What is the best way to travel between Urumqi and Kashgar in China’s western Xinjiang region? Whether you’re looking for the fastest, most comfortable, or the cheapest route, I’d like to share with you four ways to travel Urumqi to Kashgar and back, rated by speed and comfort.
Getting from Urumqi to Kashgar or returning from Kashgar to Urumqi isn’t difficult from a logistics standpoint, but it can be frustrating trying to find accurate, up-to-date information. Let’s break down the four modes of transportation you can take and then go into detail about why you should or shouldn’t use them.
- Planes: How to Fly between Urumqi and Kashgar
- Trains: How to Train between Urumqi and Kashgar
- Buses: How to Take a Bus from Urumqi to Kashgar
- Private Car: How to Drive from Urumqi to Kashgar
Keep in mind that all of this information – and so much more – can be found in the FarWestChina Xinjiang travel guide. This guide sums up my decade of experience in Xinjiang and I know it will be helpful to you. I’m so confident you’ll love it that I’ll personally refund you your money if you don’t.
Flying | Urumqi – Kashgar
As you can imagine, flying between Urumqi and Kashgar is going to be your fastest mode of transportation. I’ve flown this route numerous times and it offers spectacular views of both the Tianshan Mountains and the Taklamakan Desert.
There are more than 15 flights per day both ways between Kashgar and Urumqi and it takes right at 2 hours to complete the journey.
In Xinjiang’s capital city, the Urumqi Diwopu International Airport is located on the northern end of the city, about 30 minutes by taxi from the city center. There are city buses that service the airport and a subway that is still under construction, but a taxi remains your best way to get to/from the airport. Expect to pay 40-50 RMB depending on where you’re headed.
In Kashgar, the international airport is located on the northeast corner of town. There’s a city bus that stops just outside the gate to the airport that I’ve used a few times, but again, a taxi is just far too convenient. Expect to pay about 50-100 RMB (it’s a rip-off!) and you’ll probably be forced to share the taxi.
To get the best pricing on flight tickets, I recommend you check out the Ctrip flight page for Urumqi-Kashgar flights. In these types of search engines, don’t be confused if they refer to Urumqi as “Wulumuqi” or Kashgar as “Kashi”…that’s just the Chinese transliteration of the city names. Round-trip tickets should cost between US$100-$200 depending on the season.
You won’t need any special permit other than your Chinese visa, and I would recommend arriving at the Urumqi airport at least 1.5 hours in advance and the Kashgar airport a little more than 1 hour.
Pros vs Cons of Flying
- Pros: The obvious pro to flying this route is speed. If you’re limited on time, you should fly.
- Cons: Flying doesn’t give you the chance to stop at cities along the way and limits your views to mountains. It’s also the most expensive mode of transportation on this route.
Trains | Urumqi – Kashgar
If you have the time, I highly recommend you consider taking the train between Urumqi and Kashgar during your travels around Xinjiang. Not only do trains offer a better cultural experience, it’s also a great way to see the southern Xinjiang countryside (or “desert-side”?).
While high-speed trains are being built at an unbelievable pace in China – and there’s even a high-speed train in Xinjiang – the Urumqi-Kashgar route is still only serviced by the standard trains. There are usually about 7 trains per day between Urumqi and Kashgar for a route that takes from 18-22 hours depending on the train you choose.
Urumqi now has two train stations and it is possible to use both of them for trains that go to/from Kashgar (although not all of them). The old train station is on the southwest corner of town while the new station is in the development district west of town. There are plenty of buses that reach both, although again, I prefer the convenience of a taxi. Expect to pay 20-30 RMB to get into town.
For more details, check out my guide to Urumqi trains and train stations.
Kashgar’s train station is located on the east side of town. It’s not a large station, which makes it easy to navigate. There are city buses and taxis that can bring you into town. Expect to pay about 25 RMB for a taxi.
Trains between Urumqi and Kashgar have three types of tickets: hard seats, hard sleepers, and soft sleepers. Since Urumqi to Kashgar is an 18+ hour journey, I recommend you take either a hard sleeper or soft sleeper.
Tickets can be bought at the train station, but unless you feel comfortable speaking Chinese, I recommend you use a service like China Highlights (search using the box on the right) which can purchase train tickets for you and have them delivered to your hotel either in Urumqi or Kashgar.
Pros & Cons of Taking a Train
- Pros: Taking a train is cheaper than flying and it’s relaxing. Not only does it give you a chance to mingle with local people, it also offers some beautiful desert and mountain scenery along the way.
- Cons: Tickets are harder (but not impossible) to purchase. The Urumqi to Kashgar trains are also old trains that may not be as comfortable as what you expect.
For more detailed information on trains in China, check out the Travel China Cheaper Ultimate Train Guide.
Buses | Urumqi – Kashgar
I’ve only taken the bus between Urumqi and Kashgar two times, but each time was quite memorable! As recently as 15 years ago, the bus was the primary connection between these two Xinjiang cities, but now it ranks far behind planes and trains.
I wouldn’t say that Xinjiang buses are extremely comfortable, but it’s not a bad ride. If you can get a sleeper bus, that would at least allow you to lay down during the journey. There are hourly buses that depart from Urumqi to Kashgar and Kashgar to Urumqi and the journey lasts anywhere from 24-30 hours depending on traffic and security checkpoints.
To get to the proper bus station in Urumqi (there are multiple bus stations, so this is important), you’ll want to head to the south edge of town to what is referred to as the “South Station” (南郊客运站 or Nánjiāo kèyùnzhàn). It’s a busy place with lots of buses, so it won’t be hard to know that you’ve arrived at the right place.
In Kashgar, the appropriate bus station is on the east side of town next to the train station (there are two bus stations in Kashgar). It’s a simple bus or taxi ride from the center of town.
While it is possible to purchase China bus tickets online, in my experience it’s just as easy to purchase the tickets the day you plan to depart. In fact, I usually arrive at a China bus station an hour prior to my desired departure and purchase a ticket. Only once has it ever been sold out.
Pros & Cons of Bus Travel
- Pros: Buses can be a last-minute decision and have hourly departures. More than likely, all of your seat mates will be Uyghur. Buses are also very cheap.
- Cons: Unlike trains and planes, buses and cars are subject to security checkpoints. And trust me when I say that there are many checkpoints between Urumqi and Kashgar. Stops at these checkpoints could take 10 minutes or they could take 2 hours. You never know.
Private Car | Urumqi – Kashgar
Finally, there is the option to hire a private car to drive you from Urumqi to Kashgar or from Kashgar back to Urumqi. You could rent your own car to drive yourself, but the roads are confusing and you must have a China driver’s license, so I don’t recommend it.
The beauty of a private car is that you can leave and stop whenever you want. There is no set schedule. If you’re in a hurry, the drive can be made in about 18 hours.
The author and his son in a rented car in Urumqi.
Renting a private car usually means arranging something with a travel agency before you arrive in Urumqi or Kashgar. Technically, you could go searching for a car at either the Urumqi bus station or the Kashgar bus station, but you’ll be crammed in with four other travelers who likely don’t smell very nice.
Taxis won’t take you this distance and with tightening restrictions, the average Zhou won’t have a car that is permitted to drive this route. You’ll need to work with somebody whose sole job is to drive between Urumqi and Kashgar.
Pros & Cons of Private Cars
- Pros: You can stop whenever you want to check out a small village or eat at a nice hole-in-the-wall.
- Cons: Private cars are subject to intense inspection at security checkpoints along the highway. It’s also the most expensive way to travel.
Conclusion | Traveling from Urumqi to Kashgar
There are many different ways to travel from Urumqi to Kashgar, and the one you choose will likely be based on the amount of time and money you have. Planes and trains are the fastest but buses and cars will offer the ability to see more of the southern Xinjiang countryside.
Keep in mind that with all of the security in Xinjiang, you’re going to run into security checkpoints at the airport, train station, bus station and all along the road. These choke points will be worse than anywhere else you’ve traveled in China.
In the end, you can hopefully enjoy not just the destination but also the journey you take between Kashgar and Urumqi.
Remember: While I offer the condensed Kashgar City Guide and the Urumqi City Guide, I highly recommend you grab a full copy of the FarWestChina Xinjiang travel guide that will help you plan your entire trip across the province. Enjoy!