Ili Kazak Autonomous Prefecture Travel Guide, Xinjiang
Located in the northwest of Xinjiang and the upper reaches of the Ili River, the Ili Kazak Autonomous Prefecture is home to a population of 3,950,300 from 47 ethnic groups such as the Han, Kazak, Uygur, Mongolian and Xibe,etc. Ili covers an area of 350,000 sqkm and shares a north-south stretching border of more than 2,000km with Kazakhstan, Russia and Mongolia, along which are eight important ports, such as Korgas, Dulart and Muzart national category-A ports as well as Yining category-B port.
Ili was the link between Asia and Europe on the Silk Road in ancient times. Once an important town on the north route of the ancient Silk Road, Ili has many historic sites with a rich collection of cultural relics.
Located in the central part of the Ili River Valley, some 700km from Urumqi by highway, Yining is the capital of the Ili Kazak Autonomous Prefecture, endowed with a beautiful environment and an agreeable climate. It is also known as "a city of South China scenery beyond the Yumen Pass". The city is inhabited by multi-ethnic groups.
Ili Valley, commonly known as the "humid island" of the desert, has a pleasant climate most of the year, especially in comparison with elsewhere in Xinjiang. The four seasons here are clearly marked and all seasons offer some nice scenery and views. The most popular time to visit here is between July and September, when flowers and fruits are in harvest and the sky is clear enough to offer wonderful views over the Tian Shan Mountains.
Best time to go: July to Sept.
Getting There & Away
Flights are available between Urumqi and Yining. However, daily flights are often cancelled or delayed due to lack of traffic. With no delays, the flight takes about an hour and costs around Y680. Tickets (especially from Yining back to Urumqi) are not easy to get. There is a Xinjiang Airlines office one block west of the Ili Hotel.
Buses are widely used to travel to and from Urumqi, a distance of 700km that takes about 20 hours. Buses leave the station in the northwest of the city at 8am. Seats in regular buses cost Y70 and sleepers costs around Y120.
Within the city of Yining, the best way to get around is by walking. Hiring a horse and carriage is a pleasant way to see the scenery south of the city. Carriages are available at one block east of the Yili Hotel. Regular fares are Y200-300 for a tour to the beautiful valley about 6km south of Yining.
Most travelers visiting Ili valley stay in the hotels in Yining, the capital of the area. There are numerous hostels providing dorm of Y15-30/head.
- Yiqun Fandian on Nongken Lu is a very clean small hotel, Y15-25/bed
- Jiaotong Binguan(Traffic Hotel) - Y30/bed in a std. twin room with attached bathroom, Y15-20/bed in a room with 3-4 beds
Both are close to the bus station.
Yining has some great ethnic culinary specialties, like milk tea,Uigur rice,Fen Soup,Baozi buns,"Grabbed meat" over noodles. Other Xinjiang specialties such as pulled noodles and mutton kebabs can also be found in Yining.
For any of the above specialites, try the night market near the Ili Hotel or the Covered Food Market next to Yining's Bazaar south of Youth Park (Qingnian Gongyuan).