Gansu Province's


Global Mark : 14.61    Top Ten : No10

Ratings by criteria : 

Charm Scenery Parks Culture Minor. Market Relax Fiesta 


4 5 1 5 4 3 4 3



Ratings by backpackers :

Surveyed Liked  Comeback  Recommend Range AVER.
20 100%  (20) 65%  (13) 100%  (20) 12 to 18 15.00

Description :
An oasis surrounded by magnificent desert scenery and the culturally famous Mogao Caves which joined the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1987

Comments : Some people are crazy about the caves but more people are moved by the dunes sights

What to do : In the morning, try to visit the caves in relative comfort / At lunch, check out the exhibition Center, next to the caves / In the evening, cycle to the dunes / Climb to the top of the dunes and from there : sit down until your breath is back, do paragliding (30Y), slide down on sand sleds (10Y), walk around, wait patiently for the sunset / Ride camels up and down the dunes (50Y) 

What you may not like : The limited cheap doubles / The visit organization at the caves & high costs / Seeing only 7 to 10 caves / The entrance fee at the dunes / The recent (2001) entrance fees increase : Y50 to 80 for the caves, Y20 to 50 for the dunes ! This is getting ridiculous...

How long ? One full day minimum for the two major sights. Another one for the minor ones and to relax...

Where to stay ?  

  • Five Circles (Olympic) Hotel (882 2276) / Dorm 12, 15 or 20 in 4, 3 or 2 beds' rooms without bath / Dorm 30 or 40 in Trpl or Dbl with bath / Chinese toilets / OK bath / HW 24 hours // Go there for the best quality-price ratio for dorm / What you may not like : being with plenty of Chinese tourists which should mean a lot of noise...

  • Youhao (882 2678), just north Int. Hotel / Dorm 20 or 25 in 4 or 3 beds' rooms with bath / Dorm 30,40 or 50 in dbl with bath, depending on the floor / HW 7:30 to 8:30 & 21 to 24 // Go there for the most comfortable dorm in town and for the best quality-price ratio for Dbl / What you may not like : the dim lightning, the not so clean rooms if you check in the corners, the noise from the bus station below in the morning

  • Feitian Hotel (882 2726) / Dorm 11 or 20 in 10 or 3 bed's rooms / Dbl 160 / HW 7 to 9 & 18 to 2am // Go there for the cheapest bed in town / What you may not like : the not so clean toilet and bath, the traffic in the corridor as the place is busy

Also worth checking :

  • Mingshan Hotel (882 2122) / Dorm 25 in 3 or 4 bed's rooms or 30 in Dbl without bath / Dbl with huge bathroom 120 / OK toilets and bath / HW 20:30 to 24

  • Western Region Hotel (882 3773) / Dorm 16, 20 or 25 in 6, 4 or 3 beds' large rooms / Dorm 40 or 50 in Trpl or dbl with old bath / Bad toilet facing bad shower (or the reverse) / HW 21 to 23

  • Mogao (882 3009) / Dorm 20, 30 or 35 in 5, 4 or 3 beds' rooms / Big dbl with bath 120 / Chinese toilets / Common shower / HW 21 to 22:30

  • Jin Mao Fandian (883 3106) / Dorm 30, 35 or 40 in 4, 3 or 2 big beds' rooms / Sgl & Dbl with old bath 120 & 160 / Toilet and bath in Dbl rooms / HW 24 hrs / OK after discount

  • Dunhuang Fandian (882 2413) / Go there to check the new rooms, prices & services

Five Circles Hotel wuhuan zhaodaisuo

Youhao Hotel

youhao binguan

Feitian Hotel

feitian binguan

Mingshan Hotel

mingshan binguan

Western Region Hotel

xiyu binguan

Mogao Hotel

mogao binguan

Jinmao Hotel

jinmao fandian

Dunhuang Hotel

dunhuang fandian

Backpacker's Tips : Sandrine Prioux, France (July 01)
The Five Circles Hotel is scrap : noisy, dirty, etc. We changed for the Dunhuang Hotel, a little bit higher in the street, very clean. Dorm of 5 (girls and boys separated) for 40y but we got it for 15y

Where to eat ? The night's market is the place to go for local food with ambiance. Among other things, you can try a local burger for 2.5Y. If you do not go there to eat, go there to drink (Muslim tea or alcohol) as the place also serve as outdoor bar with its relaxing sun chairs around small tables. Be cautious however : things sometimes get weird late at night when the locals are a little bit too drunk...

Internet ? China Telecom was preparing its internet service at the time of writing. Hopefully, it will cost the usual 10Y an hour.

What to see/visit  ?

- Magao Caves : (4), Y80 min., Exp, Minibus (30mn, 5Y)   

The basic entrance fee gives you the right to follow a group of 25-30 Chinese tourists for 1h30 in about 10 caves. For 20Y more, you will do the same but in English (or other foreign language) and with other foreigners (a private guide cost Y200). For 5Y more, your ticket will also get you access to the very nice Exhibition Center (it cost 10Y separately) For Y2, your bag and camera  will be taken care of while you tour the site (no choice). If you are with a group, a torch might not be necessary but otherwise, it is the only way to check the details out (if you do not have one, you can rent one for 3Y)

The guides have the keys to the caves and will choose an itinerary between the 30 "normal" caves, depending on their mood. This means that, if you do not care about overlong cultural explanations, you can see much more caves by jumping from one group to another. If you are lucky and discreet, you might also sneak with a Japanese group and see some of the "special" caves (60 caves are classified as such and cost an additional 60 to 240Y per cave and per person, the highest fee being for Cave 465 which contains sexually explicit Tantric art).

A few caves have open doors (Cave 96 for example with its massive 34.5m tall Buddha) but most are locked.

The tours are basically conducted in the morning (between 8:30 and 10) and in the afternoon starting at 2pm, with a 2 hours lunch between. The ticket is valid for one day only. If you crave about the caves, you could make a tour in the morning (the best time), see the Exhibition Center at lunch and go back inside in the afternoon to try to spot more.

Quite a few peoples are disappointed by the caves (a few more are also annoyed by the guide system), in particular those who experienced Datong in Shanxi Province. The caves here are different : they cover a much bigger time period but are not so much about sculptures and carving than fresco (the total murals of the 492 caves covers 45,000sq meters), even so some statues are impressive enough.

- Crescent Moon Lake & Singing Sand Mountains : (5), Y50, 6km away, Bus Y3

Except for those with a lot of desert experiences, the biggest sand dunes of China are definitively worth the evening. Especially if you avoid paying the Y50 entrance fee : just after the bus parking, at the beginning of the shops alley, take the small path on the right between 2 shops, walk 100m or so, turn left at the intersection and walk between the fields toward the dunes. Once in the sand, head to the right, keeping the barrier in sight on your left. At the level of the crescent lake, the barrier disappear which means you do not even have to "illegally" go over it... You just visited the dunes via a different (and nicer) way !

You can go to the dunes by bus (a lot during summer but a few only at other times, usually leaving from hotels at around 17:30. Check at Youhao) for Y3, take a taxi (Y15), or motor pedicab (Y10). If you want to stay up to the sunset, buses might not be available by the time you reach the parking (they usually return at 20:30). Cycling there is therefore a good option.

Backpacker' s Tips : Mark W., Australia/UK (Dec 02)
 Entrance to Mogao caves still 80 Yuan with English guide and very quick! I noticed that the Chinese groups get
longer! (more caves?) Recommend doing your own research and then joining a Chinese group at 50 Yuan. The guides English is not so good anyway and it get embarrassing for all concerned for the guide to constantly be repeating themselves.
Dunes still 50 Yuan and the crescent moon lake pagoda is closed in the winter. Everything else is there and the lack of reams of tourists is good. The dunes are so quiet. :) Going at the mid end of November got me 33% discount on a really nice single with bathroom ( 100 from 150) and if you want more expensive places you can get 50% off. Not too cold as long as the sun is in the sky.
In general everyone tried to rip me off even to the point of trying to get 12 Yuan out of me for a 4.5-6 yuan dove bar! The nicest people were in the local markets on the west side of town where I was totally free to roam, and stick my big nose into all the available corners with no hassle.

in Liuyuan (train station) ?       

If you have to spend the night there to catch an early train, you can check Liutie Fandian (557 2102), on the right when you exit the station : Dorm 15 or 25 in 4 or 3 beds' rooms / Dbl with bath 80 / OK toilets / Common shower / HW 24 hrs in dbl, 21 to 23 in common shower. Alternatively, you can sleep on the second floor of the train station for the same reasonable rates...

Bus Schedules :  

To Price Type Duration Time Nb Freq.
Liuyuan 10 ordi 2h30 8/9:30/11/12:30/ 14/16/18/19:30 8 na
Jiayuguan 31/55 ordi/sleep 7 7 to 22:30 ++ hour
Lanzhou 83/170 ordi/sleep 24 8:30/9/10:30/15/17 5 na
Goldmud 79 sleep 12 19:30 1 na
Hami 38 ordi 8 8 1 na
Turpan 110 sleep 20 12 1 even days

Notes : To Jiayuguan, sleeper at 21:30 (also buses from small station) / To Lanzhou : sleeper at 10:30,15 & 17 ; buses at 9, 15 & 17 from small station / To Goldmud, the CITS's scam has now disappeared. 

Trains  << Click there / Although renamed "Dunhuang", the railway station is still at Liuyuan

The trip to Turpan :
Minibus + Train + Minibus / SS +Night +S / L&R / Y10+Y96+Y5 / 2h30+12h+1h

If like me you take the 4pm bus to Liuyuan, it would be a good idea to reserve your seat in advance and arrive at the station some time before departure : this way you will be able to fight for your right in this crowded bus.

Once at the station, I had no problem buying an hard sleeper ticket as two sleeper trains were scheduled within a few minutes : No205 at 20:30 and No367 at 20:56. The first one (arr. 6:40) cost alternatively 124 or 146 (for the air cond train) but the second one (arr. 7:10) was much cheaper at 96Y. I took it and was right as it was nearly empty.

After a good night sleep and a 5mn walk to the bus station in Daheyan (go straight and turn right at the first intersection, buses on the left around 300m away), I waited 45mn for the hourly bus to Turpan, 49km and 1 hour away on a bad (and desolate) road.

See also trip from Jiayuguan to Dunhuang...