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August 30th, 2013

WildChina Update: Earthquake in Urumqi

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

BREAKING – August 30, 2013

At 1:27 p.m. local time, a 5.1-magnitude earthquake was registered by the China Earthquake Networks Center in Urumqi, the capital city of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in northwest China.   The epicenter was at a depth of 12 kilometers (approximately 7.5 miles).

As of 3:44 p.m. today, no casualties or injuries have been reported. There are currently no WildChina travelers in the area of the earthquake.

As with all earthquakes of this magnitude and higher, visitors and residents are advised to travel with care and be mindful of aftershocks.

We at WildChina will continue to monitor the situation and provide any updates that become available.



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July 8th, 2011

New Train Connects China’s Wild West

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

Traveling China’s ancient Silk Road in Xinjiang just became much easier thanks to the opening of a new passenger train that connects Hotan (in Southern Xinjiang), Kashgar (located near the borders of Kyrgyzstan & Tajikistan), and Urumqi (the capital of the region). Covering railway spanning 2,073 km, the journey from Hotan to Urumqi takes approximately 35 hours. The rail is expected to expand tourism, agriculture, and mining in the region.

Explore the Xinjiang’s natural and cultural beauty this October. Join WildChina and leading British photography, Sean Gallagher, in our Xinjiang Photography Expedition Trip as we traverse the sandy regions, snow covered mountains, and discover the colorful Uigher costumes of China’s wild west.  Sean will lead his group through the old town of Kashgar and century old bazaars where you’ll see the area’s unique Uighur culture and geographical diversity using your photographer’s eye. The journey starts and ends in Urumqi.


To begin planning your journey to Xinjiang, please submit an inquiry here or e-mail us at info@wildchina.com.

Source: Travel + Leisure

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April 14th, 2011

NEW WildChina Journey – Photo Expedition with Sean Gallagher: Silk Road Through Your Lens

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

The sandy regions, snow covered mountains and colorful Uighur costumes of China’s wild west, make Xinjiang a paradise for photography. WildChina and leading British photographer, Sean Gallagher, have worked together to design a unique and unprecedented photography boot camp along the ancient Silk Road. Intended for people who are passionate about photography and travel and looking to hone their skills in one of China’s most diverse and fascinating regions, this trip will cover shooting techniques including landscape, portrait, and time-lapse photography. Sean will lead us through the old town of Kashgar and century old bazaars where you’ll see the area’s unique Uighur culture and geographical diversity using your photographer’s eye.

This past week, Sean joined us for jiaozi lunch, so we were able to sit down and have a quick chat with him about the trip…

WildChina (WCT): Sean, you first caught our eye because your tag on Twitter described your work as “Raising awareness about environmental issues and understanding of China, through photography, video and multimedia“.  How did you become interested in this type of work?

Sean Gallagher (SG): My interest in environmental issues stems from my time at University in the UK where I studied Zoology. It was during this time that I visited the Atlantic Rainforest, just outside Rio de Janeiro, as part of my studies. I was just discovering photography at this point, and I found it to be a wonderful tool to document many of the issues affecting the area, including deforestation and habitat destruction. From this point, I decided that I would use photography to help me convey my concerns about the environment.

WCT: When you decided to partner with WildChina, why did you choose the Silk Road in Xinjiang as the destination? Do you have any favorite stories you like to tell from your trips in that area?

SG: I first visited Xinjiang in 2009 and was immediately captivated by the western reaches of China. The Silk Road is a classic travel route however when travelling in the region, you still feel the past through the people and landscapes of the region. The Uighurs, who make up a large portion of the population, are intriguing in their distinctive culture and appearance. The landscapes in which they live are so diverse, from deserts to mountains to glaciers. For photography, it’s arguably one of the best places in the whole country.

During my first trip in 2009, we travelled deep into the mountains of eastern Xinjiang to visit an ancient abandoned city. Along the way, we got a flat tyre which delayed our journey time meaning we had to enter a dangerous mountain pass late in the evening. As our car weaved along the crumbling mountain road, we gazed into the darkness as the drop disappeared away from us. It was a scary experience! Eventually, we arrived at the home of some local Uighur farmers whom we were to stay with for the evening. Even though we arrived so late, the local family proceeded to bring out a banquet of food and serenaded us with Uighur songs into the night. We were the only ones for miles. It was a really special experience.

WCT: What are you looking forward to the most on the October trip? What do you hope to teach the people who join you on the trip this fall?

SG: I think I am most looking forward to meeting and working with a group of photographers who are keen discover Xinjiang through photography. There is always a great camaraderie when photographers get together and I am sure this trip will be no exception.

I’m also very much looking forward to trying to help people improve their photography during this trip. Each photographer may have a different goal but my aim is to help each photographer improve and take away with them, not only images, but a new approach and idea to photography which will ultimately make them better photographers.

WCT: Do you have any advice or tips for amateur photographers shooting the Silk Road? Are there cultural sensitivities they should be aware of, things not to take pictures of?

SG: Xinjiang is a region where religion is very evident. The Uighurs are Muslim, so there are large numbers of mosques in the region and it is commonplace to see people worshipping. At the beginning of the trip, I will advise participants about some of the best ways to go about photographing in this region, so as to avoid any problems. I have found that most people are more than happy to be photographed in Xinjiang; however, we will of course have to be sensitive and respectful of the local customs. Our guides and I will help participants through this at all times.

WCT: What is your favorite Silk Road site to photograph?

SG: I really enjoy photographing in and around the Taklamakan desert, an immense sea of moving sand which is second only in size to the Sahara. It’s often brutal desolation makes for a dramatic landscape to photograph. Spending the night in the desert is a unique experience. For the truly dedicated photographers you can awake early, stargaze and then wait for the sun to rise over the dunes. It’s an unforgettable experience.

WCT: What camera and equipment are you currently using?

SG: I like to travel as light as possible when travelling. As a working photographer, I often spend long days on my feet, so it essential to strip my gear down to only what I really need on any given day. My basic set-up for the work we will be doing on the silk road will be a Canon 7D with 16-35mm, 50mm and 70-200mm lenses. I will also have with me small flash and small tripod. I recommend participants also look hard at their equipment and decide which items they really need and keep it to the essentials.

WCT: Do you have any other stories or advice you’d like to share?

SG: As well as camera gear, I would advise participants to bring along with them an open mind. For me, photography is a tool to help me discover and understand people and issues better. To do this effectively, it is best to leave at home your preconceptions about a place, or its people. If you are able to do this, it will help make your images better as you steer clear of cliches and discover your unique perspective on the region and its people.


This photo expedition departs on October 1, 2011, and is priced from USD 3,590.  Read here for more details or e-mail info@wildchina.com with your inquiries.

Sean Gallagher is a leading British photographer and videographer whose work focuses on people, culture and environmental issues. His work has appeared in publications including TIME Magazine, The New York Times, The Globe and Mail, Der Spiegel and National Geographic China. In 2010, he was the official photographer for the visit of British Prime Minister, David Cameron, to China.

Recipient of numerous awards and grants, he is notably a two-time recipient of the prestigious Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting travel grant. His images have been exhibited internationally and he has been invited to present his photographic work on China to institutions across the world including Georgetown University, The Climate Institute, The Natural Resources Defence Council and at the EU-Biodiversity seminars hosted by the Shanghai World Expo.

To read more about Sean, visit his website at http://gallagher-photo.com/

Image: Sean Gallagher

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February 21st, 2011

Mummies a Mysterious Link to Xinjiang’s Past

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

Even for experienced China travelers, the vast region of Xinjiang in the country’s northwest is full of surprises. One of the bigger surprises is the mystery of the dried corpses known as the Tarim mummies, which are on display in museums throughout Xinjiang.

Two of the mummies have traveled to the US as part of an exhibition at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, where their Caucasian features are making museumgoers look at China’s history from a different angle.

The mummies – a 3,800-year-old woman with auburn hair and a 2,800-year-old infant – have Caucasian characteristics that are considered by experts to be proof that western peoples migrated eastward along the ancient Silk Road that connected China and Europe via Central Asia and Middle East.

The woman, nicknamed “the Beauty of Xiaohe” (pictured above) is wearing a felt hat that resembles those traditionally found in alpine Europe. The baby is wrapped in a blanket reminiscent of ancient northern European burial shrouds.

Mummies preserved by Xinjiang’s extremely arid conditions first began to be discovered by explorers in the early 1900s. It is unclear exactly where these people came from, due to a lack of DNA testing.

Today Xinjiang is one of China’s most remote and least understood regions. It is believed that the Uighur ethnic group that now calls Xinjiang home migrated to the area after the arrival of the Caucasians who eventually became the Tarim mummies.

Nowadays Xinjiang is known by travelers for its stunning desert and mountain landscapes plus the fascinating culture – and delicious food – of the Uighurs. But, as the Tarim mummies illustrate, this is only part of the picture. Xinjiang is steeped in a forgotten history that the world is only beginning to wake up to.

The exhibition “Secrets of the Silk Road” runs at the University of Pennsylvania through March 15. For more information about WildChina journeys to Xinjiang, click here or contact us directly.

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January 26th, 2011

Want to experience China differently? Go west!

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

As noted earlier, China is already the world’s number-three destination for international travel. Many travelers nowadays have already made one or two trips to China, but more often than not, they’re visiting the coast, possibly venturing inward to check out the Terracotta Army in Xi’an.

But China is more than just a handful of sites in the country’s east. In fact, western China has just as much – if not more – to offer travelers who are looking for unforgettable experiences.

If you’re planning a China trip this year, we encourage you to look beyond the traditional travel destinations to China’s wild west. Here are some of our picks for places to visit in China’s west in 2011:

Yunnan: Land of diversity

Western China - Yunnan Province

Few places in the world pack as much variety into one area as the province of Yunnan, which offers a mind-bog

gling variety of landscapes ranging from jungle lowlands in the south to Tibetan highlands in the northwest.

Yunnan’s ubiquitous mountains have historically isolated groups of people from one another, which is one of the main reasons that the province has China’s highest number of ethnic groups. With 26 ethnic groups including Han, Tibetan, Dai, Bai, Yi, Hani, Hui, Mongol, Naxi, Lisu, Yao, Lahu and countless subgroups, Yunnan is a rainbow of different ethnic traditions, clothing and cuisine.

The mountain towns of Dali, Lijiang and Shangri-la are home to unique cultures whose lives are still steeped in ancient traditions. Down south in Xishuangbanna, tropical weather, tea plantations, spicy food and the lazy Mekong River await.

Guizhou: Still undiscovered

Western China - Guizhou Province

Guizhou Province may not attract as many

visitors as its neighbors Sichuan, Yunnan and Guangxi, but it certainly deserves consideration when making plans to travel to western China. Beautiful mountain scenery and a distinctive spicy and sour cuisine are some of th

e highlights of a trip to Guizhou. But as in many other parts of China, the big draw for us is the people.

The Miao, Gejia, Dong and Yao villages in Guizhou’s mountains are home to some of Asia’s most unique cultures and friendliest, most welcoming communities. Many of our clients rank our Guizhou village immersions among their top China travel experiences.

Sichuan: More than pandas

Western China - Sichuan Province

Sichuan is one of China’s most distinctive provinces, known for its spicy food, stunning mountain scenery, beautiful women and China’s ‘national treasure’ – the giant panda.

Sichuan’s capital Chengdu is a modern metropolis set on the west end of the fertile Sichuan Basin, a region that kingdoms battled for in ancient times. Chengdu is considered the capital of Sichuan cuisine, one of the most famous and flavorful of China’s culinary traditions.

The historical importance of Buddhism to Sichuan is evident in Chengdu at the Wenshu Monastery, located in the city’s center. Not far from Chengdu lie the Buddhist holy mountain of Emei Shan and the world’s largest seated Buddha at Leshan.

Sichuan has fantastic natural beauty as well, with the mountain forests and fantastic aquamarine lakes of Jiuzhaigou in the north and gorgeous mountain scenery at Minya Gongga in the province’s west.

Xinjiang: Silk Road echoes

Western China - Xinjiang Province

Xinjiang is simply massive. It comprises roughly one-sixth of China’s total territory and boasts some of the country’s most stunning mountains and deserts.

At the crossroads of Asia, Xinjiang has been home to many different ethnic groups, from the caucasoid peoples whose mummies date back to more than 3,800 years ago to the Turkic Uighurs who moved into the region from present-day Mongolia 1,100 years ago to today’s growing Han population.

Islam is the dominant religion in Xinjiang, where extremism is rare and moderation is the norm. Due to its location on the old Silk Road, Xinjiang has also been influenced by Buddhism.

For visitors to Xinjiang, the local cuisine is often one of most pleasant surprises. Featuring rich stews, tasty breads, a large variety of noodles from flat and wide to easily spoonable diced noodles and even salads, Xinjiang cuisine is a delicious world away from typical Chinese fare.

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November 5th, 2010

Portrait of an LBX: the Post-Journey Interview

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

It’s been almost a year since we first spoke with Portrait of an LBX bikers and writers Andy Keller and Evan Villarrubia. We caught up with them this week to talk about their reflections on their trip, which ended on September 13, 2010.


LBX's spectacular campsite in Qinghai province, August 2010

WildChina Travel (WCT) : Now that you’ve finished with the trip, how can you define laobaixing? How has your understanding of the term, and the people that define it, expanded, been flipped on its head, morphed, etc.?

Andy Keller (AK): I think laobaixing boils down to a political term, as politics controls so much in China, although it has an economic aspect as well, since politics is so tied to money in China (as with anywhere else). China’s laobaixing make up the vast majority of Chinese people. It’s not just a synonym for “peasant” or “farmer” because it’s not just the people out in the countryside who are laobaixing. Basically, they are the people who have less power in the face of the government.

Evan Villarrubia (EV): All the charm of China has come from individual people, the ones “doing their own thing” in accordance with traditions and their own values — the laobaixing. “New China” has come from outside of the laobaixing.

WCT: Do you still believe that the term laobaixing can define and encompass the people / socioeconomic group that you encountered and interacted with on your trip? Why or why not?

AK: Absolutely. With very few exceptions when we met relatives of friends working in the government or party or big business people, the people we interacted with on the trip were all laobaixing. The number of people without government connections in China is so large that really there’s no way the group of people we interacted with could not almost all be laobaixing.

WCT: What was your greatest surprise on the trip? Your biggest regret?

EV: For me, the biggest surprise was the Tibetan plateau. I had never seen skies like that before, and we never expected how different the people were from anything else we’d encountered. The biggest regret of the trip was not making it to either Hubei or Hunan, two quintessentially Chinese places right in the middle of the country, which our big loop didn’t permit time to visit. This will have to be rectified later.

AK: The biggest surprise for me was discovering just how development and modernity almost always trumped concern for culture, the environment, traditional society, etc. We went into the trip with the impression that with so much good stuff disappearing everyday, people would have to be up in arms about it once we sat down and had honest conversations. By and large though, the people we met were as single-mindedly focused on “development” as the government and were happy to leave tradition, culture and even the natural environment behind for the sake of their concept of modernity.

Despite what you see in the media, most laobaixing are not dowsing themselves in gasoline and lighting themselves on fire on the roofs of their homes as the demolition cranes move in. Most are content to take compensation and move out of their homes, away from the fields, away from their communities and into apartment complexes outside of the city, where the communities and social networks that made traditional China so unique no longer exist.

My biggest regret was definitely the places we didn’t get to see – Hubei, Hunan, Xinjiang, Tibet and pretty much all of Dongbei.

WCT: Which area(s) of China ended up being your favorite? Why?

EV: Yunnan, for natural beauty, colors, extreme cultural variations, food, and tea. You can spend days cruising chilly mountaintop villages above endless rice terraces with the Yi and Hani, and the next day drop into the Dai valleys full of pineapples, coconuts, and wooden stilt homes. As long as you stay off the tourist trail, there’s no end to the surprises.

AK: Ditto.

WCT: What is one piece of advice you would give to travelers who want to experience the ‘real’ side of China?

EV: Stick to the mountains, small roads, and small villages where real culture, real beauty and real people still exist.


Photo credit: Portrait of an LBX

Read more of Andy and Evan’s reflections and trip accounts at Portrait of an LBX.

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August 30th, 2010

Autumn destinations: Xinjiang

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

If you’ve been thinking about an autumn getaway in China, now is the time to make plans for an unforgettable trip. Not too hot and not too cold, fall provides ideal weather conditions to see almost every part of the country. We’ve compiled a shortlist of our favorite fall spots in which to enjoy the lesser-known travel gems that China has to offer.


Our first pick is Xinjiang Autonomous Region, a perennial favorite known for its diverse landscapes and rich Uighur culture, which is closer to Turkic culture than Han Chinese culture. Xinjiang is home to a diverse array of lakes, mountains and deserts offering incredible sights, sounds, and a comfortable climate to boot.

No trip to Xinjiang is complete without sampling the region’s remarkable cuisine, which features rich stews, tasty breads and a mind-boggling variety of noodles from flat and wide to easily spoonable diced noodles if you’re still working on your chopstick skills.

Mutton is the meat of choice in Xinjiang, where it is generally barbecued or stewed. ‘Big plate chicken’ is one dish not to be missed – it is a mountain of tender chunks of chicken with potatoes, peppers and garlic cloves in a fragrant curry-like sauce, all served on – you guessed it – a very large plate. There are also plenty of delicious vegetarian options not found in Chinese cuisine – our favorite is the spicy Tiger Salad, which is typically made with fresh slices of tomato, bell pepper, purple onion and cucumber, all in a spicy vinegar sauce with sprigs of coriander. Wash it all down with the non-caffeinated tea drunk by the Uighurs, a local beer or a delicious glass of fresh cherry or pomegranate juice.

Most people living in Xinjiang follow a very moderate strain of Islam and are very open to visitors from afar. Their physical appearance is also quite different from what you might be expecting – don’t be surprised to meet locals with blonde hair and blue eyes. At the crossroads of Asia and Europe, Xinjiang never fails to provide a bit of the unexpected.

In early autumn, Xinjiang’s sky is deep blue and the cooler breezes blow the scorching summer away. Kashgar itself has a desert climate with long periods of sunshine and little rainfall. It also has sunshine much later into the day than the rest of China, a result of the entire country running on Beijing time. Although you haven’t left the country, a trip to Xinjiang can often make the rest of the country feel very far away.


Very hot in the summer and bone-chilling cold in the winter, Xinjiang is at its most pleasant in the autumn. During the fall months, we suggest that you venture to the Taklamakan Desert for an overnight outdoor adventure. Don’t forget Xinjiang’s current must-visit destination – Kashgar’s historic old town, which was once a vibrant outpost on the Silk Road. Sadly, 85 percent of the old town is slated for demolition, so if you’ve ever considered visiting this storied Central Asian trading town, this may be your last chance.


While soaking in the rhythmic and passion-filled music of the Uighurs, enjoy the immense vastness of the Taklamakan at dusk and watch the clear sky gradually fill with stars. For the complete experience, ride a camel there and back. In Kashgar’s old town, be sure to visit Id Kah Mosque, Abakh Khoja Mausoleum and the city’s old handicrafts street, as well as the Sunday livestock market and bazaar.


Stay tuned for our next featured fall favorite for more ideas on autumn trips.
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July 21st, 2010

Travel Tips for Backpacking in China’s Wild West

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

Nang got you down? Eat nuts and dried fruit.

I recently returned to WildChina’s Beijing office after spending 11 days in Gansu province, and a friend similarly returned via train to the capital city yesterday after a month in Xinjiang. Back in the comforts of Beijing, we compared notes about how to successfully, comfortably, and cleanly traverse China’s Western provinces. Here are our best tips, combined:

1) Bring dried fruit and nuts for fulfilling and nutritious snacks/meal supplements: My friend loved Xinjiang’s famous nang bread and pulled noodles, but after five days of eating them for almost every meal, she felt neither inspired nor healthy from the carb-heavy Uyghur cuisine. To vary her diet for taste and health, she brought bags of dried fruit and nuts from Beijing, where she found cheap and delicious varieties at Sanyuanli Market (right by the WildChina office!). This way, she was able to get enough protein and fiber on the road when she didn’t have many dining options.

2) Don a sturdy pair of jeans: This may seem obvious, but I could not have a) horse trekked, b) camped warmly, c) visited historic sites in the rain, or d) gone to dinner when the weather was cooler without my sole pair of blues. I wore them almost every day, and they served me very well. As the summer in the West is generally a bit cooler than in the East, jeans are a necessity for both outdoor and indoor activities.

3) Be flexible with your time: Life in China’s West is much more laidback than that in the East – it’s less-developed, and so people feel less of a rush at work and at play. Make your schedule so that it accommodates the easygoing attitude. Your body will thank you, too – in places of higher elevation (such as Gansu’s grasslands), you’ll naturally feel more tired and less inclined to have a super-packed day.

4) Learn to wash your hair in the sink: Less infrastructure and a lower standard of living in the West means fewer washing facilities. Work with what you have to get clean (i.e. sinks, streams, bottled water, hoses, etc.). The cooler, drier climate means that you’ll probably sweat less, so showering should hopefully not be as crucial. In any case, bring a bandana and moisture-wicking clothing.

5) Bring toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and a stain remover stick: You’ll be set for any surprising situation (basic bathrooms [or none at all], dirty busses, oil from dinner on your only shirt) with these.


Have more questionsSend us a tweet.

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July 7th, 2009

Updated July 8th: Violent Demonstrations in Xinjiang

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

A demonstration in Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, turned violent on Sunday, July 5, 2009, with demonstrators attacking passers-by and setting vehicles on fire. Chinese media reports that at least 150 people were killed and over 1,000 injured. According to China Daily, internet access in most of Urumqi has been disabled and some shops and restaurants remain closed. Xinjiang authorities declared a traffic curfew in the regional capital.

As of today, the Chinese Government has not issued travel warnings. At the moment, WildChina does not currently have trips in Xinjiang.  For trips departing in August, we will advise clients on July 15th regarding the suitability of continuing their trips.

WildChina takes the health and safety of its clients very seriously and will continue to carefully monitor media reports for news regarding the riots in Xinjiang.


Jia Li-ming


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June 4th, 2009

Goodbye Kashgar Old Town

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

As we’ve all heard , Kashgar’s Old Town, a place of 2100 years’ history, is being destroyed. I’m sad to say that I witnessed this on a recent trip I lead through Xinjiang, probably one of the last groups to see the Old Town with our own eyes.

Upon arrival in Kashgar, our local guide told me that only the day before, in the middle of the night, the oldest part of the city was torn down. Here is what it looks like now:



On my last trip to Kashgar only six months ago, this was a street full of hat shops. This time, the old fellow’s shop  is probably already under the dust. (Picture taken on Oct 20th 2008)


Read the rest of this entry »

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