Kashgar, the western-most city in China, was one of our unexpected highlights. There’s an interesting mix of culture, belonging to China but Uyghur and not Chinese. It’s more similar to Central Asia than it is to Beijing, and the cuisine is still distinctly central Asian, but with some (much-appreciated) Chinese influence!
We had so much fun discovering Kashgar with our kids. The 6 nights we spent here were the longest stretch anywhere up until this point on our trip, and allowed for some much needed down time. One day we barely moved from the roof-top terrace of the hostel, aside from Randy going to the night market to pick up dinner. It was heavenly!
Read More: If you’re not able to make it all the way to Kashgar, but would like a taste of Western China, think about visiting Lanzhou instead.
I’m learning that the cities I seem to love the most, are ones we feel like we’re a part of, even if it’s only for a short period of time.
The center of Kashgar is compact and easy to navigate.
The main sites are generally walkable, and the ones that aren’t, are connected by a manageable network of buses. When we wanted to go somewhere, I just asked at the front desk of the hostel and they told me which bus, or series of buses, we needed to take. Sometimes the buses were comfortable, and sometimes they were crowded. But, that all added (mostly) to the fun!
At one point we got on a crowded bus and a sweet old man picked up Kacela and put her on his lap. She was thrilled because it put her right beside the open window so she could keep eating her sunflower seeds. It’s those little, local interactions that brighten my day.
When we first arrived in Kashgar I wasn’t really sure about it. We passed through a ridiculous number of checkstops and passport checks on the way into the city, and it left me with a funny feeling. I knew a bit about the tension between the Uyghur citizens and the Chinese government, but I had no idea how oppressed this area was.
We joked about it being the “bastard son of China”
Every building, walkway and street corner had at least a couple police men or women on patrol. Once, we saw a large group just marching down the side of the road. I can’t even begin to count the number of metal detectors we walked through! People were even required to have their ID scanned when entering the indoor shopping complex. These security measures are so abundant that no one even pays attention to them. I beeped every single time I went through a metal detector, and not once was I stopped for further investigation. It seemed like a scare tactic, but when push comes to shove I really question how many of the police officers would take China’s side, and how many would side with their Uyghur family and culture. Hopefully we never have to find out!
Kashgar is China, but it’s not equal.
Randy tried to get a Chinese SIM card with China Mobile. The first attempt was fruitless because apparently company policy is that any foreign passport needs to be translated. This isn’t required in the rest of China, just in Kashgar. The second attempt was a bit better, we had our translated passport copy, but found that only a few of the plans were actually available in Kashgar. On top of that, the lady informed Randy that there was a chance the data wouldn’t work once we were outside of Xinjiang province.
Cellular data speeds have also been reduced in the entire region to 3G, because the government didn’t want the people uploading or downloading things too quickly. Maybe it made it too difficult to monitor? I’m not sure! The internet was painfully slow mid-day, but reasonable in the morning and evening. I found it interesting that a country with no copy write laws has a problem with internet speed. Then again, it’s not the whole country, just the West.
And then we encountered the train station!
Movement outside of Xinjiang province is restricted for local residents, so the train station was a nightmare. We weren’t really doing anything the day we left, so decided to go to the train station a bit early. Thank goodness for that!
We rode the city bus, but had to disembark prior to entering the complex to pass through the first security scan and bag check. Then, we walked through the parking lot to the second security post (no bag scan this time), just to get in line to get into the train station. Once inside the train station we went through a THIRD security check, this time they even opened my bag looking for goodness knows what. We queued up for our train with just enough time to go to the bathroom, and then boarded. Luckily, the train itself was uneventful, but I’m sure glad we gave ourselves lots of time at the train station!
One would think that with all these inconveniences, we wouldn’t have liked Kashgar. But, despite it all, we still loved it!
One of our favourite things to do when we travel, is visit the local market. Kashgar has a few incredible, very different markets.
The Grand Bazaar is crowded and hectic on a normal day, but on Sundays it’s bursting at the seems. The streets around the market fill up with local folk selling anything and everything. There are healers, make-shift restaurants, sunflower seed carts, shoe repairs, the list goes on. The best part was that the tourists stay under the covered bazaar, so the surrounding area is all locals. We kept an ear out for motorbikes or pull-carts coming from behind, and just went with the flow. Sometimes I think my feet weren’t even on the ground and I was being carried by the sea of people moving around me. It was invigorating, but also a bit stressful! We thoroughly enjoyed the experience, but were happy to get out when we did!
The Indoor Market:
The Outdoor Market:
Eating egg on a stick, one of the girl’s favourite finds!
We went from the Grand Bazaar in the morning, to the animal market in the afternoon. The animal market is like nothing I’ve ever experienced. We saw a few small animal markets in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, but nothing like this. Following behind a few men from the bus-stop, the smell hit us before we could see anything, reassuring we were going in the right direction. We traced their steps through a hole in the fence and were assaulted by the smells, sights and sounds of tens of thousands animals. Our feet squishing in the mud, we weaved in and out of rows of beasts, being careful not to walk too close behind them.
There were all sorts of different animals; camels, yak, sheep, goats and cows, from young to old. The treatment of animals left a bit to be desired at times, but no one was putting on a show. We were simply observing the locals going about their trading, without any extra flair for the few tourists. This was the real deal. The girls got to pet a few baby animals, and one man even hoisted them each up onto his camel! We left with muddy feet, but it was so worth it.
And our favourite…the Night Market
The smallest market we visited was the Night Market. Kacela affectionately referred to it as the “nighttime market”. It was a 2min walk from our hostel, and full of delicious delights! The first night we made our way down the market street, with vendors selling fruit, pomegranate juice and bread amongst others. It looked alright, but we were hoping for more. About half way down there was a courtyard full of food stalls. I’m pretty sure I heard angels sing! Me and Randy just stopped and looked at each other, grinned with delight, and dove in.
We ate every single dinner here. There were so many stalls to choose from though, it was a different meal every night. Except, of course, for Kacela. She loved the rotisserie chicken legs from one specific stall, and dutifully returned nightly. The food was cheap, fresh and delicious. There was also a good mix of the few tourists in town along with locals.
I always worry when I visit a market and there isn’t a local to be found. This wasn’t the case in Kashgar! There were areas of the Grand Bazaar that were definitely aimed at tourists, but it was easy to avoid these and find the “real markets”.
Old Town of Kashgar
We stayed right in the heart of the Old Town of Kashgar. Once we stepped out the door we could pick any direction to wander and there was something interesting to see. The restored section was lovely to wander, with tree lined streets and lots of shopping stalls. It’s divided into districts, and it’s still possible to see local craftsman working in their shops. We watched a carpenter, blacksmith and seamstress. It was all a bit showy, but still very pleasant.
The unrestored section was definitely unrestored. It was hard to even find an entrance through the northern walls! Once we found our way in I was shocked by the number of houses that were simply a pile of rubble. I expected the area to be unrestored but not in ruins. Children played in the streets, and peeking through some of the courtyard doorways we could see clothes hanging to dry. I wondered if the people living here were happy to be in the unrestored section, or if there was any envy over the restored part of town.
To me, the unrestored area had a lot more character. The lanes were smaller and seemed to meander a bit more, without much purpose. It was charming in a way that the restored quarter could never be. I’m sure the government will slowly restore the entirety of the Old Town, and likely the next time I visit Kashgar there will be no “unrestored” section remaining. This would be a shame, in my opinion. It’s one thing to maintain structures, but it’s completely different to level an entire area and build it up from scratch. It’s hard to then refer to it as “Old Town”.
Where We Stayed
Kashgar Pamir Hostel
There’s nothing fancy about this place, and the rooms are bare-bones. The price was reasonable, the location was ideal, and the roof-top terrace was absolutely fantastic! We had a family room with bunk beds, a king bed, and our own bathroom. The bathroom was tiny, and the toilet didn’t have a stack so it could get pretty stinky. We shoved whatever we could find in the floor drain whenever we weren’t showering to keep the stink down a bit. The cleanliness left a bit to be desired, but I can get over that. There aren’t a whole lot of options for accommodation in Kashgar, and really only 2 budget options. From the sound of things both hostels are quite similar, but the roof-top terrace at Pamir definitely gives it a let up.
Cost: 180 yuan/night ($34.28 CAD). I booked directly with the hostel so we got a slight discount.
What We Did
The Grand Bazaar happens every day, but Sunday is the liveliest day to visit. Many Uyghur people from the surrounding countryside come into Kashgar for their day of shopping, or selling. The bazaar balloons in size, spilling out into the streets around it. My suggestion is to go earlier in the morning, and stick to the un-covered streets on the north and east side of the covered stalls. If you’ve passed through security, you’re headed towards the everyday market area.
How to get there: Take bus 7 from Ida Kahn Mosque.
Animal Market (Sunday)
This was one of our highlights as it’s so unlike many of the other markets we’ve visited. It’s a massive bit of a pain to get to, but worth it. You need to be able to stomach some less than amazing treatment of animals, and if you wander near the food stalls be aware that there are parts of carcasses on the ground. I’ve really stressed to the girls that this is normal in the culture, and if we’re going to eat the sheep we need to be okay with the fact that it means the sheep is killed. Western culture tends to hide the “nastier” bits of eating animals, but it’s right there in front of you at the animal market. Consider yourself warned!
How to get there: Take bus 20 from the south-west corner of the grand bazaar, on the road to the university. This is the beginning (and end) of the line for bus 20. The bus stop is NOT where you’ll get off if you’ve taken bus 7 from Ida Kahn.
This is a tiny little gem of a market, full of delicious food stalls. We tried a bit of everything, except the boiled goat heads. The cuisine was a breath of fresh air after Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, with more options than mutton and potatoes. The selection was miniscule compared to Beijing, but felt like a buffet after the Stans! The people at the market were incredibly friendly, and everything was so fresh! We watched then pull noodles and form dumplings right in front of us. Luckily, the goat heads were pre-boiled so we didn’t witness that.
How to get there: Down the street to the East of Id Kahn Mosque.
Id Kahn Mosque
I tend to be quite picky when paying for attractions when we travel, and I should have done a bit more research in terms of the Id Kahn Mosque. It was directly across the street from our hostel, so we walked past multiple times a day. Calais also loved all the beautiful mosque in Uzbekistan and really wanted to visit. It ended up being twice as expensive as the price quoted in Lonely Planet, and was such a let down. The gardens inside were pretty, but the buildings themselves were quite plain and we could only peak inside one. The girls enjoyed playing in the garden, but it wasn’t worth the entrance fee.
Cost: 45 Yuan ($9 Cad) per person, kids were free.
It’s hard to visit a city with a massive ferris wheel with kids, and not ride on it! The large “wheel” in Kashgar was not exactly the London Eye, but we got a great view of the city, and the girls felt like they got to go on a ride. The little amusement park where the ferris wheel lives was obviously a lively place, but there’s been minimal to no upkeep so it’s not in great shape. Luckily our cage didn’t fall off the wheel as we went around!
Cost: 20 Yuan ($5 Cad) per person, kids included.
Where We Ate
The night market!
We ate here every night, it was just so good! There was a good amount of variety, and it was cheap.
Cost: 5 Yuan ($1 CAD) for most dishes.
We stopped in for coffee and ice cream, and it was the best latte I’ve had on the trip to date! We loved it so much we even went back the next day, but sadly it was closed for some minor renos. It’s located on the corner of Ou’er Daxike Rd (qia sa lu) and Areya Rd (a re ya lu) in the Old Town.
Cost: 25 Yuan ($5 CAD) for latte, 18 Yuan ($3.50 CAD) for double scoop of ice cream
Aili Huma’er Fast Food Restaurant
Delicious Kashgar cuisine just outside the eastern gate of the Restored Old Town. Service was fast
Cost: 64 Yuan ($12.30 CAD) for noodle soup and stir-fried noodles.
How We Got Around
Our own two feet and the city bus. The centre of the city is quite compact and easy to navigate via the city bus. There’s no map, so we just asked at the hostel before we went out and they told us which bus to take and where to catch it. Each trip was 1 Yuan ($0.20 CAD) per person and the girls were free.
Total Daily Budget in Kashgar: $102.40 CAD
39 days into the trip, our Average Daily Budget is: $205.80 CAD
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