk away from the International Bazaar feeling like it was a tourist trap.
If, however, I want to enjoy some good food, stock up on what I know is mass-produced souvenirs, and enjoy the local atmosphere, then I usually walk away quite satisfied.
Set your expectations accordingly and then enjoy your visit to Urumqi!