Situated in an extraordinarily remote location – 150km west of Xining, at 3100m above sea level on the Tibetan Plateau – Qinghai Lake is the largest in China, occupying an area of over 4000 square kilometres. Its cold and briny waters nevertheless teem with fish (mainly the endemic naked carp) and are populated by nesting migratory birds, particularly at Bird Island, which, along with several manmade scenic spots, has become the lake’s main tourist attraction.
If you don’t have time to stop here, you can admire the view while travelling between Golmud and Xining; it’s worth scheduling your journey to pass by during daylight hours. The train spends hours running along the northern shore; by bus you’ll skirt the southern shore instead.
Be aware that access for foreigners to certain parts of the lakeshore is restricted, particularly around the “nuclear town” of Xihai on the northeast edge of the lake, where China’s first nuclear weapons were developed.