Maduo is in Qinghai. It can be used as a base for exploring the supposed source of the Yellow River.
Maduo (Ma duo 玛多) is a town high on the Tibetan Plateau. It is primarily Tibetan but rapid development is bringing many tourists and changes.
From Xining there is a bus that leaves at 08:00 from the Nanchuan West Bus Terminal 南川西路客运站. ~10 hours with several bathroom stops ~¥95 (2017) (there may be other times.)
To get back to Xining a bus leaves from the center of town at 07:30 it also stops around town including in front of the main hotels at the entrance of the town. It's best to go early to make sure you get a seat. The ride back is faster than the ride up.
There are some taxis but everywhere in town can be reached by foot.
There is a large monument in the center of town. It is believed to be the King Gesar and the smaller statue to the right is his wife Dokmo, whose hometown was Maduo.
There is a large display of Tibetan prayer flags to the right of the statue with yaks wandering around it.
The Yellow River is about 4 km from town as it meanders slowly through the Tibetan Plateau.
Visit what is claimed to be the source of the Yellow River. (The Government of China has designed 363,000 km², or half of the province of of Qinghai, as the Sanjiangyuan ('Source of Three Rivers') Area.)
The lakes are now or are being turned into a national park with the intent to develop tourism in the area. There are two lakes about 50 km north of town that can be visited. The lakes are sacred to the Tibetans. Near the lakes there are ruins and a temple. There is no rafting on the lakes.
To get to the purported source of the Yellow River Park you can hire a private car to take you about ~40 km up a road that locals warn is "very dangerous". Many hotels and shops will have a card with a number on it to call to hire the driver. Just ask the front desk. The cost typically quoted is ¥900-1,000. This may be out of the backpacker's budget, so an alternative would be to hitchhike or trek to the lakes. It may be a nice trek to hike up the Tibetan plateau along the bank of the Yellow River and spend a night or two camping at the lakes. The legality of this is not clear, but the police station in town is very friendly and may be able to help. Estimate a 4- to 5-night trek.
Day hikes around the Tibetan plateau are beautiful and more affordable.
There are many little shops offering Tibetan items (e.g. prayer flags).
There isn't a large selection of restaurants but enough to sample the local cuisine.
There was one bar at the fancier hotel. Beer and baijou can be purchased in town.
There are several nicer hotels at the entrance to town - around ¥300 - 400 for a double. There are also more hotels on the back street at the end of the main street. (2017)
There are smaller rundown hotels in town that quoted prices ¥150-250 which was much more than they were worth.
- They may tell you that they don't accept foreigners to force you to stay at one of the more expensive options but this is probably not true. ¥150 for a double.
Camping may be possible if you are willing to walk a little ways into the Tibetan Plateau.
There is a large amount of new construction happening all around town with many vacant buildings that may offer more competitive sleeping options in the future.
To Xining the bus leaves at 07:30 from town center. Tickets can't be purchased ahead of time so be there early to get a seat.