Urumqi

This is a collection of recommendations (and un-recommendations) to places I’ve visited around the city.  It is by no means complete, but hopefully it will be at least a little better than Lonely Planet. Please note that the content below was created while I lived in Urumqi 2012-2013.  Thus, some entries may be out of date.

New! Download a handy PDF of the guide here: Urumqi Guide

Transportation

Transportation in Urumqi is cheap and …fairly… effective.  Buses are all 1 RMB (1.5 RMB after 10:30), as is the BRT. You must have spare change when taking the bus. Taxis start at 10 RMB, and a taxi ride in the city should never run over 25 RMB, unless you are coming from the airport (at night, the most that should run you is 45/50).  Always make sure the taxi driver puts the meter on (da biao), and tell him to do so if he doesn’t at first.  Have the address or stop you are going to written down in Chinese. I have yet to encounter an English-speaking taxi driver, and most bus drivers will take the time to tell you (by means of gesturing) where to get off/whether or not their bus goes to that stop. BEWARE OF ROUTE CHANGES (These happen all the time due to road construction).

Visas

You can get your Chinese visa extended or changed into a residence permit (provided you have all the requisit paperwork) at the PSB or Gong An Ju (公安局).  Keep in mind that you may have to wait up to two weeks, and lines at the PSB can be so long that sometimes people have to come back and wait another day before their number is called (hint: get there early).  The PSB opens at 10 am, is closed for lunch about 2-3:30, and is open again until about 6pm.

Address: 市公安局 (南湖东路)  The PSB is on Nan Hu East Road, just north of the city government and Nanhu Park.

Bus: Take the BRT (3) to Dian xin gong si 电信公司, or a bus to 电信公司 or shi zheng fu 市政府. The rather-useless BRT 5 also stops there at 南湖冻

Urumqi also has consulates for Kyrghyzstan and Kazakhstan.  You can [probably] get visas for Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in either of those two countries.  The Kazakhstan office is at 216 Kunming Rd (216号昆明路; the internets lie and say tht it is No. 31 Kunming Road, but this is not true) and the Kyrghystan office is at 58 Hetan Rd N (58号和田北路; I have yet to confirm this).For both countries, requirements and costs vary depending on your nationality, but you will certainly need one (or more) passport-sized (2″) photo and a copy of your passport.  As of writing (12/29/2012), Americans and EU citizens do not need visas for Kyrghyzstan.
For more info on the Kazakh visa process see my related post:

Sites

  • Er Dao Qiao 二道桥 Er Dao Qiao (and the whole southern end of Jie Fang Lu (解放路) is home to the Uyghur section of town.  Go there for different dishes, underground carpet markets, street snacks, and people-watching.  You’ll see girls who look like they’ve stumbled out of Urban Outfitters and women covered head-to-toe.
  • Hong Shan 红山公园 Located in the center of town, Hongshan is a quiet park (with a ferris wheel and other shaky amusement park rides) famous for a prehistoric footprint found imprinted on the hill.  Entrance is free, and on sunny days the namesake mountain offers a good view of the city.

Eating

Uyghur Food:
Shaanxi Hanza/陕西巷 Just north of ErDaoQiao, located off LongQuanJie (龙泉街) this narrow alley offers lots of traditional Uyghur streetfood, from diced mutton intestines to kebabs to stuffed buns to watermelon sold by the slice to (my personal favorite) chickpeas steamed in curry and covered in spices. Nothing should cost over ten kuai.

ErDaoQiao Right next to the market/near the BRT stop there is a nightly market that starts around seven or eight. Offerings are about the same as in ShanxiHanza.

Konsul Jie/Area East of the Line 3 Yan’an 延安路 Lu BRT Stop:There are plenty of great little Uyghur restaurants on this street, with food from all over Xinjiang. The Hotan kebabs prepared on date tree twigs (third kebab place on your right) are fantastic, especially when paired with the Gosh (meat) Naan, fresh yogurt, and Kashgar mung bean jelly noodles from across the street. Kebabs are usually 5-6 kuai each, Gosh Naan is 7, yogurt is 3 for a small, and noodles are 5. Go to the Yan’an BRT stop (or just walk south from ErDaoQiao and turn right into the street located between the Arman and the Mosque. Basically, the entire area around ErDaoQiao and Ya’an Lu is full of restaurants…

Eden Cafe Just down TuanjieLu 团结路 from ErDaoQiao (SE, on the right-hand side). Eden Cafe isn’t cheap (20+ kuai for drinks 30+ kuai for meals), but the atmosphere and service are good, and it’s the perfect place to lounge away the afternoon, have a long chat, or take someone out for their birthday. They also have (drumroll) decent coffee. And arabic-style pillowed lounge rooms.

Chinese Food
18 Perfect is an Urumqi chain serving decent food at not-too-expensive prices in decently nice locations around the city (Nanhu, Hongshan and a few others). Their English menu translations are even better than the food.

WenHuaXiang 文化巷 If you are downtown and want decent, cheap, fast food, then head to WenHuaXiang off Zhongshan Rd 中山路. The little alley, located just east of the computer city, has dozens of streetfood stalls and little restaurants on the side streets offering both Chinese and Uyghur food. The first side alley to your left (heading down/south the alley) ends in a tiny Korean place that is *amazing*. And not expensive.

Shopping

  • Er Dao Qiao 二道桥 Er Dao Qiao is the heart of Urumqi’s Uighur district.  The entire neighborhood stretches south from Xinjiang University north to Nanmen.  Spending an afternoon or evening wandering side streets in the area is highly recommended if you are interested in seeing other sides of China and Chinese identity.  Between seven and ten some of the smaller streets are filled with food stalls selling local Uighur snacks and dinner. The neighborhood is a good place to buy porcelain, jade, carpets, dried fruit and nuts, and anything made in Xinjiang. There are also a lot of small shops and supermarkets filled with Turkish, Russian and Middle Eastern imports in the area. The indoor Erdaoqiao market is…ok.
  • The Bazaar 国际大巴扎The International Bazaar is highly overrated and extremely commercial.  Skip the bazaar and head across the street to Er Dao Qiao or wander around the neighborhood instead.
  • Zhongshan Rd 中山路 Zhongshan Rd (and the adjacent Jiefang Rd) is the main shopping drag in Urumqi,  There are Chinese brands along with Nike, Adidas, and several outfitting shops.  Urumqi’s main computer/electronics city is just south of the T intersection of Hong Qiao Rd and Zhongshan Rd.  A reliable camera repair shop is located on the second floor of the electronic city, accessed by the outdoor escalator furthest to the left.
  • Xiao Xi Men (Little West Gate) 小西门 Just down the road from Hongshan (to the north) and Zhongshan (to the east) is Xiaoximen, home to more Chinese brand clothing stores and several huge wholesale clothing malls.  In the wholesale malls expect low prices and potentially questionable quality.  Watch out for pickpockets.
  • Nanmen (South Gate) 南门 Just south of Zhongshan Rd lies Nanmen (the south gate).  Underneath the giant green sqare is a warren of clothing and cosmetic shops (great if you want knock-off soccer gear). Xinjiang’s largest Xinhua bookstore is located on the south side of the traffic square.  Their selection of English-language books is slim, but they do have a decent selection of Uighur textbooks from several different universities.
  • You Hao Plaza 友好商场  Youhao Shopping Plaza (Youhao Rd and Karamay Rd) is the main location for luxury shopping (think Coach, Chanel and LV) in Urumqi,  It also has several underground supermarkets – Love Family (爱家) across from the entrance to the Xinjiang Museum and Youhao supermarket (more expensive, but with a huge selection of western imports) entered through the underpass.
  • Parkson Right next to Hongshan stop, the Parkson Mall specializes in mostly Chinese brands, particularly clothing, shoes and accessories.  They also have some over-priced western clothing nd cosmetic brands. The basement has a decently-sized supermarket with some hard-to-find items (like foreign female sanitary items)
  • Nanhu 南湖 Nanhu (south of Nanhu Park and the city government, not far from Hualian) has a giant Carrefour nestled into an odd shopping mall that offers mostly toddler toys.  The entire third floor consists of an indoor children’s amusement park.
  • Hualian: Anything can be found at Hualian, from furniture to carpets to cups to Korean pickles.  The giant complex is a great place to find things for your apartment or for everyday use, though it’s probably not of much interest to tourists.
  • Shang Mao Cheng 商贸城 Located just east of the train station (take BRT line 1 to 长江路,Chang Jiang Lu), the Shang mao cheng is more of a district than a distinct place for shopping.  There are a dozen buildings and perhaps thousands of individual retailers selling everything from dates to down jackets, most at wholesale prices. Watch out for pickpockets.

Sleeping

White Birches Youth Hostel
Near the PSB and a Carrefoure. I don’t know why else anyone would stay here. 50 kuai/night for beds

Maitian Youth Hostel (麦田)
Located just east of the Parkson near the Hongshan BRT Line 1 stop Maitian isn’t as wonderful as other hostels in China, but it certainly beats White Birches. For starters, it has an actually nice lounge area (with kittens!) and decently friendly desk people. And it’s far more centrally located. You can actually walk some places, and everything you can’t walk to is 20 minutes closer than it would be if you stayed at White Birches. Same price as above.

 

Urumqi Nightlife

Is limited, to say the least. But there are options if you look for them (and sometimes you may have more fun just streetsampling the options and walking around town, with stops for snacks)

  • Fubar 福吧 (People’s Park N Rd) is about as exciting as a Florida retirement community at noon.  Which is to say, not very.  Nothing is wrong with the place itself (except that the bathrooms are grungy, and the pool table looks like it was dragged out of Uncle Fred’s garage), or the drink selections (except that they might be lacking basics like coffee and ice cubes, and half their beer menu is missing from the fridge).  It’s just that the atmosphere is dead.  At 9 pm on a Friday night there were maybe five tables of people quietly chatting over dishes and drinks.  I’d rather sit in my living room. By twelve the place is livlier, though there still isn’t much to boast of.  Prices are on the slightly higher end of midrange, and do not match the dumpy decor.

Kabana’s卡巴娜 On HuangHeJie (黄河街) is basically a Uyghur disco with an itneresting blend of pop and electro-traditional music. Clientele tends to be 98% not Han Chinese, and somewhat on the younger side. There’s lots of dancing (again, half-contemporary club dancing, half traditional Uyghur dancing), and it’s definitly worth at least one look.

  • Coco Chocolate (卫生巷, off of 红山路, just to the west of 解放路) According to the local expats, coco is the hippest place to hang in town.  The venue was opened by a dj and several friends.  It’s a small and slightly over-decorated lounge bar that feels like it’s located in the front rooms of an old victorian. The music (and sound system) is decent, and the atmosphere cosy.  Prices run a bit on the selective side, but still aren’t extraordinarily shocking.
  • Canned Club (新生巷, just west of People’s Cinema) is a carefully casually-decorated alley bar with plenty of semi-private spaces, chic-industrial decoration, and decent prices to match.  Considering it’s central location (it’s also right across from Molly’s), Canned is not a bad place to just go and hang out with a few freidns for a relaxing-but-fun evening.
  • Molly’s (Just opposite Caned Club) is a cosy cafe and restaurant by day and a cafe-lounge by night.  They offer a decent selection of western and quasi-Chinese dishes, coffee, and a variety of drinks.  Nothing is cheap, and neither the coffee nor the food that I have tried was particulalry good, but the atmosphere is relaxed, casual, and fun. It’s very quiet in the afternoon (a great place to grade papers!), but a lot more lively at night.
  • MUSE on Minzhu Rd (民主路) is one of a chain of suave bars decorated is silver hues and lots of glass beads.  The place feels expensive without having a lot of character, the prices are shocking, half the patrons look blatantly bored, and the over-abundance of mirrors and mirrored surfaces casts the place in a rather and cold harsh light.
  • In Bar (right off Hong Da Guang chang 宏大广场 BRT, on the east side, right next to Color Room).  In Bar offers tables, lounge sofas and a stage.  The DJs are neither particularly good nor absolutely terrible, and the atmosphere is fun, friendly and lively.
  • Color Room 千色 (right off Hong Da Guang chang 宏大广场 BRT, right next to In Bar).  Color room is a little more sophisticated than In Bar, but not as icy as MUSE.  There are, again, tables and liunge sofas.  Decoration is suave, perhaps at the expense of the atmosphere.  When I friend and I took a two-minute look, we noticed a lot of people sitting at their overpriced tables playing with their cellphones.

**It appears In Bar and Color Bar are now closed. Maybe.**

  • Orange Bar and Look Club are a complex duo (trio if you include the KTV on the fifth floor).  The building on Hongqi Rd (红旗路), just a few meters down from the City Hotel, holds a bar with pumping bar music (3rd floor) and a quieter café/bar with stuffed velvet chairs and an extensive selection of both coffee and cocktails (4th floor).  The bar was fairly full – though mostly with men.  There is no drink menu – you order a “set”, with the minimum spending set by table – two hundred for smaller tables, three hundred for cushy booths.  Three hundred will get your table 20 Tiger beers – not a bad deal if you visit with a slew of friends. The bar/café above has live singers at night and boasts a generally cosy and plush (though not quite ostentatious) atmosphere.  Minimum spending per person is 20 RMB. There are actually quite a few Orange Bars around town – either they’re a chain, or there’s just a bunch of knock-offs.

2020 located on Karamay/Nanhu road, just east of the city government is the “new” place to go. It caters to a slightly older crowd (the twenty and thirty-something professionals; not too many students here) and works a little too hard to seem “sophisticated”. The interior is slick, but the security is a bit ridiculous (they check IDs, especially if you’re with Uyghurs), it can get really crowded, and if you go before 12:30 BJT you’ll feel like youve stumbled into an infomercial (as the announcer gets really pumped up announcing people’s birthdays and making them feel bashful on stage). Music is too loud for conversation and most people just stand at their tables watching the entertainment onstage.

  • Other bars/places open after 11 supposedly in existence include:  Armani (4th floor of the Fulihua hotel), The Cowboy Bar (乌鲁木齐天山区红旗路105号万达宾馆2楼), Babyface (新华北路5号美丽华酒店附1楼) and, of course, your typical Chinese cafes with overpriced bad coffee.

Getting In and Out

Urumqi has one post office from which you can send packages and postcards abroad.  It (乌鲁木齐市邮局) is located at Hongshan, on Yangzijiang Rd, just off of Youhao S Rd and across from the Parkson Plaza.
You can take a train to almost anywhere in China or the main cities of Xinjiang. Buses go everywhere in Xinjiang, though you need to check if your bus is leaving from the main (Nianzigou), Southern (SanTunBei) or Northern (BeiJiao) Bus Station. International Buses to destinations in Kazakhstan leave from the Nianzigou bus station, I beleive on M and F (or W?).

Other Notes

  • Dress modestly in Xinjiang (especially for women).  Even in summer, locals tend not to wear revealing clothing.  Short skirts are almost never seen (though tunics and leggings are fine). Locals love their high heels, but these are not recommended due to the conditions of many of the roads (under construction)
  • Most men don’t smoke (at least when compared to rates in the rest of China).  It’s very rare that people smoke inside a Halal restaurant or on the street in Muslim neighborhoods.
  • Pickpockets do exist in Xinjiang (just like everywhere else in China).  Do keep money and cards in several places – preferably in zipped, inside pockets.  Do not put money, cellphones or cameras in outer pockets.  Even locals have their cellphones stolen on the bus.
  • Try not to be obnoxious.  Chinese tourists may love to snap pictures of everything and anything, but a lot of the locals in Xinjiang haven’t picked up this habit – it’s better to ask before taking pictures.
  • The Xinjiang Government is stricter when it comes to foreigners than most other provinces in China.  Do keep a photocopy of your passport on you and be prepared for extra paperwork or procedures.
  • Black Taxis (黑车) abound, as Urumqi has a decided deficit of legitimate taxis.  Before getting in, make sure that both you and the driver are clear on where you are going, and how much you will pay.  Most drivers are pretty honest, so as long as you are clear, there shouldn’t be any problems.

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