Kanbula National Forest Park

Top choice in Qinghai

The desert scenery outside of Tongren comes to a pinnacle in this national park where flaming-red mountains meet the turquoise waters of a reservoir created by the damming of the Yellow River. A nervous-sweat-inducing road snakes up through the park’s peaks, past sleepy Tibetan villages and colourful prayer flags waving high on the wind.

For a fantastic perspective on the park and its simply beautiful greens, purples, sapphires and blues of the mountains, waters and sky over Kanbula, climb the long wooden steps up to the vast Big Buddha (大佛, Dàfó) – a huge and unfinished (at the time of writing) peak-top statue at the end of the stairs. The views from here are simply knock-out.

Alas, the park no longer allows private cars unless you're a) coming from Guide or b) in a local car. This means being shunted on the pricey but decent fixed bus-and-boat tour (roughly three hours), but this way won't allow you to explore the huge territory of the park. You can skip the entrance fee and fully experience the park, including plenty of photo stops, by going with a local taxi driver (¥100 if you find at least one other person to share with).

The alternative route is to find a private driver to bring you here from Guide (¥400 per day), or join a tour with one of the recommended outfits in Xining, which will allow you to see much more of the park, as they should provide four-wheel-drive transport. To get here from Xining, buses (¥22.50) run every 30 minutes from the main bus station between 10.30am and 5pm. You'll be dropped 7km from the park entrance. Taxis will take you there for ¥10. The last bus returns at 4.30pm or so, so make sure you get out early otherwise you'll have to stay the night where the bus drops you or hitch back.

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