Why Consider a Xinjiang Tour Guide?

A Tour in Xinjiang? Buckle up, get Zen & Enjoy the Ride!

November 15 | 10 Comments

Cruising along at speeds that would normally make my palms sweat, central-Asian pop beats rapping out of the car’s stereo, I am sleepily reflecting that crisp mountain air is just about as good as a strong cup of coffee when our guide says something in Uyghur to our driver. Next thing I know, we are careening down a bumpy side road (I use that term loosely) off of the Karakorum Highway, clouds of dust billowing up behind us.

A taxi stops to see the beautiful scenery on the Karakoram Highway in Xinjiang, China

Yusef swivels round to face us from the front seat, grinning. “A Tajik wedding! I can tell because of all the fancy cars!” The driver picks his way forward on the now nonexistent road. I see a small huddle of men in front of a group of simple clay houses, standing dourly around a fire. I am skeptical.

“Let me go talk to them first,” says Yusef. “Tajiks are either very friendly, or VERY crazy. You stay in the car.” He hops out of the cab; the men watch his approach. My boyfriend and I speculate on the odds that we’ll have to rescue our guide from the midst of a fistfight.

Tense minutes pass before Yusef hops quickly back into the car. I’m relieved to see he’s laughing. “This is a funeral!” As though that’s the funniest thing that could have ever happened.

A man butchers a sheep to celebrate a Tajik wedding in Xinjiang, China “But there is a wedding on the other side of town!,” he crows. Before we can object to gatecrashing a second time, we’ve arrived (the town is not very big – again, loose usage of that word) at what is clearly a happier affair.

He schmoozes us an invite in seconds flat, teaches us how to say “Congratulations” in Tajik, and takes us on a tour and meet-and-greet as though we were visiting his own family. Before you can say “Mubarak” (Congratulations), I’ve become the unofficial wedding-photographer, we’re watching sheep being butchered for the wedding feast, and we’re posing at our own photo op with the blushing bride.

We even get an invite to return the next day for continued celebrations. An unforgettable morning during our trip and one of the big positives of traveling with a guided tour through Xinjiang.

Is a Tour Guide in Xinjiang for me?

If you have unlimited time – if you already know Xinjiang – if you really love adventure travel – then you can probably skip exploring the region with a tour.

If you don’t have endless amounts of vacation time, it’s your first time to the region, or you want to add another dimension to your travel experience, signing up for a tour or hiring a guide can help you get the most – maybe even more than you expected – out of your days in Xinjiang.

To add a bit of background: Xinjiang was our first stop in a two-month visit to China. We prefer to travel independently, but until about a month before arriving in China, we’d never even heard of Xinjiang. Not knowing what to expect in terms of infrastructure and knowing we could only spend a week in the province, we opted for a private tour in the hopes that we could get a decent taste of the province in this short amount of time. The package included a route recommended by the tour company, a dedicated driver and guide.

Uyghur women at a market in Kashgar, Xinjiang in China

Xinjiang Tour Tips – The Bottom Line

For us it was definitely the right choice. Purely from a logistics point of view, there is no way we would have been able to see as much as we did had we attempted to plan a similar trip on our own. Beyond that, we were afforded a much more intimate glimpse into Xinjiang life.

Having a local guide, we could ask countless questions about any little thing that sparked our curiosity. We could communicate much more directly with people we met thanks to his translation. And of course we got to hear of his opinions and experiences from growing up and living in Xinjiang.

Before you run to sign yourself up for a tour though, here are a few things to think about:

  • Buckle up: (*Not literally; no one in Xinjiang wears seatbelts!) Do your research before you get there. Working with a good company/team can make all the difference in the world. Also, don’t be afraid to take control of your experience when possible. Customizing your package before you get there, asking the guide to stop one more time to take even more photos, skipping something on the proposed itinerary because you’re just too tired. Although you’ve hired a guide, ultimately it’s your trip and it’s up to you to communicate what you need and want to make it work for you.
  • Get Zen: Make sure you show up with the right attitude. The tour experience can vary depending on whom you’re traveling with. Guides are human; ours had plenty of idiosyncrasies and interesting viewpoints that we didn’t always necessarily agree with. I took these as a chance to glimpse the world through a completely different point of view and it only enhanced my experience. Most days there was no coffee (this may seem like a small thing – unless you are a coffee addict like me). Sometimes the state of the Chinese toilets sent me scrambling for a bush to pee behind. I’d been told that the tour could cater for vegetarians – “No problem!” Skip to a couple days into the tour when we were trying to sort out supplies for the desert trek: “The problem is that you’re a vegetarian.” The solution for all of this: get Zen!
  • Enjoy the ride: Make sure you show up with the right expectations. That is, none. Maybe the weather will suck. Maybe you’ll wake up to the most spectacular sunrise you’ve ever seen. Maybe you’ll miss the Sunday market. Maybe you’ll happen upon an unexpected wedding and end up the guest of honor. Anything and everything is possible; expect nothing and see what surprises Xinjiang has in store for you!

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Jenny and her boyfriend during their trip to Xinjiang, ChinaBorn and raised in the States, Jennifer spent six years living and working in Switzerland before she and her boyfriend Roman decided to start a new adventure and fulfill their dream of traveling the world. They are currently 14 months and eight countries into their big trip. Read more stories of their time in Xinjiang – including great photos – on their travel website.

About Josh Summers

Josh is a writer, musician and entrepreneur who currently resides in Urumqi, capital of China's western province of Xinjiang. He has been traveling and writing about this region since 2006 and has no plans to stop in the near future.

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  1. Lovely Story. Your adventure so much organic than mine when I was there in September. I would have loved to be in a wedding party as described. I have a deep interest in China’s western province culture. Uyghur food was great–I love lamb. I would love to see more, next time! Thanks for the great story and pics.

    [Reply]

    Jenny Rodney on November 17th, 2011 at 11:05 pm

    Thanks Peter! Where did you travel in Xinjiang, and how long were you there for? I hope you’ll get to go back some day – and eat more of those local lamb dishes! :-)

    [Reply]

  2. Jenny, loved your travel stories. Mine wasn’t as exciting as yours or picturesque. I was on a different tour with China Highlights. It was my first trip to China. I travel to Xianjiang by way of Beijing, Xian and Dunhuang. It was in September. I loved it! But then I traveled alone!! A big shock for the Chinese! I milked it the most out of it.

    Keep the stories and pictures. I would love to go back to the area and see more.

    [Reply]

    Jenny Rodney on November 28th, 2011 at 9:41 pm

    Thanks Peter. Sounds like a great “first taste” of China. We had two whole months in the country and all I could think as soon as we left a province was: wow, I need to come back to China, there is SO much to see. But I’m so glad that we could visit as much as we did. Hope you’ll have the chance to visit it again soon! We didn’t make it to Dunhuang – would you recommend it?

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    Peter Gong on November 28th, 2011 at 11:38 pm

    Dunhuang was fun. My guide even found a cute cafe called charly jhong’s. He does camel trek into the Gobi desert!! I rode one with my tour on the singing mountain. It is a cute and very clean town, small but a lot of charm. Turpan & Kashgar was my favourite. I wish I had more time to see more. My tour is called China Highlights and it stresses majour hightlights!! I would love to see the southern part of Xianjiang. My curiosity was tickled.

  3. Hi,

    I will be going to Xinjiang in a few weeks, and I was wondering if you still had the contact of the guide you hired at Kashgar? If not, how did you manage to hire him, and how much did you pay for his services?

    Thanks so much for your help, your trip in china looks amazing!

    Nat

    [Reply]

    Josh on June 18th, 2012 at 8:36 am

    The tour guide used was the one that I highly recommend for anybody traveling through Kashgar: Abdul Wahab Tours

    Check them out. They’re competitively priced and everybody who uses them gives raving reviews.

    [Reply]

  4. Hi Josh,

    This website is amazing and a very good source of information about XinJiang! Congrats!

    We are two and we are gonna spend 12 days around Kashgar, trekking and discovering the region in August. I have contacted different Tours Operators, but their price are outrageously expensive for our tiny budget (over 1000 yuan/pers/day).
    We are fond of adventure and unexpected surprises. And therefore we are contemplating going without any organization.

    We have a couple questions for you, maybe you can advise as you seem to have a good knowledge of the region:
    – if there is any way we can just hire a “guide” (or just someone who knows the region and paths for trekking around the Muztagh Ata region) on the road. We would sort out the logistics (especially for transfers and equipment) by ourself.
    – it seems that permits are still required. Do we absolutely need to go through an agency for that and get a tour?
    – how hard is it to find food?
    – precise maps of the region are really hard to find (sufficient for trekking). Any ideas? I have very basic knowledge of Mandarin chinese (for a few year learning in my childhood),

    Thank you so much for your help. Keep on blogging, this is fabulous!
    Feel free to contact me directly by email if this is more appropriate.

    P.

    [Reply]




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