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Urumqi (乌鲁木齐, ئۈرۈمچی), also written as Ürümqi, is the largest city and capital of the Xinjiang Autonomous Region. For centuries Urumqi has been a stopping point along the Silk Road. Until recently Urumqi was a small trading post in the desert nestled next to the nearby mountains. In the last 20 years the city has exploded as a boom town with 5-star hotels springing up everywhere. This is mainly due to the growth of the oil and mining industry in the deserts and mountains of Xinjiang.
Another factor is Urumqi has become a major transport hub between Northeast and Central Asia, including rail lines and pipelines all the way to Almaty in Kazakhstan. The city is worth a day or two as there are plenty of sights to see. If you are looking for the Indiana Jones adventure this is not the city for you, most of the old town has disappeared and what little remains is becoming a victim to development.
China has three "Golden Week" holidays per year. People get a mandatory two or three days off work for each holiday, and workers' companies can grant them the rest of the week off, making each holiday a total of 7 days. As you can imagine, having almost 1.4 billion people with the same days off can make travelling at these times arduous to say the least.
Travelling during the Spring Festival/Chinese New Year is incredibly difficult. Chinese New Year is China's Christmas, so the millions of migrant workers and students flood back to their home towns. Everybody else takes the opportunity to spend their hong bao (gifts of money traditionally given at CNY) and go travelling. Most of the time, since you are only allowed to purchase train tickets 6 days in advance and must be present in the city of origin, sometimes only standing room tickets are available. Be aware! The Spring Festival is undoubtedly the busiest time for the Chinese transportation system. Flying will avoid the crowded trains, but book early and expect to pay higher prices. All the main tourist attractions will be crawling with tourists (worse than usual), so unless you like crowds, it's best to avoid it altogether.
Chinese New Year is based on the lunar calendar, so the date changes each year. The Chinese New Year/Spring Festival holiday is 7 days long and usually starts on New Year's Eve.
The two other national holidays are October 1st, National Day, celebrating the founding of the People's Republic of China and May 1st, which is International Labor Day. Almost all Chinese get the two holidays off and many take the opportunity to travel. If you want to avoid the crowds, fly, but it should get a lot less busy towards the end of the week.
Urumqi has a semi-arid continental climate with cold winters and hot summers. Daytime temperatures range from around 30 °C in July and August to -7 °C in January, while night during these times are around 18 °C and -17 °C respectively. Temperatures of +40 °C and -40 °C have been recorded! With less than 300 mm of precipitation a year and around 7 hours of sunshine a day, you are likely to have good weather in Urumqi, although it's not advised to visit between November and March because of the extreme cold. The heat in summer is more bearable.
|Avg Max||-8.4 °C||-6.2 °C||3.7 °C||16.7 °C||24.3 °C||28.8 °C||31.2 °C||30 °C||23.7 °C||13.6 °C||2 °C||-6.1 °C|
|Avg Min||-17.9 °C||-15.9 °C||-4.9 °C||5.2 °C||12 °C||16.8 °C||19.1 °C||17.7 °C||11.8 °C||3.4 °C||-6 °C||-14.4 °C|
|Rainfall||8 mm||8 mm||18 mm||29 mm||28 mm||36 mm||20 mm||16 mm||24 mm||22 mm||17 mm||10 mm|
Ürümqi Diwopu International Airport (URC) is located about 30 minutes outside of town. China Southern Airlines and Hainan Airlines are the main carriers in this airport. The airport serves all major Chinese cities and plus many flights to nearby countries. Some of the main destinations include Ulan Bator, Almaty, Astana, Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Baku, Kabul, Chengdu, Kashgar, Xi'an, Kunming, Nanjing, Chongqing, Bishkek, Lanzhou, Islamabad, Tbilisi, Tehran, Nanning, Novosibirsk, Moscow, Osh, Qingdao, Hangzhou, Dalian, Shenzhen, Wuhan, Xiamen, Istanbul, Seoul, Yekaterinburg, Fuzhou, Guangzhou and Dushanbe.
There is some fast food on the second floor of the airport, so if your hungry you can get a cheap snack. Be careful of the taxi drivers hanging out at the airport because they have been known to scam people by rigging their meters. A taxi ride to the city center so should only cost about 30 to 45 RMB.
There are two trains a week connecting Almaty in Kazakhstan with Urumqi in China. On Mondays and Saturdays, trains leave Almaty at 10:40pm, arriving in Ürümqi on Wednesdays and Mondays at 7:00am. From Ürümqi, trains depart just before midnight at Mondays and Saturdays, arriving in Almaty on Wednesdays and Mondays around 10:30am.
Taxis are widely available throughout the city. The starting fee is RMB 6.00 for the first 3 kilometres, and RMB 1.3 for every kilometre thereafter.
Public buses are reliable for getting around to most places within the city, however, there isn't any English announcements. A light rail system is currently under construction. The test runs for lines 1 and 3 had been conducted with success in August 2011, and should be in full operation by the end of the year.
Like many of China's northern cities, downtown Urumqi is well connected by a network of underground passages for pedestrians, which comes to be very useful in the winter months.
One of the odd parts of Urumqi is that very few people ride bikes. This is due to the extreme winters.
Urumqi restaurants come to life after 8:00pm. Travellers usually go to the Wuyi Night Market and nible on food that's sold at the many food stands selling everything ranging from Kebabs to meat shaved from boiled heads of sheep. Regular fare popular among westerns are:
Many local Muslim owned restaurants do not serve beer or other alcoholic drinks in Xinjiang including Urumqi. However, many hostels do have a bar attached, and you could get a beer for as little as RMB 3-5. There is a bar street located on Gongyuan Bei Jie (公园北街), if you are interested in checking out the local night life scene outside of your hotel or hostel.
|White Birch International Hostel||No. 186 Nan Hu Road||HOSTEL||-|
|Xinjiang Youth Hostel International||No.186 NanHu Road (Beside Nanhu Square)||Hostel||-|
|Central Hotel (Yi Tian Yang)||177 Ming zhu Road||Hotel||-|
|Maitian International Hostel||No.726 Youhao South Road Red Hill||HOSTEL||76|
Wangba (联网) means internet bar in Chinese. Almost every town will have an internet bar or gaming center. The best way to spot an internet bar is to look for the 网(ba) character, which means net, and large digitized images of computer game characters. Often, there will be a sign saying Green Power in English at the entrance. Most gaming centers cost about RMB3 an hour. You prepay at the main desk and are then given a plastic card or a piece of paper. Once you are done you return the card or piece of paper and get reimbursed for the money you didn't spend. Be prepared for a place that might be dingy, basic and messy. Internet bars in China tend to get crowded starting in the late afternoon to the late evenings.
Some hotels provide access from the rooms that may or may not be free; others may provide a wireless service or a few desktops in the lounge area.
Also, quite a few cafes provide free wireless Internet service. Some cafes, even provide a machine for customer use.
See also: International Telephone Calls
The country calling code to China is 86. To make an international call from China, the code is 00.
When making international phone calls it is best to buy an IP card. They typically have a value of ¥100 but sometimes can be had for as little as ¥25. The cards have printed Chinese instructions, but after dialing the number listed on the card English-spoken instructions are available. As a general indication of price, a call from China to Europe lasts around 22 minutes with a ¥100 card. Calls to the U.S. and Canada are advertised to be another 20% cheaper. There is no warning before the card runs out of minutes.
If you already have a GSM 900/1800 cellphone, you can roam onto Chinese networks, but calls will be very expensive (¥12-35/minute is typical). If you're staying for more than a few days, it will usually be cheaper to buy a prepaid Chinese SIM card; this gives you a Chinese phone number with a certain amount of money preloaded. Chinese tend to avoid phone numbers with the bad-luck digit '4', and vendors will often be happy to offload these "unsellable" SIM-cards to foreigners at a discount. If you need a phone as well, prices start around ¥100/200 used/new. Chinese phones, unlike those sold in many Western countries, are never "locked" and will work with any SIM card you put in them. China's two big operators are China Mobile and China Unicom. Most SIMs sold by the two work nationwide, with Unicom allowing Hong Kong/Macau/Taiwan usage as well. There is usually a surcharge of about ¥1/min when roaming outside the province you bought the SIM, and there are some cards that work only in a single province, so check when buying.
China Post (中国邮政) is the official postal service of the People's Republic of China, operated by the State Postal Bureau of the People's Republic of China (website in Chinese only), and has more details about price to send letters, postcards and parcels, both domestically as well as internationally. The Chinese postal service is very good. Remember that in more remote places usually only one post office in a city can handle sending international boxes or letters. Also many times it might be worth having the name of the country you are trying to send to in Chinese characters, because small town people might not know what Estonia is in English. Post offices have a striking green logo and can easily be found everywhere in the cities. They are mostly open every day (including weekends!) from 8:00am to 6:00pm, though small offices might have shorter opening times, while the bigger ones in central and touristic areas are sometimes open during evenings as well.
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