Tóngrén (同仁; Rebkong in Tibetan) is set on the slopes of the wide and fertile Gu-chu river valley. For several centuries now, the villages outside the monastery town of Tóngrén have been famous for producing some of the Tibetan world’s best thangkas (scroll paintings) and painted statues, so much so that an entire school of Tibetan art is named after the town.
China’s largest lake, Qīnghǎi Lake (青海湖; Qīnghǎi Hú; Lake Kokonor; elevation 3600m) is nearly six times the size of Singapore and a huge draw for large tour groups. While it can be maddeningly difficult to get to the actual shoreline, views of the lake backdropped by mountains still make the trek out worthwhile.
A tidy little town, 43km east of Qīnghǎi Lake, Xīhǎi Zhèn is where travellers hit up to rent bicycles for a tour round the lake. There's not much to see in town, so plan on getting here early, picking up your bikes, grabbing supplies and then hitting the road. Xīhǎi Zhèn is small and easy to get around on foot.
Hùzhù Běishān Forest National Park
Here is proof, should you need it, that Qīnghǎi has incredibly diverse landscapes: an alpine forest located 100km north of Xīníng with an elevation that spans 2200m to 4000m. Within are farming communities, ranging mountain goats, family restaurants, birch forests, waterfalls, lakes and plenty of hiking opportunities.
Mǎduō (玛多) is a burgeoning town now popular as a launch-pad for visits to Zhālíng and Èlíng Lakes, purportedly the source of the Yellow River. The town isn't much more than two streets but there are a couple of good hotels and eating options. Remember this area is over 4000m high so altitude sickness is a real risk.