China Ancient Silk Road – GANSU & NORTHERN XINJIANG Complete Travel Itinerary & Guide

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 & Norhtern 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 :

  1. How to prepare for ancient Silk Road China & what to expect
  2. History & fact of each city
  3. Cultural show review in Dunhuang & Xinjiang
  4. Food guide for Gansu & Xinjiang
  5. China High Speed Rail review
  6. Xinjiang minorities & culture
  7. Xinjiang Minerals resources
  8. Xinjiang security conditions & checks
  9. Xinjiang Urumqi Diwopu Airport review
  10. Hotel review for Gansu & Xinjiang
  11. Souvenir review – What to buy in Gansu & Xinjiang
  12. Toilet Review in Silk Road China
  13. How not to fall sick in Silk Road China

1. Silk Road China – GANSU & XINJIANG : What to expect & prepare for this Amazing Race!

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.

2. GANSU : Wuwei – Leitai

The first thing you will notice in Leitai Wuwei is the Flying Horse of Gansu 馬踏飛燕. Do look carefull at the hoof of the horse. The horse is only balance 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.

China : Ancient Silk Road - GANSU & NORTHERN XINJIANG Travel Itinerary

3. GANSU : LV Zhou Holiday Hotel Review

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 glass door which make the bathroom very neat. Overall I am happy with my stay in Zhangye LV Zhou Holiday Hotel.

China : Ancient Silk Road - GANSU & NORTHERN XINJIANG Travel Itinerary

4. GANSU : Marco Polo in Zhangye City and Zhangye Cuisine

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 internatinal trade market.  Marco Polo stayed in Zhangye for about one year.

China : Ancient Silk Road - GANSU & NORTHERN XINJIANG Travel Itinerary

5. GANSU : Zhangye – Dafo/ Big Buddha Temple

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.  Very peaceful look of Buddha at the reclining position. Photography is not allowed to protect the origin color from fading.

China : Ancient Silk Road - GANSU & NORTHERN XINJIANG Travel Itinerary

6. GANSU : Zhangye – Danxia Mountain, UNESCO World Heritage Site

Zhangye Daxia is famous for its rainbow-colored mountains, the several hundred meters tall Danxia in Zhangye are the result of deposits of sandstone and other minerals that occurred over many thousand years ago.

China : Ancient Silk Road - GANSU & NORTHERN XINJIANG Travel Itinerary

7. GANSU : Jiayuguan Great Wall – Top 10 things to see

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 tourist 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.

China : Ancient Silk Road - GANSU & NORTHERN XINJIANG Travel Itinerary

China : Ancient Silk Road - GANSU & NORTHERN XINJIANG Travel Itinerary

8. GANSU : Jiayuguan Hotel & Gansu Souvenir; The Luminous Cup Review – 葡萄美酒夜光杯!

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 souvenir you may like to bring home. It is made of jade and it is named because it sparkles when fill with alcohol and placed under the moonlight.

China : Ancient Silk Road - GANSU & NORTHERN XINJIANG Travel Itinerary

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 a harsh weather.

China : Ancient Silk Road - GANSU & NORTHERN XINJIANG Travel Itinerary

10. GANSU : Dunhuang City & Food Review

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 Gottoes.

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.

China : Ancient Silk Road - GANSU & NORTHERN XINJIANG Travel Itinerary

11. GANSU : Legend of Dunhuang Show – ‘Silk Road, Flower Rain’ 丝路花雨

One of the must watch show in Dunhuang Silk Road is ‘Silk Road, Flower Rain’丝路花雨. They called it the China’s Swan Lake because it is a ancient silk road classic and as good as Swan Lake. World class performances which  has been performed in more than 40 countries around the globe since its debut in 1979.

China : Ancient Silk Road - GANSU & NORTHERN XINJIANG Travel Itinerary

12. GANSU : Sun Grand Hotel Dunhuang Review & Guazhou /瓜州 Melon Tasting in Gansu

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 hotel 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.

China : Ancient Silk Road - GANSU & NORTHERN XINJIANG Travel Itinerary

13. GANSU : Mogao Caves of Dunhuang 敦煌莫高窟 – Silk Road Gem

There are 735 caves and 492 of which have murals that are still well-preserved but we only visited 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.

China : Ancient Silk Road - GANSU & NORTHERN XINJIANG Travel Itinerary

14. GANSU -> XINJIANG : China Bullet Train Experience – From Dunhuang to Turpan in Xinjiang

The facilities in the bullet train 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 bullet trains were not going to lose to Japan, with its 15,000 miles network is the most extensive in the world. China’s bullet trains were also the fastest and newest.  Click on the above link to read what to watch out when you are catching bullet train in China.

China : Ancient Silk Road - GANSU & NORTHERN XINJIANG Travel Itinerary

XINJIANG : Turpan – Flaming Mountains, Journey to the West 西游记火焰山

There is not much thing in 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, temperature can go up to 80’c as this is the largest, driest and hottest desert in China.

China : Ancient Silk Road - GANSU & NORTHERN XINJIANG Travel Itinerary

15. XINJIANG : Turpan Karez Well – 2000 Years Old Water System

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 bring 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.

China : Ancient Silk Road - GANSU & NORTHERN XINJIANG Travel Itinerary

16. XINJIANG : Turpan – Emin Minaret, Uyghur Islamic Architecture

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.


China : Ancient Silk Road - GANSU & NORTHERN XINJIANG Travel Itinerary

17. XINJIANG : Turpan – Grape Valley 吐鲁番葡萄沟

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.

China : Ancient Silk Road - GANSU & NORTHERN XINJIANG Travel Itinerary

18. XINJIANG : Turpan : Uyghur village – Experience Uyghur Culture & Raisin Tasting

It was a good experience to have a house visit at 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 a Uyghur man propose to a lady.

China : Ancient Silk Road - GANSU & NORTHERN XINJIANG Travel Itinerary

19. XINJIANG : Turpan – Jiaohe Ruin, World Largest Ruins 交河故城

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 Tatoonie city in Star Wars.

China : Ancient Silk Road - GANSU & NORTHERN XINJIANG Travel Itinerary

20. XINJIANG : Turpan – Maxirap le Grand Large Hotel & Xinjiang Food Review

Maxirap le Grand Large Hotel is located outskirt of Turpan City. There is 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 is 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.

China : Ancient Silk Road - GANSU & NORTHERN XINJIANG Travel Itinerary

21. XINJIANG : Dabancheng Town – “The girl from Dabancheng” Town 达坂城的姑娘

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 🙂

China : Ancient Silk Road - GANSU & NORTHERN XINJIANG Travel Itinerary

22. XINJIANG : Heavenly Lake of Tianshan -Top 14 things to do! 新疆天山天池

Heavenly Lake of Tianshan has an 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 UK.  But the loud mainland Chinese troop of tourists made me realised I am in China. 🙂

China : Ancient Silk Road - GANSU & NORTHERN XINJIANG Travel Itinerary

23. XINJIANG : Urumqi – Fire Mountain & Coal Factory / Huoshaoshan 新疆火烧山

We did not really walk into the Fire Mountain but just had a brief stop. Took 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 it high temperature (up to 80’c) and it’s “Journey to the West story” but Fire Mountain is famous for it mountain color, that is reddish. If you look around you see no other colors than reddish.

China : Ancient Silk Road - GANSU & NORTHERN XINJIANG Travel Itinerary

24. XINJIANG : Buerqin – Little Russian Town 新疆布尔津

When you entered the Buerqin town, you feel strong influence of Russian as the landscape here built in Russian style. Glad to learn about Buerqin county and how Russian used to occupied this land due to the metal industries in Northern Xinjiang China many decades ago.

China : Ancient Silk Road - GANSU & NORTHERN XINJIANG Travel Itinerary

25. XINJIANG : 5 Colored Beach – Wu Chai Tan, Top 5 things you need to know! 新疆五彩滩

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 make 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 Arctic Ocean.

China : Ancient Silk Road - GANSU & NORTHERN XINJIANG Travel Itinerary

26. XINJIANG : Jiadengyu Glassland – Learn about the Kazakh minority 贾登峪 & 哈萨克毡房

Situated at an altitude of 1600 m, Jiadengyu is the getway 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 experience 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.

China : Ancient Silk Road - GANSU & NORTHERN XINJIANG Travel Itinerary

27. XINJIANG : Jiadengyu – Hongfu Lake Kanas Resort Aletai Hotel Review, European Getaway

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 🙂

China : Ancient Silk Road - GANSU & NORTHERN XINJIANG Travel Itinerary

28. XINJIANG : Kanas Lake – Top 20 things to know! 新疆喀纳斯

For me, Kanas Reserve is better than Switzerland alps, reason being over here you have the additional elements eg, the minorities culture such as Kazakhs & Mongolian who lives in Altay Mountains region.

China : Ancient Silk Road - GANSU & NORTHERN XINJIANG Travel Itinerary

29. XINJIANG : Kanas, Hemu Village 新疆禾木村

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.

China : Ancient Silk Road - GANSU & NORTHERN XINJIANG Travel Itinerary

30. XINJIANG : Urho – Ghost City & Karamay Oilfield 新疆魔鬼城 & 克拉玛依油田

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 get more famous after few Chinese movies was shot here, one of them is “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon”.

China : Ancient Silk Road - GANSU & NORTHERN XINJIANG Travel Itinerary

31. XINJIANG : Karamay, Richest City & Bo Da Yin Du Hotel Review 克拉玛依 & 博达银都酒店

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 oilfield industry. The transportation such as bus conditions are good.

China : Ancient Silk Road - GANSU & NORTHERN XINJIANG Travel Itinerary

32. XINJIANG : Urumqi – Ancient Ecological Park boost Akhal-teke Horse 汗血宝马

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 shinning 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!)

33. XINJIANG : Urumqi – International Grand Bazaar, top 10 things to buy!

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.

China : Ancient Silk Road - GANSU & NORTHERN XINJIANG Travel Itinerary

34. XINJIANG : Urumqi – Cultural Show @ International Grand Bazaar 絲綢之路 千年印象

“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 start.  Once the show start it is harder to eat as the light get dimmed and also you will be too occupied with the stunning performance.

China : Ancient Silk Road - GANSU & NORTHERN XINJIANG Travel Itinerary

35. XINJIANG : Urumqi – Shop like a local in the downtown

Don’t under-estimate Urumqi city, the living standard & consumption level are high. Food and things sold here aren’t cheap. Similar to Singapore price.  Great stroll in the local supermarket to find out what is the living standard like in Urumqi and what kind of the food local bring home to cook.

China : Ancient Silk Road - GANSU & NORTHERN XINJIANG Travel Itinerary

36. Xinjiang : Urumqi – Hoi Tak Hotel & Nearby Restaurant Review

Hok Tak Hotel Xinjiang is well located in the heart of downtown of 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.

China : Ancient Silk Road - GANSU & NORTHERN XINJIANG Travel Itinerary

37. XINJIANG : Urumqi – Diwopu Airport Review (乌鲁木齐地窝铺国际机场)

Urumqi Diwopu Airport is not as small as I expected. On the contrary, the airport is very modern and extremely efficient. Uruqmi 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 get all your souvenirs outside. If possible bring your own snacks as food and coffee are all over-priced inside the airport.

Final thoughts :

There are 37 blogs here regarding trip to ancient Silk Road China and Xinjiang. These blogs will tell you what to expect & tips in each cities 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.

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42 Replies to “China Ancient Silk Road – GANSU & NORTHERN XINJIANG Complete Travel Itinerary & Guide”

  1. I absolutely adore the amount of detail and care you have put into this post. Thank you so much for all of your amazing advice 🙂

    1. Dear Nikki,

      The Great Wall show here is in Gansu province, a different part of Great Wall of China. Most foreigners visit the Great Wall in Beijing and not many people know Jiayuguan Pass. Over here in Jiayuguan you have more photo opportunities as tourists are lesser and th e view is as stunning.

  2. It looks amazingly beautiful. I am gonna add it to my travel bucket list.these pictures are very good gives so much information about place.

  3. This is a very detailed and thorough itinerary. I am not much of a traveler but my daughers are, and china is on their bucket list. I will pass along this post for them.

    1. Dear Silvia,

      Thank you for your comment. This Ancient China Silk Road guide took me more than 3 months to compile and write them, in total there are 38 blogs including the summary itinerary. I hope it work as a guide for travelers who wish to do Silk Road adventure, what to expect and how to prepare for this journey.

  4. Wow, I think it would be a chance of a lifetime to visit China. I’d start at Zhangye Daxia. Those mountains are gorgoeus and I love being close to nature.

    1. Dear Terri,

      The Zhangye Danxia is majestic and imposing landform, what I like most about it is the unique shapes of the mountain & the multi-color stones because of the abundant minerals lying underground. The whole place is well protected and only the eco-friendly internal buses are operating there, private cars or buses needed to park outside the park. The whole place is clean and neat to walk around, didnt spot a single trash.

  5. I have read your amazing adventure on the Silk road in your blog and I think it is such a fantastic trip ! You definitely convinced me to put it in my wishlist for travel!

    1. Dear Sigrid,

      Thanks for your questions. I joined Chan Brother, a reliable local tour from Singapore. We have about 30 pax departing together with a local tour leader. The cost for an adult is about slightly over USD$2200 which include air fare, hotel, transfer (bus & bullet train), sites entrance tickets and food. The 2 cultural shows tickets are not included, (about USD 50-60 each)

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