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Nearly 3000m up on the plateau, GOLMUD is an incredibly isolated city, even by the standards of northwest China. It still has no airport and lies at least sixteen hours away from the nearest sizeable town by the fastest possible means of transport. In spite of this, it still manages to be the second largest city in Qinghai, with a population of around 130,000. This is because it's a city of immigrants - Han Chinese have been moved in here over the years to work the potash plants from which Golmud earns its living. It's hard to imagine that anyone would have come to live in such a cold and arid place otherwise. Geographically, Golmud is located close to the massive Kunlun Mountains to the south, and to the Cai Erhan Salt Lake to the north. Both are very scenic in parts, though they remain as yet virtually unexplored by foreign tourists.
For travellers, the city is really only interesting as a transit point between Xining in the east, Dunhuang in the north and Lhasa in the south - Golmud is the only place in China from where foreign tourists are officially allowed to cross by land to Tibet.
Golmud has a plateau climate, with not overly hot summers, yet with freezing winters. The average annual temperature is around 4.3 °C, with extremes at 35 and -33.6 °C. In addition, Golmud is also characterized by its dryness--the annual average precipitation is 50mm.
At an elevation of nearly 3000m, Golmud's sunlight can be exceptionally dazzling, making the need for UV protection an essential part of any traveller's packing. Even with warm summer temperatures, night temperatures are almost always cold.
There is some surprisingly good food to be had in town, however. Across the road from the hotel, and a few minutes to the south, is an excellent Sichuan restaurant. You can recognize it from the English words in the window, though there's no English menu - try the old Sichuan favourite, gongbao jiding, diced chicken with chillies and peanuts. For Western delicacies, there's an amazingly good menu at the obscurely located Quanjiafu Jiulou (Happy Family) restaurant. To find it, walk north from the hotel (turn right as you come out), and then head west towards Zhongshan Park at the crossroads. It's about ten minutes' walk along here, on the right-hand side. The restaurant is immediately after the place with a mock-pagoda entrance and worth the walk for its thick, luscious banana pancakes. There's also a market north of the hotel. The entrance is on the right as you head north, and there are some outdoor eating places at the sides of the main area.
Qinghai Potash Plant