PREPARATION: Chinese visas must be obtained in Hong Kong (if your trip was not previously arranged before departing from the United States), where authorized travel agents and many hotel managers can get them for you at a cost of $10 to $15. Xiahe is probably best visited during the spring and summer -- the road in isn't very good and might be harrowing during the winter. A sweater, warm clothing and rain gear are advisable in any season.

GETTING THERE: The only way is by bus, an eight-hour trip from Lanzhou, which in turn is on the main railway lines from Peking, Shanghai and Chengdu. Chinese buses are dilapidated, slow and uncomfortable. It is possible to break your journey midway, at a little place called Linxia, a predominantly Moslem town.

GETTING AROUND: Feet are fine for exploring the town and monastery, but if you want to wander around the countryside, ask to borrow a bicycle at the hotel.

WHERE TO STAY: There are two places in Xiahe, a "Chinese-style" hotel, in the center of town that charges about $1 a night for a bed in a dormitory; and a "Western-style" hotel out in the fields about one mile south of the monastery, which offers pleasant rooms with full baths. (The Chinese hotel is very spartan and the police may not let westerners stay there.)

WHERE TO EAT: The western-style hotel serves overpriced Chinese food, and there is a teahouse and noodle shop in town.