Qinghai Province/青海省

I remember back in the summer of 2014 when I rode the Amtrak from St. Paul to Seattle, how very stunned I was by Montana. We would see one house and then the train would chug along for several minutes before we saw the next one. In the middle, unending fields peppered with grazing animals.

In a way, Qinghai is like Montana. No, not because a river runs through it (though Qinghai has the source of the Yellow River within its borders), but because it’s vast in a way that’s hard to find in China. The capital city Xining is quickly swallowed by the rolling green hills of the Tibetan Plateau, and as one ventures further out, snow-capped mountains peek out in the distance. Any sense of security dwarfs before the staggering immensity of this wild, wild place.

Despite the limited public transportation and difficulty of the landscape, Qinghai still wins a special place in my heart, because you’ll never find another place as awe-inspiring and strange as Qinghai. After all, it’s the place that’s so harsh that political prisoners were kept (without fences, mind you, because nature would kill you if you tried to escape), and where Mars simulations take place because of similar conditions (yes you read that right). Ultimately, Qinghai is one of the most beautiful, and also most perilous provinces. Give yourself plenty of time to explore. As with most wild places, you can’t rush art.