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kwongmei Dunhuang - A travel report by Sharon
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Dunhuang,  China - flag China -  Gansu
3018 readers

kwongmei's travel reports

Hexi Corridor - From Dunhuang to Zhangye

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'When was your last time to Beijing?' asked my colleague from Beijing. '1998' I replied. 'It's the time when Beijing economy started to fly. The government has announced to develop northwest, are you going for an investigation then?' He said with a smile.

Dunhuang - Mogao Caves
Dunhuang - Mogao Caves
Of course we were not making any field trip nor explore business opportunities, but just felt like to have a guaranteed sunshine adventure. As you might aware, the economic reform in China started earlier. There are so many phases in the reform and the country is so big. Not every city / region enjoys the same focus and support in the same pace. Gansu province remains one of the top five poorest provinces in China. Perhaps my time of visiting Gansu is so right. Next time when I stop by Gansu, it may look very different.

In the good ancient days, many cities in Gansu province were once important stopovers along the Silk Road. ‘Hexi’ means west of the river in Chinese. So, it is not hard to get the meaning as an ancient passage running west of the Yellow River. It is part of the Northern Silk Road and used to be the most important passage from ancient China to Xinjiang and Central Asia for traders and the military. Dunhuang is strategically located in the junction of Northern and Southern Silk Road. I believe it was once a rich city.

We went there at end of August 2007, after traveling a bit around the south of Finland for 5 days and Beijing for 3 days…a lot of contrasts throughout the whole trip. Due to the limited time we had and long distance, we took a direct flight from Beijing to Dunhuang. The ticket is quite expensive (1560 RMB one-way after 20% discount). It would have been cheaper if we had taken the flight to Urumqi instead even it is further away from Beijing. Most likely because most standard Silk Road tours start from or end in Urumqi, there are more flights then.

Favourite spots:
Dunhuang - Crescent Moon Lake
Dunhuang - Crescent Moon Lake
There are a number of sayings about who sponsored Mogao Caves. Whether they were traders, Buddhist monks, prilgrims, locals politicians, these people brought back their collections of scriptures, paintings, from the west to Dunhuang and part of them were kept there. There are 735 caves but not all of them are open for visitors. You have to follow a guided tour and 10 caves are included. The larger the cave, the richer the donors were. Inside some caves, the murals and rock arts are without restoration as mentioned by the guide and you can see the original colors. It is very impressive.

Another popular place is Crescent Moon Lake and Mingsha Shan (sand dunes). Because of its position within the high dunes, it has never been silted up with sand for a thousand years. Despite this, I believe the lake has dried out and is refilled with water from the man-made lake close by. It is exhausting to walk up the dune but the view is spectacular. 120RMB is overpriced though.

What's really great:
our train ride from Jiayuguan to can read the comment from my face
our train ride from Jiayuguan to can read the comment from my face
From Dunhuang to Jiayuguan, and then to Zhangye, we got there by train. Apart from the cleanliness and comfort level, the train network is indeed very good and extensive in China even comparable to many developed countries. And it is very cheap, 23 RMB for a 4.5 hours journey.

Getting the ticket with seat reservation well in advance is important. We learnt our lesson. From Jiayuguan to Zhangye, we ended up standing on a crowded train. From time to time, passengers, food trolleys, cleaning staffs were pushing and squeezing through the aisle where other poor passengers like us were standing the whole time! It’s an experience to travel so as a local seeing all these actions, but I would avoid that if I could. Another phenomenon, we encountered people don’t queue up in banks or ticket offices at the train stations. It’s pretty annoying and causes quite some delays. But one time we hurried for the train, the people did let us get the tickets first.

Jiayuguan - Jiayuguan Fort
Jiayuguan - Jiayuguan Fort
My assumption of a guaranteed sunshine holiday in the desert region is wrong. We were so lucky to have a bit rain, lots of clouds and windy day in Jiayuguan. Anyway, we visited Jiayuguan Fort. There were only a few tourists on that day and it was so great to enjoy the magnificent fort on our own! If you are interested in Great Wall history, the museum within the site should not be missed for it is full of detailed information and exhibits.

I looked up those hotel information from which was recommended by a local. There you will find many ratings and comments from others about the room quality and prices but mostly in Chinese. You need to have an account for booking online. Neither do I. So, I bought a local mobile phone card and called my selection of hotels before arriving. When I mentioned the discount I saw online and negotiated a bit, they gave me the same discount then ;-).

60 delicious dumplings for only 18 RMB!!
60 delicious dumplings for only 18 RMB!!
Dapanji, a whole but cut chicken cooked with noodles in chili sauce, is a famous dish in Dunhuang. It is not that I mind seeing the head and feet of the chicken in my dish, but just that such taste is not my favorite.

Hot and spicy dishes, something like Sichuan style, are very common in this region. Having spicy foods for a few days, we were really desperate for some other Chinese dishes. By chance, we found the Beijing Dumplings restaurant in Jiayuguan. Unfortunately, we forgot to take down the address.

Other recommendations:
So, the biggest sleeping Buddha of China in picture...
So, the biggest sleeping Buddha of China in picture...
I like downtown Zhangye the most among the 3 cities. Unfortunately, the Great Buddha Temple was largely under renovation. Nobody told us when we bought the tickets until we saw the sign at the entrance which is just a few meters next to the ticket office. The temple was still open for visitors but we couldn’t see much of the sleeping Buddha as a lot of construction work was going on. Next time, we will be smarter.

Published on Friday February 29th, 2008

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Thu, Mar 13 2008 - 05:14 AM rating by downundergal

Interesting report and some impressive pictures along with some good travel tips including the one on prebooking train travel.
Mmm those dumplings look good!

Sun, Mar 09 2008 - 11:19 AM rating by marianne

interesting to read and great photos

Sat, Mar 01 2008 - 03:49 AM rating by ravinderkumarsi

very good report ,nice pictures .moon lakes facinates me a lot ,if i get chance would like to see it

Fri, Feb 29 2008 - 10:18 PM rating by krisek

An interesting report. I like the personal feel. It would be great if you could provide a little more details about the places you visited and some more about the people. I am not familiar with China at all (apart from HKG and Macao), and would love to lear more. Many thanks indeed for sharing.

Fri, Feb 29 2008 - 08:53 PM rating by mistybleu

A nice report about a part of China that I not too familar with. It must have been also special exploring Jiayuguan Fort - it looks like an amazing structure. Any idea when it was built?

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