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Xiahe (夏河) is a very nice Tibetan town in southern Gansu. The town is mainly on the northern side of the beautiful Daxia River valley. The main attraction of the town is Labrang Monastery, which is one of the main academic monasteries outside of Lhasa. Although a small city, countless numbers of pilgrims come every year to do the kora, which is 3 kilometres long and has over 1,174 prayer wheels, around Labrang Monastery. This is a great town to visit if you do not have the time or money to make it deeper into Tibet.
Labrang Monastery was a scholastic monastery built in 1709 and at its height had over 4,000 monks. Due to the events of the 20th century the numbers have dwindled to about 1,200 monks. The monastery is home to several lamas and to 6 colleges, which ranges from the college of Esoteric Buddhism to Medicine and astrology. There is even a college on Law. Labrang Monastery is one of the few monasteries in the world where a monk can gain a Geshe Degree, which is the highest degree a Buddhist monk can earn. There is also a small nunnery attached to the monastery.
The only way to visit the interior of the schools is on a tour lead by a monk in English every day at 10:00am and 3:00pm. Other than that, the monastery is completely open and free to wonder around. Many monks would be glad to sit and chat with you, so go and make a new friend. The monastery dominates the center portion of the town and is impossible to miss.
Tarzang Lake is a nice lake located about 25 kilometres from town. This lake makes for a nice day trip and there are some nice hikes up the valley. Remember that when you go hiking away from the lake there might be nomads herding yaks or other animals. The easiest way to get there is to hire a taxi for the day and have the driver wait for you. Another option is to cycle but there is a very step incline on the access road to the lake.
Hiking is another option in the area. Just follow one of the canyons up around the town and they will get empty quite fast. Just remember to bring enough water with you and rocks to throw at feral dogs. People and herders do live up in the canyons so you might get invited into some ones home for a glass of yak butter tea and tsampa.
On the third day of the Tibetan new year (Losar) the Monlam Festival starts and on the 13th day of the first month of the Tibetan calendar the great thangka is shown. This thangka is 30 metres by 20 metres and is displayed on a hill over looking the monastery. Celebrations continue with Cham dancers and many other activities for three more days.
The second month of the Tibetan calendar also brings many festivals celebrating the coming of spring, which can be quite interesting.
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.
Gannan Xiahe Airport is opened in August 2013 in Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Gansu Province, China. It is located in Xiahe County, 72 kilometres from the county seat and 56 kilometres from Hezuo, the capital of Gannan Prefecture.
There is no train station in Xiahe as yet. The closes railway station is in Lanzhou
Xiahe Bus Station is about 1.5 kilometres away from the entrance to the monastery and the main concentration of guesthouses. Turn right when you walk out bus stations front door.
From Lanzhou there are three morning buses and two afternoon buses (6:30am, 7:30am, 8:30 am and 2:00pm, 3:00pm) leave from Lanzhou Nanzhan (Lanzhou South Bus Terminal). The trip takes 3 and a half hours. From Linxia there are half hourly buses during the day, arriving in Xiahe about 2 hours later. From Langmusi there is one bus a day leaving at 2:00pm, taking 4 hours. There is sometimes one in the morning too. From Tongren, there is one bus per day leaving at 8:00am taking 3 hours along a scenic road.
There are also half hourly buses to Hezuo and one bus a day to Xining.
The bus station is a little far on the east side of town and is worth the 2 RMB taxi ride.
The town runs along the river and is pretty easy to walk to everywhere near the Labrang Monastery.
Being a pretty small town the best option for drinking is in the restaurants.
|Overseas Tibetan Hotel||Renmin Xi Jie, 77 Hao||Hotel||80|
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.
There are a few small banks on the main street. None of them change cash money and none of them will cash travelers checks. International ATM service is available at the ICBC Bank, near the traffic light (Xiahe only has one traffic light)
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