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WINGS Birding Tours – Information

China: Snow Leopard in Qinghai

Tour Information

Note: The information presented below has been extracted from our formal General Information for this tour. It covers topics we feel potential registrants may wish to consider before booking space. The complete General Information for this tour will be sent to all tour registrants and of course supplemental information, if needed, is available from the WINGS office.

ENTERING CHINA: United States citizens will need a passport valid for at least six months from date of departure and a tourist visa to enter China. Citizens of other countries may need a visa and should check their nearest Chinese embassy or If required by the embassy or visa-granting entity, WINGS can provide a letter for you to use regarding your participation in the tour.

COUNTRY INFORMATION: You can review the U.S. Department of State Country Specific Travel Information at and the CIA World Factbook background notes on China at

CLIMATE: Beijing is likely to be fairly warm (up to 80-90F) during the day, but the early mornings will be cooler. The weather in both Xining and Lhasa In September and October, the weather in both Xining and Lhasa is typically dry with daily temperatures fluctuating from 2-15 C (35-59 F) with cool nights and early mornings but comfortably warm by midday. Up on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, and particularly when we cross some of the higher passes near Koko Nur and near Zhaduo and the Snow Leopard area south of Angsai xiang, it is likely to be considerably colder, especially in the mornings, when temperatures can drop to below freezing. There will undoubtedly already be some snow on the highest peaks. Precipitation is rather scarce throughout the tour, but is still a distinct possibility; this may fall as snow at some of the higher elevations that we visit. Precipitation is perhaps most likely on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau and at Huzhu Bei Shan.

PACE OF TOUR AND DAILY ROUTINE: This is not an easy, relaxing tour. There is a reasonable amount of travelling and many of the days are long and tiring. Many of the trails that we will walk on are steep and while we’ll walk slowly we are still at altitude and it is easy to become tired. A reasonable degree of fitness is essential. Due to early morning bird activity we will want to be out in the field early each day. This will often mean being out at 6:00am and having a picnic breakfast in the field.

HEALTH:  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all travelers be up to date on routine vaccinations. These include measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, polio vaccine, and your yearly flu shot. They further recommend that most travelers have protection against Hepatitis A and Typhoid. Advisories and recommendations by agencies such as the CDC frequently change. We urge you to consult your physician, local health department, or the CDC for the most up-to-date health advisories for travel to China. You can check with the CDC online at:

Altitude:  Our tour is operated at quite high altitude and we will spend considerable amounts of time above 3,500 meters or 11,000 feet. The elevations that we explore on the plateau will range from 2,045 meters (6,700 feet) up to a mighty 4,750 meters (15,580 feet). When at such high altitudes we’ll attempt to limit our activities, try to avoid excessive uphill walking, and move at a fairly slow pace so as to limit altitudinal headaches and breathlessness, etc. However, participants should note that this is a strenuous tour, much more so than most WINGS offerings. Most altitudinal problems can be overcome by sitting quietly in or near the vehicle and drinking plenty of fluids. There will be oxygen available in at least one of the vehicles that we will use on the tour.

Insects:  Biting insects are not numerous although mosquitoes are occasionally found in the marshy areas on the edge of the Plateau. 

Smoking:  Smoking or vaping is prohibited in the vehicles or when the group is gathered for meals, checklists, etc. If you are sharing a room with a non-smoker, please do not smoke in the room. If you smoke in the field, do so well away and downwind from the group. If any location where the group is gathered has a stricter policy than the WINGS policy, that stricter policy will prevail.

Many Chinese men, and an increasing number of women, smoke heavily. We will not permit our drivers or locals guides to smoke in our vehicle or in close proximity to the group but we have no control over anyone else. Inquisitive strangers may come up to us and smoke nearby and while we can and will ask them not to smoke near us we cannot stop them doing so. While we’ll eat most, if not all, of our sit-down meals in private dining rooms, very occasionally this is not possible and we might have to eat in the common dining hall where there might be smokers. This does not happen on every tour, or even on every other tour, but it can happen. 

None of the hotels that we will stay in have designated non-smoking rooms and the rooms that we stay in might have been previously occupied by a smoker. While the bed linen will certainly be clean, cigarette odors in the bedrooms are fairly common. 

Food Allergies / Requirements:  We cannot guarantee that all food allergies can be accommodated at every destination. Participants with significant food allergies or special dietary requirements should bring appropriate foods with them for those times when their needs cannot be met. Announced meal times are always approximate depending on how the day unfolds. Participants who need to eat according to a fixed schedule should bring supplemental food. Please contact the WINGS office if you have any questions.

ACCOMMODATION:  The hotels in Beijing, Xining, and Lhasa are of a good standard with en suite bathrooms, proper restaurants, and other facilities that you would normally expect, such as gift shops in the lobby and facilities for making international phone calls, etc.

The hotels and guest houses that we’ll use on the rest of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau vary enormously. Almost the entire region is rarely visited by foreigners, and as a consequence, the accommodations are often simple, although some have recently improved because better standards are being demanded by the growing number of middle class Chinese travelers. Even in some of the better hotels, many of the rooms are poorly maintained. 

The recently-built hotel at Huzhu Bei Shan and at Heimahe near Qinghai Hu (Koko Nur) are still only occasionally visited by foreign visitors. Both have recently been refurbished and are now of a Chinese 3-star standard. All the rooms are clean, and each has an en suite bathroom with a western toilet and a shower. We will spend two nights in the one at Huzhu Bei Shan and one night at Heimahe before moving on to spend one night at a relatively modern one-star guest house at Chaka. The latter is clean, warm, and well-maintained. Please note that at Heimahe and at a couple of the other hotels/guest houses we’ll visit, hot water is often not available until after 8 p.m., and it is quite likely that we will have dinner and do our daily bird list before having showers. Leaving Chaka we will return to Xining before flying, the following day, down to Yushu. Our next hotel is in Zhaduo town. All the rooms here have en suite bathrooms with a basin, western toilets, and a shower. There’s supposed to be 24-hour hot water here, but we’ve found from past experience that it’s rarely more than tepid until about 8 p.m. We’ll spend six nights in the Zhaduo hotel before heading back to Yushu and then Xining. Those opting for the Lhasa extension will take an overnight sleeper train to Lhasa that same evening.

FOOD: The Chinese way of eating differs from that in the west in that those sitting at the table share selections of different dishes. Food is almost always plentiful. Few of the restaurants we’ll visit provide knives and forks. Instead chopsticks, often disposable wooden ones, are used.

In contrast to evening meals typical Chinese breakfasts are disappointingly poor and unappealing to most westerners.  They  consist  mostly  of  cold  dishes   –  soy  milk,  steamed  dumplings  and  rice  porridge. Consequently, we will have very few hotel breakfasts opting instead to have picnic breakfasts. These will usually consist of items such as muesli, instant noodles, biscuits, chocolate, fruit, peanuts, bread and jam (where bread is available). On quite a few days we will also have picnic lunches and these will consist of similar items.

INTERNET AND MOBILE PHONE ACCESS: Most of the hotels that we use have internet access and we expect this situation to continue, and possibly improve, in the future. Participants should be aware, however, that internet access is occasionally suspended in China – perhaps because of floods, landslides or political issues. Mobile phone coverage is superb over most of China and, while not all foreign mobile operators have agreements with the Chinese carriers, many do. You are advised to contact your mobile phone provider in advance of the trip to confirm this.

TRANSPORTATION:  Transportation for our time in Qinghai will be by a coach or minibus while around Lhasa we will use a similar if possibly smaller vehicle. We also have several internal flights. Some of the drives are long and may last for up to six hours, but we will, of course, make regular stops along the way to stretch and to bird watch. The leader will arrange a seating rotation. Participants should be able and willing to ride in any seat in tour vehicles. 

On the optional extension, there will be one long, 24-hour, train ride as we travel over the Tibetan Plateau from Xining to Lhasa. Our route will take us over the TangulaShanPass which, at 5070 meters (16,634 feet), makes this the highest rail journey in the world. On it we hope to secure soft sleeper berths but occasionally this is not possible and will have to travel in what is called hard sleeper class. The hard sleeper carriage is divided in to about 20 separate compartments each with six bunk beds (three on each side) and a small table. We hope to be able to only put four people in each compartment and use the upper two beds for storage.  Increasingly however this is not being allowed on trains in China where demand for berths far exceeds supply. There will be a shared washroom and a toilet at both ends of the carriage. Usually one of these toilets is Western style, the other Chinese hole-in-the-floor style, but this can vary from one carriage to the next. Warm bedding, usually in the form of quilts, will also be provided.  The better quality soft sleeper berths (with four, more comfortable beds per cabin and a sliding, lockable door) are available on this train but these still cannot be booked directly by Chinese travel agents. Many soft sleeper berths appear to be reserved for government officers and are extremely difficult to obtain. Our ground agent will endeavor to purchase soft sleeper tickets for us all, but this cannot be guaranteed.

Private single or double rooms are not available on the trains in overpopulated China – it is simply not possible to secure such rooms and even if we paid for all the beds and didn’t occupy them the train guard would confiscate those that weren’t being used and re-sell them. Sexes are not normally segregated on Chinese trains but, depending on the group dynamics we might attempt to segregate men and women in our party. On previous tours the train ride has proved to be a real highlight of the entire trip.

Updated: 21 May 2020