Author’s Note: Although we hope to give you a good overview of backpacking in Turpan, Xinjiang in the article below, we also recommend the Turpan Travel Guide for more in-depth coverage of what to do and where to stay here.
Very few cities in China offer the Silk Road charm and small-town feel like Turpan, an oasis city in the deserts of the Xinjiang region. It may be small but there’s plenty to experience and as a backpacker it’s entirely possible to do so on a shoestring budget. Here’s how.
Things to Do in Turpan
There are a number of things you can see around Turpan but unless you have the time (and budget) to rent a car to travel further distances, it’s enough to stay within the city limits. Entrance fees to many of these places aren’t always cheap but, as you’ll read below, there are ways around this.
Best of all, because Turpan is so small, by renting a bike at John’s Café you can eliminate the transportation expense!
Emin Minaret (苏公塔): The Emin Minaret is by far one of the most beautiful structures in Turpan, a centuries-old mosque with an iconic minaret towering over it. It’s fun to photograph but frankly there’s not much to see inside. The entrance fee of 40 yuan isn’t bad but I was perfectly content climbing some of the nearby hills to capture the photos I wanted.
JiaoHe Ancient City Ruins (交河故城): Once a capital of the region, Jiaohe is fascinating not only for its history but also because it was dug out of the dirt, not built up. The entrance fee of 40 yuan is worth the experience in my opinion, but I also enjoyed climbing the nearby hills just to get a birds-eye-view perspective of the ancient city.
Grape Valley (葡萄沟): Turpan’s most famous exports are its raisins and grapes. If you’ll be traveling through the region anytime between July and September you’ll have the joy of experiencing the city at its peak, when grapes are literally falling on the sidewalks! The Grape Valley, located to the north of the city, offers beautiful walkways and wine tastings but comes with a pricetag of a 60 RMB entrance fee. If that’s too high for you, ride your bike to the east of the city (near the Emin Minaret) and walk through some of the grape orchards there for free!
Turpan Museum <吐鲁番博物馆): In the center of the city stands a beautiful new building that was opened in 2009, the Turpan Museum. Unlike many of China’s sorry-excuses-for-a-museum, this one is actually well worth a couple hours of your time. Witness many of the mummies unearthed in the nearby Astana tombs and be amazed by some of the pottery and clothing that was once common on the ancient Silk Road. Best of all – it’s free!
Karez | Ancient Aquaducts (坎儿井): To finish off, Turpan is home to one of the most amazing engineering accomplishments of the ancient Uyghur people – the karez. You can think of it as an underground aquaduct, a means by which the locals could transport snowmelt down to their crops in the Turpan desert. It’s almost impossible to get around paying the 40 RMB entrance fee here but karez tourist parks are a nice, quiet getaway in the city.
Transportation in Turpan
Like everywhere else in China, buses in Turpan cost a mere 1 RMB per ride and can take you pretty much anywhere you need to go within the city. Taxis drop their flag at 5 RMB but really the city isn’t that big that you’ll need a taxi that often.
While you’ll see mopeds shooting around everywhere and ridden by pretty much everyone, I have found no possible way to rent one to use despite how fun that would be.
If possible, walking and biking are an excellent way to experience the city. It may not be practical in the heat of the day where Turpan can reach temperatures of 110°F (43°C), but in the cool of the evening it’s a grand adventure. It is possible to rent bikes at John’s Café located in the back of the Turpan Hotel.
Where to Stay in Turpan
As of early last year, Turpan opened its first hostel. Although it’s location is not ideal (it’s not near anything of interest), it does offer cheap dorm-style beds with Wi-fi, albeit very slow.
For just a little bit extra, you can upgrade to the JiaoTong Hotel, my personal budget preference. It’s located just across the street from the local bazaar and offers much more comfort at a very reasonable price.
Are you planning a trip to Turpan this coming year?