Hello everyone !
We spent two months in China including two weeks in Xinjiang in June so I thought I could share some info on how the situation is in Xinjiang at the moment/time for travelers.
For the record, we arrived from Dunhuang (Gansu province) and left across to Kirghizistan
(Irkechtam Pass) visiting as much as we could along the way. Below is our detailed itinerary; first a few general thoughts :
In most cities, Uygurs neighborhoods are often abandonned or being destroyed behind big walls, which is of course startling. Besides, a few of the interesting places to visit
- mentioned by the usual guide books are closed if not actually destroyed as well.
In spite of the hassle of being stopped constantly, police officers are mostly polite and somewhat friendly. We were almost always checked when seen except in the most touristy places : Turfan, Urumqi, Kashgar where it never happened except at the train station. Albeit this huge police presence
we seldom witnessed actual arrests (as far as I later understand they happen at night time).
Hami : probably the most police we saw in all Xinjiang. Seemingly around every corner of every street and patrolling every road. They will come and check your passport if they see you. We were held for one hour on arrival at the train station, and for another hour in our hotel lobby when more officers arrived from nowhere and took various photos and asked basic questions.
As in many places in Xinjiang, there are no youth hostels in hami, the best you can do is look for the cheapest option on Ctrip and have Ctrip check on the app's live chat that the hotel accepts foreigners. We stayed at Qianjiang Business Hotel, which is on the main Street which is locked down and only accessible through checkpoints.
Mausoleum (opens at 9:30) and museum can be visited and are in good condition.
Turfan : Much less police hassle (we were only checked once; as always at the train station) and all the visits you can hope for around Turfan are opened and in good condition : Jahoe ruins, Tuyuq uyghur village, emin minaret, bezeklik thousand Buddha caves, gaochang ancient city...
We shared a car+driver with other travelers staying at Turfan's only hostel : Dap youth hostel. The place is great. Unfortunately it is located in a uyghur neighborhood in the process of being destroyed and staff confirmed the hotel will be destroyed too.
Urumqi : No particular problem with police at the capital.
Musueum and Bazar are well worth a visit. It's a lively city though not great for pedestrians.
Kuqa : Lots of police and constant controls. Many uyghur buildings being destroyed. The old town is almost a ghost town, a few uyghurs (only old people) can be seen around there. Most streets have a Checkpoint. You can visit the mosque but it's completely abandoned and littered with dead birds and dirt - it was really really sad. Police asked to check our photos. We stayed in the Kuqa Grand hotel (in the cheaper building at the back) which seemed to be the only option. The hotel is paired with a travel agency which told us that it was impossible to have a taxi take us around town to visit the canyon and mausoleum - as people had been turned down by police the day before. All in all its interesting to stay in Kuqa to understand what's happening in Xinjiang ...
: No Hotel there accepts foreigners. We went to Aksu by train to take the trans desert bus to Hotan. We were held by police for an hour for questioning ... Then escorted to a cab to the bus station. They tried to talk us out of going to Hotan by bus and were a bit confused.
The ride through the desert to Hotan was scenic as expected though much longer than expected (10 hours!).
our bus had to undergo many police checkpoints on our way into Hotan, but they were not too long or tedious.
We stayed at Hotan Xiyu Hotel.
Staff said the museum could not be visited so we left the next morning by train without further ado. I had read that Hotan was the worst city in terms of security but in our experience Kuqa, Aksu and Hami top Hotan (or Hetian as the Chinese call it) in that category.
Quite touristy and lively. Mosque and animal market still very much in activity. The old Town is a bit of a disneyland though and the original old town has been abandoned and is shabby (but you can surprisingly still go and take a walk around).
In Kashgar as well, most uyghurs you'll see are quite old (many many kids too) and you're left to wonder where the middle generation is ...
If you want to see more photos of Xinjiang you please check our feed : @ encoreunblogdevoyage on instagram