When thinking of China, Kashgar is not the first city that comes to anyone’s mind. Located in the west, close to the border with Kyrgyzstan, it was once an important stop on the Silk Road. Merchants who made it across the Torugart Pass would stock up on supplies before crossing the Taklamakan Desert.
These days, barely any travellers come to Kashgar. It is not on any itinerary for those visiting Eastern China, the political situation is difficult with an ethnic minority living in China’s west, and Kashgar is so remote you would have to fly or spend a long time on a train.
Those who make it, however, are rewarded with a unique cultural experience and a lack of other tourists. Sometimes, it is just nice to have a tourist attraction all to yourself.
So what is there to do in Kashgar?
The best things to do in Kashgar
#1 Stroll around the Old Town
Kashgar’s Old Town is the heart of the city. Most historical buildings have been destroyed over the centuries, but the Old Town gives you an example of what Kashgar might once have looked like.
In 2009, the Chinese government announced that they would bulldoze the Old Town and modernize the area. Fortunately, they at least kept a style similar to the old houses, though it’s not quite the same anymore. While most areas are the “New” Old Town and not the original, they are lots of fun to walk through.
Plus, it’s easy to see how lively this maze of streets must have seemed to any Silk Road merchants who had just survived crossing the Taklamakan Desert!
You will find many restaurants and shops in the Old Town, and you can easily spend hours exploring the alleys and watching daily life go by.
On the eastern edge of the “New” Old Town, you can still see a few remains from the “Old” Old Town. Slowly, the government chips away at them, replacing them with more modern buildings, so take a look at them while you still can!
#2 Afaq Khoja Mausoleum
For Muslims, the Afaq Khoja Mausoleum is the holiest place in the Chinese province of Xinjiang. It dates from the 17th century. Afaq Khoja was an Uighur leader and a strong defender of the Muslim faith.
The tomb is not just famous for him but also because one of the emperor’s concubines is also buried here. She was known as the Fragrant Concubine because, apparently, she was famous for her good body smell.
In total, around five generations of the Afaq Khoja family rest in the mausoleum.
The easiest way to get here is to catch a taxi from Kashgar. The building goes by different names in Uighur and Mandarin, so it might help to have a picture of it on your phone that you can show to your driver.
#3 Northwest China’s largest bazaar
Kashgar’s biggest bazaar is located next to the Old Town and has everything on offer that you could possibly ask for. Near the main entrance, you will find the souvenir sellers. Go out towards the back if you’re looking for nuts and dried fruit.
Don’t miss the medicines section close to the souvenir shops if you want to see dried geckos and snakes.
You can also get a new outfit, a traditional Uighur instrument, pottery or rugs if you’re looking for souvenirs to take home.
Sunday is supposedly the busiest day, though I would suggest prioritizing the Livestock Market on Sundays. If you still have time afterwards, head to the Kashgar Bazaar, but if not, visit on a different day. We were there during the week and still loved it.
#4 The Sunday Bazaar
The Kashgar Sunday Bazaar is the largest livestock market in Central Asia. Whether you want to buy sheep, goats or a camel, you can get it here.
The Livestock Bazaar takes place every Sunday on the outskirts of town, so you need to take a taxi to get there. It’s best in the mornings, but can still be pretty lively in the evenings as well.
At the entrance, you’ll find food stalls selling grilled meat skewers, and once you move further along, you’ll come across lots of locals selling their animals or looking to buy one.
If you can, try to check the local news before you can.
I was so excited about this bazaar. We went there – and it was almost empty. Unfortunately, the week we went, the president of China was visiting Kashgar, which meant roadblocks and no Sunday Bazaar.
If you get to witness the real one, please let us know because we would love to hear about it.
#5 People-watch in People’s Park
People’s Park is the perfect place for people-watching or relaxing in the shade of trees. Locals come here for a walk, to exercise, sing, dance and play chess or cards. We got to see traditional Uighur songs and dances.
Trees offer shade on hot days, and you can bring a cold drink, sit down on a bench and watch people go about their daily business.
People’s Park cannot be accessed from People’s Square. You have to walk down one of the streets on the side of the park to get in, but it’s well worth it.
#6 Watch the city from the top of a Ferris wheel
From the Old Town and in front of the bazaar, you might be able to see a Ferris wheel. It is not difficult to find, cheap, and you will likely be the only person on it.
The view from the top is nice because it gives you an overview of Kashgar, of the Old Town, the bazaar, the parks – and the many police checkpoints.
#7 Have noodles for breakfast, lunch and dinner
The ethnic minority living in Kashgar, the Uighur, have a very distinct culture. Their language, traditions and food are different to what you will find in the rest of the country.
We can highly recommend the Uighur noodle dishes you can find all over the town. We found a small noodle bar close to our hotel that we went to for lunch and dinner, trying the different variations of noodles. While most dishes were simple, they were some of the best noodles we’d had in the whole of China.
If you’re lucky, you can even find a place where the chef hand-pulls the noodles. The trick to a perfect noodle dish is to stretch the dough into thin strands of noodles, and it’s a fascinating performance to watch.
1h whenever you’re hungry
#8 See the world’s largest rock arch
Shipton’s Arch, located about an hour or two from Kashgar, is the world’s tallest rock arch. It doesn’t look like much in the advertisements or in our photos (taking decent photos is impossible because it is so large), but we highly recommend you to go there if you have a spare day in Kashgar.
Leave early in the morning to escape the heat and wear good shoes as you will have to hike through a rocky river bed. Once you get there, the arch is very impressive. Even from the lookout point, you cannot properly see how far down it goes. All you can see is that it is huge.
Organising transportation to Shipton’s Arch is a bit tricky, so the easiest is to join a guided tour. You can ask your hotel for assistance, or you can check out this tour on Viator.
How to get to Kashgar
If you look at a map of China, you’ll notice that the country is huge.
And while travelling around, it feels even larger than it looks.
Kashgar, with its location on the western side of the country, is so far away from Beijing that it takes around five hours to fly there. Flying is by far the fastest way of reaching Kashgar unless you’re already in the area.
An alternative is taking a train. This is a great option if you’re planning on travelling along the Silk Road. From Beijing, it will take you around three days of train travel, and much more if you stop along the way.
For an overview of train travel in China, check out this virtual map, which shows the rail network and gives lots of information about each station.
Best time to visit Kashgar
The best time to visit Kashgar is in spring, summer and autumn. Winters can get freezing in Central Asia, and you’ll have much nicer weather from May to October.
Usually, summer is high season, but Kashgar is remote enough that you won’t be bothered by hordes of tourists even in July or August.
That said, you can travel to Kashgar at any time of the year and still have fun.
Getting around Kashgar
The Old Town of Kashgar is walkable, and it’s lots of fun to get lost in the narrow alleys.
As soon as you get out of the city centre, you’ll see buses that connect the different neighbourhoods. Those are a great way to get around, but also a bit tricky to use. Unless you speak Chinese or Uighur or ideally both, you might have some difficulties.
Ask at your hotel if you want to learn more about the bus lines.
If not, taxis are everywhere. You can easily catch one and tell the driver where you want to go.
One word of advice: Before you leave your hotel for the first time, ask for a business card. Take it with you and you can always show it to your taxi driver so they know where to take you.
Have you been to Kashgar recently? Let us know how you liked it, as we would love to hear from you.
While you’re here, check out the following posts, which will help you plan your trip to China:
- These are the best things to do along China’s Silk Road
- Visiting Turpan? Then check out those attractions you shouldn’t miss
- The best things to do in Dunhuang, a fantastic desert oasis
Until your next adventure!
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