Mingshashan Mountain / Echoing Sand Mountains & Yueyaguan / Cresent Moon Lake is located 6 km from Dunhuang city in Gansu, north-west China. This is one of the highlight if you are doing Silk Road China. The Chinese name for this oasis is called Yueyaguan/月牙泉 named in Qing Dynasty. If you look at the shape of the oasis, it is the shape of a half-moon.
1. (AAAAA) 5A Tourist Attraction
This is the 5A (AAAAA) tourist attraction. What it means is this is the most important and best-maintained tourist attractions in China. There are clean toilets at the visitor center, where you get your tickets. The whole area in Crescent Moon Lake is incredibly well maintained and clean.
2. How to survive in Mingsha Mountain (鳴沙山) Desert
When you come to this Mingsha Mountain, you need to know the weather here is super hot as it is in the desert. The summer is super hot and the winter is super cold. I was here at the summer and had prepared all my necessary gadget, such as long sleeves, wide-brimmed hat, sunscreen, sunglasses, scarf, gloves to protect me from getting the heat stroke or sun burn. Cover as much skin as possible with loose and lightweight clothing is the key.
You can also get the sun protection items before entering to the tourist site at very cheap price. Scarf, gloves, face mask etc are selling at very reasonable price.
3. Rental Shoes Cover
Before entering this desert land, we rented the shoes cover which cost us RMB 15 (SGD 3) for unlimited hours. The shoes cover is to protect any sands from going in your shoes. If you are thinking bare foot in the desert sand, then be prepared to get burn by the hot sand.
4. Activities in Mingsha Mountain & Crescent Moon Lake
There are several activities you can do here, such as camel ride, shooting arrows, grass skiing & sand sliding.
5. Camel Ride Tips
Camel ride took us roughly one hours. Be prepared to have done up all your sun protection. Scarf is one of the key items to protect yourself as the winds is too strong for umbrella.
Camel ride up and down to the dunes for an hour, pretty amazing experience as it was my first experience on camel ride. Camels are so tame as compared to the horses and walk with snail’s pace. The camel ride is pretty easy to handle due to the slow motion. One tips I can share here is move your body according to the camel and you would feel more comfortable that way and not so sore especially at your thigh and butt area. One caution is when the camel stands up and sits down, you may feel like falling off so hold tight and you may tilt forward and backward.
6. Signature Drink – Apricot Skin Tea
This is one of the must drink after your camel ride in Dunhuang. It consist of apricot skin, rock candy and water. The taste is sweet and a little sour, cost RMB 5 (SGD 1.00). I was told the drinks can relieve summer-heat and refresh our lungs. I enjoyed the drink very much, quench my thirst totally after the camel ride under the extreme hot sun.
The fridge behind me show “Yogurt drinks” & “Apricot Peel Water”, it can be seen almost every corner in Dunhuang.
7. Incredible View Atop of the Dunes
After the drinks, I decided to go up the sand dune.
Many people did not know the best view of Crescent Moon Lake / Yueyaquan, one needed to go up to the top of the sand dunes which is a grand challenge.
8. Use Wooden Steps Up Mingshashan
There are few wooden stairs to go up the highest point. It is easier if you step on the wooden steps and climb up the dunes.
9. Try to walk on the sands without the wooden steps
Since I do not have a desert walking boots so it is super hard and needed so much energy to walk in the desert sands as my normal walking shoes did not provide stability and grip for scrambling up sand dune. It was almost killing me after few steps on the desert sand, too hard to pull my feet out from the sand.
I quit walking on the sand and went back to the wooden track. Still the steep dune is not easy to conquer! I was frequently catching my breath to move up.
Finally I was at the top of the sand dune and the view looking down at Crescent Moon Lake/ Yueyaquan was just breathtaking. Anyone who is consider fit should challenge yourself to go up and check up this incredible desert jewel.
I was catching my breath when the above picture was taken. Nearly fainted at the top as the slope is almost vertical.
At the top the winds are super strong, my eyes and mouth and nose were filled with sands. Now I know what a sand/dust storm is like, at least I experience the mini version of dust storm at the top. No wonder the people in the desert wear in such way, long headscarf to cover their mouth and nose from the sand!
10. Listen to the Breeze at the top
While taking your breath, sit down at the top and close your eyes, listen to the breeze, the sands create gentle, melodic sounds like music; just like the name Mingshashan / Echoing Sand Mountains. Make sure to close your mouth, else you will end up eating plenty of sands.
Only the very fit and young person are able to make it to the top. You didn’t see any golden age people at the top. In fact I saw many people break down in the middle and blocked the wooden track up. Some even cried for help 🙂
11. How to Move down
It took me a while to find out how to go down as the slope is very steep. The wooden track is only for way up not for going down.
After few steps down, I realised going down is super easy and fun! So I started to run down the slope.
12. Yueyaquan/Crescent Moon Lake at near
For someone who could not move up to the top of the sand dune to look down Yueyaquan/Crescent Moon Lake, they can walked near the lake and check it out. The view is not as great compare to the top but then you are able to see the reflection of the temple which is located beside of Yueyaquan.
13. Visit Before the Oasis Disappear
The lake has been shrinking since 1970’s and is now about a third of its original size. However, Chinese government has recently taken measures to preserve the site and restore the depth of the lake to previous level.
Final Thoughts :
One of the must do thing in this Mingshashan Mountain & Cresent Moon Lake to go up to the top of the sand dunes. It is not easy but if you are young or fit person, I strongly encourage you to go up to check out the breathtaking view of the oasis. You get to see the entire site from the top. It was super challenging even for people like me who workout 5 days a week. Glad I did it and gotten this magnificent view of the oasis.
My second favorite was the camel ride in the desert. It helps me to understand how tough ancient traders travel from one sand dunes to another in such harsh weather (super-duper hot, just like ants biting your skin!!) with very limited resources such as water and food. Many went missing or die during the journey along Silk Road. Plenty of questions and thoughts during my one hour ride with the poor little camel.