Big, bold and beautifully barren, Qīnghǎi (青海), larger than any European country, occupies a vast swathe of the northeastern chunk of the Tibetan plateau. In fact, as far as Tibetans are concerned, this isn’t China at all; it’s Amdo, one of old Tibet’s three traditional provinces. Much of what you’ll experience here will feel more Tibetan than Chinese; there are monasteries galore, yaks by the hundred and nomads camped out across high-altitude grasslands.
Rough-and-ready Qīnghǎi, which means Blue Sea in Chinese, is classic off-the-beaten-track territory, often with a last frontier feel to it. Travelling around is both inconvenient and uncomfortable, and you can go for days without meeting another tourist. But those wonderful moments of solitude, those middle-of-nowhere high-plateau vistas and the chance to discover some of the more remote communities of China’s ethnic minorities make the long bus rides, the cold weather and the often head-achingly high altitude well worth bearing.