I have always been fascinated by the ancient Silk Road and their history so I finally joined Chan Brother Tours in June (13days 12 night), summer this year. The tour including two provinces in China; Gansu & Northern Xinjiang.
Ancient Silk Road are long travel routes (40,000 miles) covering more than 40 countries. Our tour with Chan Brother Tour is only covering China portion, not including Ancient Silk Road from other countries such as India, Central Asia, and the West.
When we talk about Ancient Silk Road, we think of camel, desert, silk, Uyghurs minority, Buddhist Grottoes, Muslim Minarets and many more. It is the world’s most significant trade route that connected East & West for thousands of years.
This itinerary will tell you :
- How to prepare for ancient Silk Road China & what to expect
- History & fact of each city
- Cultural show review in Dunhuang & Xinjiang
- Food guide for Gansu & Xinjiang
- China High-Speed Rail review
- Xinjiang minorities & culture
- Xinjiang Minerals resources
- Xinjiang security conditions & checks
- Xinjiang Urumqi Diwopu Airport review
- Hotel review for Gansu & Xinjiang
- Souvenir review – What to buy in Gansu & Xinjiang
- Toilet Review in Silk Road China
- How not to fall sick in Silk Road China
We have traveled over 4000 km of Silk Road China with buses & bullet train. In my blog (click above) you will find things you need to know before traveling to Silk Road China, what to expect and preparation, including food, weather, toilets facilities, hotel, transport and tour guides.
The first thing you will notice in Leitai Wuwei is the Flying Horse of Gansu 馬踏飛燕. Do look carefully at the hoof of the horse. The horse is only balanced with one hoof which rests without pressure on a flying swallow. The Flying Horse of Gansu 馬踏飛燕 is GANSU icon and you get to see it at Lanzhou Airport too.
Zhangye LV Zhou Holiday Hotel is newly opened in 2015, so the hotel is still very new. Outside the hotel, there are many restaurants and supermarkets, so it is very convenient if you are looking for something to eat. The hotel room is spacious and equipped with beautiful wooden carved lacquer furniture, the toilet and shower are separated with a glass door which makes the bathroom very neat. Overall I am happy with my stay in Zhangye LV Zhou Holiday Hotel.
Zhangye city/张掖 is one of the important city marked along Silk Road China. It is located geographically at the crossroad of Silk Road, middle of Hexi corridor. It is a famous commercial port on the ancient Silk Road and one of the biggest international trade market. Marco Polo stayed in Zhangye for about one year.
The temple is called Dafo/Big Buddha because inside the temple there is a sleeping Buddha which is also the largest in Asia built around 1100 in wooden frame and clay outside.
The one thing you should notice carefully is the Dafo/Big Buddha face expression and the outfit. It is quite bizarre to see the artisan did such a wonderful job many thousand years ago even though they have not seen Buddha personally but still able to depict the Buddha expression so well. A very peaceful look of Buddha at the reclining position. Photography is not allowed to protect the original color from fading.
Zhangye Daxia is famous for its rainbow-colored mountains, the several hundred meters tall Danxia in Zhangye is the result of deposits of sandstone and other minerals that occurred over many thousand years ago.
Another important landmark in Silk Road China is Jiayuguan Fort, also known as Jiayuguan Great Wall. It is considered to be the ending point of the great wall. Many foreign tourists did not know about Jiayuguan Great Wall compare to famous Beijing Great Wall. Jiayuguan Pass is another place to see the great wall of China.
The Jiayuguan Hotel is conveniently located in the downtown of Jiayuguan city. The room is up to our standard and the breakfast buffet has wide-spread of choice.
The luminous cup in Gansu is one of the top souvenirs you may like to bring home. It is made of jade and it is named because it sparkles when filling with alcohol and placed under the moonlight.
9. GANSU: Dunhuang – Echoing Sand Mountains & Crescent Moon Lake 鸣沙山月牙泉 13 Things you need to know before visiting
Mingshashan Mountain / Echoing Sand Mountains & Yueyaguan / Cresent Moon Lake is the highlight in Dunhuang Silk Road.
One of the must do in Mingshashan Mountain is to go up to the top of the sand dunes and check out the jaw-dropping view from the top. You get to see the whole oasis from the top of the sand dunes.
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.
In Dunhuang city, there is the iconic sculpture, Fetian – the flying Apsara who played the “pipa” at her back,反弹琵琶 a unique dance moved found in walls of Magao Grottoes.
The number one dish I can remember from the food in Dunhuang is – Camel Hoof. In ancient time, only the Emperors were able to taste this dish.
One of the must-watch show in Dunhuang Silk Road is ‘Silk Road, Flower Rain’丝路花雨. They called it China’s Swan Lake because it is an ancient silk road classic and as good as Swan Lake. World-class performances which have been performed in more than 40 countries around the globe since its debut in 1979.
The Sun Grand Hotel is conveniently located in downtown Dunhuang, an easy 5-minute walk to the night markets, restaurants, and supermarkets. The hotel lobby is looking very grand and lots of beautiful decorations with Dunhuang Feitian 飞天 & Buddha paintings themed from Magao Caves. I noticed there are Japanese tourists staying in this hotel so you can tell this hotel aren’t too bad and considered one of the good hotels in Dunhuang.
Guazhou 瓜州 is translated as ‘Melon State’, about 1 hour and 20 mins from Dunhuang. While in Guazhou, one thing not to be missed is melon tasting as this place is named after their sweet melon.
There are 735 caves and 492 of which have murals that are still well-preserved but we only visited a few of them, less than 10. These caves containing a colossal of murals and over 2,000 painted sculptures. Each cave is locked and only the expert guide has the keys to open the door of the caves and explain all the details of the murals and sculptures with a mini torch.
The facilities in the high-speed rail were well equipped with clean toilets and free drinking hot water, which surprised me. I have tried Japan Bullet train – the Shinkansen but I think China’s high-speed trains were not going to lose to Japan, with its 15,000 miles network is the most extensive in the world. China’s high-speed trains were also the fastest and newest. Click on the above link to read what to watch out when you are catching the high-speed train in China.
There are not many things in the Flaming Mountains site, the only interesting thing is the world largest thermometer which looks like the Monkey King’s weapon – Ruyi Jingu Bang. You do feel the intense heat in Flaming Mountain, the temperature can go up to 80’c as this is the largest, driest and hottest desert in China.
It is really ingenious for the ancient people to invent the irrigation system back 2000 years ago and turning parts of this hot desert in Turpan into lush greenery. Karez system brings life to Turpan. The museum is small but to see the irrigation system with your own eyes is pretty amazing. It is an educational tour for me.
The Emin Minaret is a blending Uyghur architecture and history with Islamic traditions. The tower is made of wood, mud, and brick and also the tallest minaret in Xinjiang. I find it interesting to see the mixture of Chinese and Islamic architecture in China.
You can actually see grapes vineyards everywhere in Turpan Xinjiang, not just in the Grapes Valley. You will learn that people in Xinjiang prefer the green than the red one.
It was a good experience to have a house visit to Uyghur home and learn about raisin in Turpan Xinjiang. You also get entertained well by the young Uyghur man especially with his cute accent and his funny dance – how an Uyghur man proposes to a lady.
Jiaohe ruins is located along the Silk Road and it is the best preserved ancient city in the world, also a Unesco World Heritage Site. Pretty amazing to see the whole city is made of earth, just like Tatooine city in Star Wars.
Maxirap le Grand Large Hotel is located outskirt of Turpan City. There are no interesting shops to visit if you want to walk around at night as the hotel is only surrounded by big vineyards. The facilities of the hotel are moderate and not luxury, be mentally prepared. The Uyghur dinner at the hotel was delicious and interesting especially the moment the whole roasted lamb was pushed into our room by the Uyghur ladies.
I have heard the folk song since I was a little girl, 达坂城的姑娘 – “The girl from Dabancheng”. Finally, I got the chance to pass by Dabancheng from Turpan to Urumqi. Are the girls pretty in Dabancheng? You have to find out yourself 🙂
Heavenly Lake of Tianshan has amazing scenery, the super calm lake is located at 2000 m high which never get flooded or dried up so far. The snow-cape mountains in the background made me wonder if I was in Swiss Alps and the serene alpine lake made me think of Lake District in the UK. But the loud mainland Chinese troop of tourists made me realized I am in China.
We did not really walk into the Fire Mountain but just had a brief stop. Took a few pictures across the street. Opposite of the Fire Mountain is the coal factory. Glad I have seen one of the coal factories as Xinjiang is famous for its natural resources.
Fire Mountain is different from Turpan’s Flaming Mountain. Flaming Mountain is famous for its high temperature (up to 80’c) and it’s “Journey to the West story” but Fire Mountain is famous for its mountain color, that is reddish. If you look around you see no other colors than reddish.
When you entered the Buerqin town, you feel the strong influence of Russian as the landscape here built in Russian style. Glad to learn about Buerqin county and how Russian used to occupy this land due to the metal industries in Northern Xinjiang China many decades ago.
Wuchaitan is located in Burqin County, located in the northernmost part of Xinjiang. The colorful Beach is a famous attraction on the Irtysh River in Burqin County, about 24 km from Buerqin city. What makes Wuchaitan/Five Colored Beach different is there is a river flowing throw and it is called Irtysh River, the only river in China that flow into the Arctic Ocean.
Situated at an altitude of 1600 m, Jiadengyu is the gateway to Kanas Lake. It is also the base of Kanas tourism reception. Tourists usually stay here because there is no accommodation in Kanas. Glad I have experienced the Jiadengyu grassland with the view of Altay mountains. The layers of mountains, blue sky, white clouds, green forest, and Kazakh yurts blend a picturesque scenery of Xinjiang.
Most of the buildings here are resort which built in European style. This place attracted many mainland local Chinese tourists. You may have to compete with the mainland Chinese in the buffet restaurant for the food
For me, Kanas Reserve is better than Switzerland Alps, because over here you have the additional elements eg, the minorities culture such as Kazakhs & Mongolian who lives in the Altay Mountains region.
Hemu Village is where Tuwa minority lives. The Tuwa minority (2,000 left in China) are believed to be the descendant of Genghis Khan Troop. It’s said that the Tuwas were originated from the old or wounded soldiers abandoned by Genghis Khan when he led his people to conquer the West Region.
It is named after “Ghost City” due to frequent strong winds whistle and howl plus the flying sand create the mysterious yardang landform and caused various formations. It gets more famous after a few Chinese movies were shot here, one of them is “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon”.
Which are the richest cities in China? Most people would think of Beijing or Shanghai? No, the richest city in China is Karamay in Xinjiang China. Karamay in Uyghur language means “black oil”.
You will notice Karamay people are living a good life and good welfare, obviously benefit from the oilfield industry. Transportation such as bus conditions is good.
There are several interesting things found in Xinjiang Ancient Ecological Park, such as million years Woods & Black Iron Meteoric from space & Akhal-teke Horse Base camp where you can see these precious horses in different colors in the shining coat. Akhal-teke horses /汗血宝马 do look different from ordinary horses. You learn a lot about ancient horse culture in this park. (Below picture show “wild horse” which are more precious than Akhal-teke!)
The Urumqi Grand Bazaar is similar to the Istanbul Marrakech Bazaar. The good thing to explore Urumqi International Grand Bazaar is you get to see everything here. Great place for you to get your exotic souvenirs back home. The shops are quite repetitive and selling the same stuff everywhere. I find the things sold here are more expensive than other places in Xinjiang, such as Turpan. I suggest you to start getting your souvenirs during your tour in Xinjiang and don’t wait for your last stop in Urumqi. If you missed out the souvenirs you wanted to buy during your trip in Xinjiang, you can always buy it here, just that the price may cost higher. Urumqi usually is the last stop before tourists depart back home.
“Millennium Impression of the Silk Road” is highly recommended as this is a buffet cum colorful performance show. Come early to enjoy the buffet spread before the show started. Once the show starts it is harder to eat as the light gets dimmed and also you will be too occupied with the stunning performance.
Don’t under-estimate Urumqi city, the living standard & consumption level are high. Food and things sold here aren’t cheap. Similar to the Singapore price. Great stroll in the local supermarket to find out what is the living standard like in Urumqi and what kind of food local bring home to cook.
Hok Tak Hotel Xinjiang is well located in the heart of downtown Urumqi. There are plenty of restaurants and shopping nearby. The People’s Park is located right opposite Hoi Tak Hotel Xinjiang. I strongly recommend you to wake up earlier to check on the People’s Square to see the grannies dances and exercise.
Urumqi Diwopu Airport is not as small as I expected. On the contrary, the airport is very modern and extremely efficient. Urumqi Diwopu Airport has 3 Terminals in total and a new Terminal 4 is in under construction.
Nothing much to shop in the airport, best is getting all your souvenirs outside. If possible bring your own snacks as food and coffee are all over-priced inside the airport.
The outside of the Bird’s Nest looks stunning even in the day time. If you have extra time to spend, you may want to visit the interior but you need to pay to get it.
In addition, you can also take your swimsuit with you to swim in the Water Cube swimming pool or play in the water park.
Beijing Capital International Airport is huge and the custom is tight. Such items as lithium battery,(the extra batteries), mobile charger are forbidden in checked baggage, they can only be carried as hand luggage. The rated energy of each battery should not exceed 100wh. The batteries between 100wh and 160wh must get the permission of the air company; each passenger is allowed to take at most two spare batteries.
Final thoughts :
There are 37 blogs here regarding the trip to ancient Silk Road China and Xinjiang. These blogs will tell you what to expect & tips in each city along ancient Silk Road. It took me more than 3 months to write, hope you enjoy reading them. Just click on the link of each underline blog if you wish to know more these cities. Anyone who is planning ancient Silk Road China would find this travel guide very useful.